There actually isn’t a Small White in Fenghuang Dancong, but a cultivar named Fenghuang Baiye — i.e. Phoenix White Leaf. It is the material that makes our Phoenix Classic, a neutral TCM character, “cooked”, i.e. baked, aroma Phoenix oolong. Actually one of the most prevalent varieties in the gongfu tea capital — Chaozhou.
That is because it is a comfort tea with its warm, sweet character and flexibility in preparation. Its popular application ranges from gongfu infusion to food pairing with almost anything.
By contrast, Big White is less heard of. It is nevertheless an indigenous cultivar in Fenghuang, and one with more temperament. People used to find problems growing and harvesting this tree. It is only until in recent decades that people have learned how to manage it in slightly larger scales — relatively.
It is called Big White Leaf — Da Baiye — due to its larger leaf size compared with Baiye. Both cultivars have light coloured young leaves. In rural southern China, things that are lighter in colour is white, hence the names. It does not have a code name or scholarly name because it has been there all the time and Da Baiye has always been the name.
Since the gradual popularity, people in the trade ( those who really understand the trade of Phoenix oolongs ) need to differentiate the two. Baiye thus takes on this nickname of Xiao Baiye, i.e. Small White Leaf.
Poor Men’s Song
Big White is more suitable to process in the bouquet finish. Properly produced, it has a taste profile that is not unlike that of Song Cultivar, a much more expensive tea. That is why we call it Poor Men’s Song Cultivar. Many traders do use this in place of the genuine Song, for a much easier sell and a deeper margin.
In comparison, Big White is an easier tea than Song. Softer, sweeter and less complex. This is all the more tempting for the merchant to cheat. Appreciation of authentic and more complex taste profile does require enough trained sensitivity. When selling to eager tea lovers who are still learning about Phoenix, the impersonator is a lot easier.
That said, Big White is a great entertainment tea particularly for showing off to non-tea connoisseurs with your gongfu skills. Or as a general purpose tea. We often have it in the mug by the desk.