|"The tea truly captures the magnolia's spirit in its uncannily magnolia bouquet. Such a bright, delicate perfume, flourishes from a creamy depth while the flavour relaxes into a lighter magnolia still so genuinely pretty yet pleasantly weighted by a starchy fullness. "|
Is it the latest late night host? A combination of Dave Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan? Or a new suave replacement for James Bond? Is it King Kong’s brother? The wonder ensues.
When first learning of tea, I didn’t realize Dan Cong was actually a kind of tea. Rather, from brief mentions here and there, I thought it was a person or a brand. Of course as I learned of the mystique of Dan Cong, apart from feeling like a knob, I was readily drawn into their precious heritage and rare prestige as single trunk oolongs. True chameleons, symbiosis between the tea plants and neighbouring plants imparts the tea from these select bushes with the likenesses of flowers, spices and honey. Since the Dan Cong family are an esoteric lot, each with a personality all their own, it’s always a pleasure to meet a new one. The Yu Lan Dan Cong from Canton Tea Company is touted as unique to them although there are other Magnolia or Yu Lan Dan Congs on the market. Growing up with a next door neighbour who had a magnolia tree, stoked my anticipation even further given the pure delight of its bloom every spring that scented the neighbourhood with its frivolously pretty perfume. Given that the magnolia is the hallmark of Mississippi and Louisiana, I was surprised that there are also magnolias in Asia where they have also been used in medicinal elixirs to clear the sinuses and for other nasal ailments. So with all of the facts and rumours dancing about it my head, I couldn’t wait to finally meet Canton Tea Company’s Yu Lan Dan Cong.
Compared to the beauty of the magnolia flower, the tea leaves may not be as showy but they do offer their own quiet appeal. The long leaves stretch to almost two inches, bowing in curves and bends rather than tightly wound knots or curls. Truly a touch shy, most are folded lengthwise, mainly blackish green with some lighter army green variants on the edges. Yet their dark green forms seem to arc their backs to reveal their lighter spine with a celery green vein running their lengths while their fine hairs add a bit of sheen. Before setting the tea to bloom, the aroma of the package is remarkably magnolia as if swept from the spring breeze. The sharp bergamot perfume has a poignant intensity, almost a bit like pledge at its citrusy core that flickers into the more delicate floral notes. However, with a hand shake as the tea comes out of the package to chat, the scent of the leaves is much lighter requiring one to nestle in up close and personal, much like to admire a magnolia blossom’s. Then, the leaves are infused with a mild magnolia scent on top of a delicious shimmer of fruitiness like apricot jam or applesauce.
Although Canton Tea Company suggests steeping one tablespoon of tea, the long fingered leaves pretty much defy measurements so I fumbled out six grams of tea. As the water coaxed out the leaves secrets at 86°C for two minutes, the infusion settled on a medium dark, creamy yellow colour, almost beige-ish yellow unlike any oolong I’ve met before. Although I expected more of an ocher or orange tone to the brew, it was a perky welcoming cup. The leaves announced their spring into life, now quite fragrant and talkative. Similarly, the scent of the tea is just as viril, bursting open with the uncanny magnolia bouquet. The prettiness of the florals is just like perfume, except for a pervasive butteriness to it that gives it a hint of cream and an engaging buttercake like substance. The trueness of the magnolia aroma, as it builds from an undercurrent somewhat similar to lily of the valley and cypress from a mentholatum or resinous note, quickly piques my interest in the conversation to come.
The cup follows with a medium body that doesn’t have the same intensity of flavour as the scent but still belies a completeness. While it has a satisfying buttery feel to the medium body, the subtlety of the flavours were a bit suprising. Yet the light magnolia taste is also pretty, nuanced rather than cloying, as if actually eating magnolia flowers. The citrusy spirit of the magnolia flavour somewhat akin to bergamot or juniper still has a slight resinous tone that speaks from a background of hot cotton or freshly dried linens which make it a not so sweet cup. Instead the flavour falls more on weightier topics that remind me of rice crackers like that oriental cracker snack mix and cooked mung bean noodles as it rounds out each sip with an amiable dryness. The tea follows with a medium finish, mainly infusing the mouth as the light magnolia aftertaste mumbles with cat tails from the faint echo of the polyphenols.
Another question posed by another steeping, answers with a bright yellow hue with brown and orange tones, appearing as a yellow gold. The scent seems more buttery than the first, still infused with a vivid magnolia, citrus scent. The floral extends into the cup, adding the floral’s sweetness with a buttered mung bean noodle. With the beguiling magnolia, the taste is slightly sharp at the end as the light to medium body has a layered intensity that lingers on the tongue in a medium finish.
The leaves continue to speak through a third and fourth steeping which retain enough fullness to listen. The cups seem to get cloudier while still brewing to a relaxed creamy yellow. The third infusion seems better composed as the light magnolia scent seems slightly chlorine like in the fourth. Both seem to gain an interesting saltiness that amplifies the light flavour of rice or mung bean noodles while retaining a touch of citrus from the magnolia, now a bit closer to lime and cypress. However, after the fourth steeping, the citrusy floral has more of a medicinal quality that feels almost waxy and pledge-like apart from a decent fullness.
After steeping, the size of the leaves are quite a sight, languishing in the pot. Now mostly a dull, pale creamy olive colour, the reddened oxidation blush seems a bit sporadic appearing as a splash here or there with a few completely oxidized leaves; a bruised ego perhaps. The leaves’ colour also seemed lighter than I had expected, similar to a green tea, if not paler.
From such flair and substance, Canton Tea Company’s Yu Lan Dan cong, assuredly celebrates the magnolia with its genuine personality. Like the magnolia’s bloom in the spring, this would seem a tea best reserved for choice occasions rather than an everyday brew. Yet regardless, when it blossoms or comes out to visit, it makes for a fascinating and impacting sip that could contend for a late night spot or catapult a high action mission.
— To purchase Canton Tea Co. Magnolia Blossom Oolong, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.
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