The origins of our Phoenix Honey Orchid Chinese Oolong Tea
Rising above other oolongs, Phoenix Honey Orchid is one of the most sought-after speciality Chinese teas. Boasting a honey-like natural sweetness and floral, mildly smoky notes, this luxury loose-leaf tea is beloved by connoisseurs as a complex cup that can be enjoyed at any time of day.
Originating from the important Chinese tea-growing province of Guangdong, our Phoenix Honey Orchid is one of the prized Dan Cong oolongs. Grown in the Phoenix Mountain region of Chao'an District, Dan Cong teas like this one are harvested from single trees (Dan Cong means 'single bush'), some of which have been growing on the mineral-rich, rocky slopes for 700 years. Unlike Camellia sinensis bushes cultivated in tea gardens, these trees grow individually, with some reaching up to five metres in height and each producing teas of strikingly unique character.
Our Phoenix Honey Orchid is made with the ancient Mount Wudong Song cultivar, which has its roots in the Song dynasty era (960-1279) and which – together with the hot, mountainous terroir – gives this golden-orange infusion its velvety-smooth orchid character underpinned by honey, stewed plums and hints of nuts.
Harvested in early spring, with one bud and two to three leaves typically plucked, Phoenix Honey Orchid is a darker style of oolong that undergoes a relatively high degree of oxidation – triggered by the tea being gently hand-rolled after withering. The tea maker's skill lies in knowing when the right degree of oxidation is reached, at which point the tea is baked in a charcoal oven to halt the process. The result is Phoenix Honey Orchid's dried appearance of dark brown, curled roasted leaves and its delightfully complex flavours.
The health benefits of Oolong
For centuries, the Chinese have touted the health benefits of oolong tea: as an aid to weight loss, cardiovascular function and improved cognition. And recent studies have shown that drinking a couple of cups of oolong per day may indeed help break down fat while you're sleeping due to the tea's metabolism-boosting capabilities, therefore reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Those capabilities are down to the tea's high levels of polyphenols, the antioxidant-packed plant-based compounds that are also linked to a decrease in cell division in certain cancers, improved bone mineral density and a reduction in certain skin conditions such as eczema.
What is Oolong tea?
Also known as wulong ('black dragon'), oolong is a semi-oxidised tea, which is why it's often referred to as being halfway between a green and a black tea. The vast majority of oolongs are grown in the mountainous areas of China, particularly Fujian province, and in Taiwan, where oolong was introduced in the 19th century.
Before being plucked, buds are left to open and thicken up so that they are robust enough to withstand the bruising to come – one of the unique parts of the oolong production process. Having been left to wither in sunlight, next comes the bruising: an ancient and carefully controlled technique that kicks off oxidation in the leaves.
Traditionally, bruising was caused by shaking and tumbling the withered tea leaves in wicker baskets, though today machines usually do the work. As the cell walls in the leaves break down, oxidation occurs, reducing bitterness in the leaves and helping to create each tea's individual character. How long each oolong is oxidised depends on the style: the greenest may be oxidised to only about 5%, while the darkest might reach 90%, on the border of being a black tea.
After bruising, the teas are left to further wither, oxidise and develop flavour – a practice usually carried out indoors. The length of time over which the leaves are oxidised is pivotal to the outcome of the tea, hence these steps may be repeated several times to achieve the desired result.
Next up is a process known as 'fixing' or 'kill-green', during which the leaves are heat-treated, usually with hot air, to halt oxidisation. After this, the tea leaves are shaped – traditionally rolled into either long curls known as strips, or small pearl-like balls. Finally, the tea is dried and roasted to further enhance its flavour. Viewed up close, these finished teas assume fascinating forms: from long, nearly black, twisted and twig-like, to small, gnarly and lettuce-green. In fact, the only thing more varied than their form is their flavour.
Alternatives to Phoenix Honey Orchid tea
Phoenix Honey Orchid is a hard act to follow, but if you're looking for more extra-special ooolings, our Ali Shan is an outstanding version of a Taiwanese mountain-grown tea, while Oriental Beauty, from the humid hills of Taiwan's Hsinchu County, offers an unrivalled sweetness, thanks to its unique production technique. If you want evidence of just how diverse oolongs can be, you might also try two other brews from Fujian: the iconic, floral Tie Guan Yin, also known as Iron Goddess of Mercy, and the smooth, dark, caramel-flavoured Wuyi Shui Xian.
Raise your tea game and create your own gongfu ceremony – the ritualised preparation of Chinese tea – by serving your oolong in one of our traditional gaiwans, perfect for preparing black, oolong or pu-erh teas. Alternatively, shop our range of teapots or give someone our stunning Rare and Limited Gong Fu gift set.