When it comes to food, I am rather conservative. I am vegetarian to boot, and tend to stick to the tried and tested. But tea allows me to be a little adventurous. Duckshit Snowflake? I feel duty bound to try it.
Over the years, I had begun a tentative acquaintance with the oolong. But I felt I had to earn a badge of readiness before I could embark on a deeper relationship. The time, I feel, has come. A friend returning from the US agreed to carry a selection of oolongs and white teas. In the packet was the Duckshit Snowflake, or the Ya Xi Shiang oolong.
The aroma was intense, floral, like no tea I had encountered before. The dry leaves were long and well-rolled. The wet leaves were still largely green but with distinct reddish edges that tell you it’s an oolong. Although the recommendation is to steep them gong style, I chose my regular Western-style steeping. The tea, a lovely creamish yellow liquor, was divine, perfect to unwind with on a mid-week evening.
There is, of course, that curious moniker for a tea so fine. I do think Chinese tea marketers have done a fabulous job of weaving a nice tale with every tea. So, in looking for information on “duck shit”, I seem to have well and truly begun my oolong journey.
The Duckshit Snowflake belongs to the Dan Cong range of teas from Canton, where they grow on Phoenix mountain. The terroir, influenced by the constant fog and rain, is considered near-perfect for tea. Fascinatingly, the leaves are harvested from old, wild tea plants, not pruned bushes. Dan Cong translates to single bush or single cluster, indicating that each tea comes from a specific bush or cluster, and, therefore, carries a distinctive aroma. There are 10 major aroma groups that lend their names to the tea: iris and orchid, tuberose, magnolia, osmanthus, jasmine, ginger flower, honey orchid, cinnamon, gardenia, and almond.
The story of the name “duck shit” is, unsurprisingly, a bit odd. Apparently, the tea is so prized that a farmer, trying to protect it from others, spun a yarn that the yellowish brown soil where these bushes grew got their colour from all the duck shit in the soil. A poor explanation, perhaps, but one that has only added to the tea’s appeal. Those who disapprove have been trying to rename it for its aroma, Yi Hua Xiang, or honeysuckle.
I had another Phoenix Dan Cong in the collection, a Tong Tian Xiang, or the ginger-flower aroma. The flavours of ginger were noticeable. The leaves, also long and well-rolled, were greener than the Duckshit’s.
I bought these from Seattle, US-based Serene Tea, run by Rainy Huang, whose sessions I once attended. She urges us to try the gong-fu style for the Dan Cong.
For those who want to up the ante with tea, the Phoenix Dan Cong will not disappoint. It’s a “rabbit hole”, says Huang—not only for the sheer range of aromas (200-plus cultivars) but also for variations like aged Dan Congs.
Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1
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