I compared the Wu Mei oolong from Toba Wangi, in Indonesia, to a Dan Cong flavor profile in this blog post, and followed up with a more recent tasting comparison with an actual Dan Cong (of course a type of Chinese oolong). This tea is from Cindy Chen, my favorite Wuyishan Yancha oolong maker, but since she has family in Chaozhou, and also helps make that other tea, I bought some from her a few months back. I'm not as far into exploring Dan Congs as some other tea types but from what I have tasted the teas deserve their place as one of the classic oolong types, and I really did like this one.
Before getting into those teas I might mention that you can now buy the Toba Wangi teas from What-Cha, per my judgment a great value for the pricing I just saw, so that tea might not be around long. I just wrote some notes on the Gold Needle black version so I'll get around to writing about it soon enough as well.
that's it in the basket! or leaves in that region, at least (and Cindy)
In discussion Cindy described that oolong as follows:
[The tea plant type] is named juduozai（锯朵仔）, the aroma of that is xin ren xiang (xinren means nut, xiang means aroma), dancong the original meaning is single bushes.
More on naming conventions follows in a later section here. In other references this type is referred to as "almond," and Cindy also agreed that is her understanding of the translation. The tea didn't have so much almond aspect, it seemed to me, but I'll get back to that too. Cindy has been posting interesting pictures of tea processing on her Facebook page lately, and posting some videos of the same on YouTube (probably more from Wuyishan, but most basic steps would look similar).
Juduozai / Xin Ren Xiang Dan Cong, from Cindy
I tried her Dan Cong alone, then later tried both teas together in comparison (hers and the Indonesian oolong). They seemed quite similar related to some aspects and flavor profile, especially related to one distinctive floral flavor element. The astringency is much different, with mild astringency common to Dan Cong types not showing up in the Wu Mei.
That element would be familiar to many, but to give a description it's nothing like the bite that comes across similar to bitterness in a lot of black teas (although it's really a feel and not a taste, so not actually bitterness). It's more like the slight crisp feel that comes with fruit that isn't completely ripe, nothing intense, and not tied to a body / structure of a tea as much as can come across in black teas, more a background element. Some could see it as very positive, nicely offsetting the aromatic and sweet character, and when the balance is right it can be complimentary.
Both are very aromatic and sweet, and flavor aspects in general in the range of floral, but also with a bit of fruit character. Dan Cong are known for coming in distinct flavor styles, so for these an implication might be that they should taste like just one thing (in this case, almond, to some extent). In contrast other teas can be seen as better for expressing a range of flavor, or at least one runs across such impressions in review or marketing descriptions of teas that read as lists (although vendors typically tend to err on the side of not saying much). Both teas share one common and predominant taste, which may or may not relate to honey orchid, although that seems likely, at least a close similarity.
The Dan Cong was obviously a very nice tea, bright and sweet, aromatic, with a nice feel and general effect. The flavors came across as quite clean, mostly that sweet floral element and also fruit, like a ripe sweet plum. Maybe it tasted a little like almonds. My impression of that Indonesian tea wasn't so different, but I was surprised in the number of differences when comparing the two.
Wu Mei oolong from Toba Wangi
The Wu Mei had a different roast effect that was hardly noticeable when tasted at different times, but on direct comparison something was quite different (just not easy to pin down how, since the oxidation and level of roast didn't seem so different). I hadn't noticed it before but traces of character of green tea came across in the Wu Mei, a faint hint of vegetal character and slight earthiness, maybe towards the range of wood, and the flavors weren't quite as clean. It absolutely doesn't come across as muddled when you drink it alone, maybe more the opposite, it's rather that minor differences stand out in side by side tasting.
I was really comparing two different versions of the Wu Mei, when I tasted both teas together brewed Gongfu style (with a high proportion of tea to water, very short infusions, etc.), and prepared using a hybrid Western / Gongfu style the week before. Made that other way I had used longer brewing times, but still limited, maybe in the two minute range, and generally prepared stronger than in the direct comparison Gongfu-prepared version.
