In our opinion, fragrance is the first thing we notice in a cup of tea.
The fragrance of tea has a unique ID. It varies with different tea cultivars. To an experienced tea professional, the fragrance of a tea tells the story of its tea-making and even its growing environment.
The fragrance of tea is constituted of a complex mix of aromatic alcohols and hydrocarbons. These fragrance substances will change along with the growth of tea plants.
Some tea plants, such as Shui Xian, are able to live significantly longer than others. When they’re old, these tea plants can develop a distinct fragrance called “Cong” (Chinese: 枞味). The most famous old tea plant cultivar is called “Lao Cong Shui Xian/老枞水仙” (meaning: old plant Shui Xian).
In Chinese, “Cong/枞” literally means a green arbor. The “Cong” fragrance, as the name suggests, is the herbal aroma released from the plant.
The Cong fragrance is only associated with the age of the tea plant, not the age of the tea product. For example, freshly harvested tea leaves from an old Shui Xian plant generally carry the Cong fragrance, but an old tea product from a young tea plant doesn’t have such fragrance at all.
Older the tea plant, stronger the “Cong” fragrance. Fresh leaves from older tea plants naturally delivers a more stable, balanced and thick tea soup. This preferred tea soup mouthfeel is the most direct expression of tea leaves from an old tea plant.
Normally, tea plants are not tall or large bushes. However, Shui Xian plants are not bushes but arbors. Old Shui Xian plants’ root can grower deeper. It penetrates the soil and take root in deeper rocks. The deeper rooting allows old Shui Xian plants to better extract and absorb mineral substances.
The root system expands not only vertically, but also horizontally. Eventually, old tea plant can develop a vast and complex root system. A larger root system means the plant can absorb a lot more nutrients. More nutrients, more fragrance substances; therefore, stronger “Cong” fragrance.
In general, old tea plants like “Lao Cong Shui Xian” starts to show noticeable “Cong” fragrance at the age of 30. Older the plant, stronger the “Cong” fragrance. Some “Lao Cong Shui Xian” are older than 100 years. “Lao Cong Shui Xian” produced in “Hui Yuan Keng/慧苑坑” is an important reference in the “Cong” fragrance.
The “Cong” fragrance has no direct connection with aging. It’s not an aroma developed in storage. No matter how many years a tea is aged, as long as it’s not from an old tea plant, it would not have the “Cong” fragrance.
In our previous tea blogs, we’ve addressed the important impact of the overall growing environment. Interestingly, the development of the “Cong” fragrance has nothing to do with the tea plant growing environment. In fact, one of the most famous “Lao Cong Shui Xian” production size doesn’t even belong to the prestigious “Zheng Yan/正岩” area.
There are some tea lovers and tea businesses mistakenly claim that the “Cong” fragrance can be developed in storage. They’re actually confused about “old tea” and “old plant tea”. We actually have a previous tea blog explaining the concept of “old tea”. If you’re interested, please read Blog 111 for details.
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