Dan Zhu: Puerh of Single Tree
The best-known single tree tea must be Dan Cong. In the history, only the highest grade of Phoenix (Fenghuang) Oolong was called Fenghuang Dan Cong, as Dancong means single bush, and it literally had to be picked from a single bush, although nowadays Dan Cong has become the general name for all the Phoenix Oolong, including the historical lower grades like Fenghuang Lang Cai and Fenghuang Shui Xian. Here let's learn about the single tree tea of another category: Dan Zhu Puerh.
1️. What is a Dan Zhu Puerh?
Dan Zhu (单株) refers to single tree. Technically, a Dan Zhu Puerh needs to be harvested from just one tree, and processed separately. To be able to produce a tea from just one tree, the tree needs to be very old, usually over 300 y/o, and in very good condition to provide enough harvest. Although the biggest tree was once recorded providing 12kg of tea, many of the smaller Gushu supply only 1-2kg. So, in a wide sense, those teas gathered from a few selected oldest / best Gushu in the same plantation, and then processed separately, are also considered as Dan Zhu Puerh. Of course, being over 300 y/o is always a necessary condition.
2. Is Dan Zhu Puerh always an excellent tea?
Let's say not always! It is the same logic as Gushu, if a tree does not produce delicious tea, then even if it grows up to 300 y/o or even older, the basic particularity of the tea would not be changed by the tree’s age, nor by the way of harvesting. Therefore, a tea picked from a single tree does not necessarily to be superior than those made from the mixed harvest of the whole tea garden.
In fact, blending the harvest from the same tea garden or the same tea mountain is an effective means to enrich and to balance the flavors and aromas, as well as blending the harvest from different production areas, although in the latter case the tea will lose the typical characters of the region. And a tea made from just one tree possibly may weaken the complexity in flavor and aroma. However, if a tree is excellent enough, making it into a single tree tea helps to ensure its excellence no to be diluted by other younger or ordinary trees.
Logically the farmers/producers wouldn't bother themselves to produce a tea from an ordinary tree that is nothing special, so that many single tree products on the market are good teas. Like, our 2013 Man Mai Gushu Dan Zhu is indeed an excellent instance, but we cannot assert that all of the single tree teas always mean excellent tea, as besides the harvest, the process is another very important factor that decides the quality of a tea.
3. Is Dan Zhu Puerh just a marketing trick?
Actually, some tea people, including producers and drinkers, doubt about the need to produce Dan Zhu Puerh.
Let's consider it as the extension of the origin system (production area > tea mountain > village), the more specific the location is, the better reputation the tea has. For example, a Puerh indicated as from Bulang Shan usually is better recognized than another indicated as from Xishuangbanna, since Bulang Shan is one of the famous tea mountains in the Xishuangbanna production area, and the latter product comes from an unknown or less-known mountain in Xishuangbanna for sure, or it may be made from a blended harvest from different mountains of the area; then, likewise, a Puerh from Lao Ban Zhang is always better recognized than another from Bulang Shan, since Lao Ban Zhang is undoubtedly the best known village in Bulang Shan mountain, and the latter product certainly comes from an unimportant village in Bulang Shang or is made from a blended harvest from different villages of this mountain.
The same case happens in wine industry, a bottle labeled as "Wine of France" is usually considered inferior to those labeled from well-known areas such like Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc.; and among the wines from the same area, the one labeled from a particular chateau is used to consider superior to another that only indicates the area.
When it comes to a Puerh from prestigious villages, in order to further improve the quality, it does make sense to choose the best tree(s) of the plantation to process a Puerh Dan Zhu, doesn't it?