I did brew both a little stronger on one infusion during that comparison to see how that changed the aspects. The Dan Cong was taken over by that astringency, so although rich and positive flavors were still there it didn't work as well. In contrast the feel and effect of the Wu Mei is soft and full, sort of juicy, but with no bite, so when brewed stronger even more sweetness came out, not countered by additional astringency.
Both are awesome teas, just different. The Dan Cong seemed a little more refined, in comparison, but for someone that liked their tea brewed stronger the Wu Mei could work better. I didn't notice lots of flavor transition in either to focus on as a positive aspect, or something to be concerned about missing out on, but comparison tasting adds that much more to keep track of, and I'll probably get around to noticing more about that later.
I tried Cindy's version again, this time specifically trying to identify how much it did or didn't taste like almonds, since I wasn't really "getting" that aspect. I decided to use a hybrid brewing style of more water to tea and substantially longer than the 10 to 15 seconds typical for Gongfu brewing range, which ended up changing the flavor profile a lot. Part of the idea behind that was to see how it compared with the Wu Mei prepared this other way.
Of course a trace flavor element seemed to resemble nuts, which could have been possible with lots of teas if someone is looking for that. It was more notable that the different brewing style shifted the mild astringency bite to more of a tartness, from a light feel aspect to coming across more as a flavor element. Strange. It still seemed predominantly floral to me, just better brewed the other way, using what I understand as the standard Dan Cong approach, short infusions with off-boiling-point temperature water (although I have ran across variations related to the water temperature part).
a commercial version I reviewed last year
I'll mention a few more references since they tie to points I've already brought up here.
Related to the almond taste, this reference by "the Chinese Tea Company" describes their version as:
notes of toasted nuts and ripe tropical fruits like mango and peach are revealed over many infusions and without bringing too much sweetness.
Too much sweetness? How would that work? Interesting they describe the tea as much more fruity than floral. The tea picture looks a lot more like a Wuyi Yancha, very dark tea, not twisted as tightly as Dan Cong often seem to be. One JK Tea Shop version looks like one would expect of Dan Cong, described as:
full, rich, deep natural almond aroma & taste, with light honey mixed with strong almond taste in the mouth; complex mouth feeling after sipping the tea liquid and deep throat feeling.
So no word on fruit or floral for that version, just nuts and honey, like a granola bar; sounds ok. I'm not saying those teas don't taste or smell a lot like almonds, but it occurs to me that anyone selling an "almond aroma" Dan Cong would be inclined to emphasize that it tastes like almonds.
A Canton Tea Xin Ren Dan Cong description by Geoffrey Norman, one of my favorite tea bloggers, author of Steep Stories, describes one particular version as follows:
This was what I thought of when the word “Dan Cong” came to mind. The flavor was tart, nutty, sweet, and with just a smidge of butter on the fringe.
That article talks about background and a few different teas so it's worth a read if the type is of interest. I'm not sure some point related to identifying consistency across the specific Xin Ren Xiang type comes across in these descriptions, but they all sound nice, and different, at least per the descriptions.
Lately I've been watching some China Life YouTube videos (a vendor, with videos also referring to Don Mei teas), and two really interesting versions related to Dan Congs. This post, Understanding Dancong, provides an introduction to the type, explaining what the literal "single bush" meaning Cindy mentioned is all about, with lots of video of the plants growing, being harvested, and of processing. If you only watch one video introduction to this oolong type you could do a lot worse.
This video by Don on Tasting Four Dancongs was interesting for using a blind tasting format to review four different individual Dang Cong types. It's not set up to compare and contrast those types since the premise of the clip is a blind-tasting review, with them trying to pick out which is which, but it makes for an interesting video, and includes lots of commentary.
I'm short on there being a central point or narrative theme to all this, aside from those being interesting references about the general type.