18 February 2011

Age is just ONE factor – Aged Teas IV

Like anything that may derive some value from its age, a tea’s age can only tell you a part of its story.  It may not even be the most vital part of the story.  There is value in aged teas because it’s uncommon and has inherent quantity limitations.  Daniel’s special Congou tea that is intact and nearly 100 years old probably doesn’t, by his own admission, taste exceptional, but it’s very rare and valuable.

Tea has a shelf-life and period for optimum taste, depending on what one is looking for.  This is not unlike wine or cheese or cured/aged meat, all of which reach an optimum maturation point for which it may be best enjoyed.  All genuinely old teas are interesting to me because they are unique.  We can manipulate the taste/smell/feel of a tea through various techniques, but we cannot make a 20 year old tea overnight.  With that said, old teas may be interesting, but few of them that I’ve come across are worth their price simply because they don’t taste good and they probably never will. 

I was looking up at the upper side-wall at Floating Leaves Tea yesterday as Shiuwen and I were chatting.  That is where some of the odds & ends tea from various seasons are stored.  I jokingly said to her that she should do less business each season so that she would have more aged tea to sell in 20 years.  It’s not easy to anticipate the changing tastes of consumers or the volatility of demand, which is why nearly every retailer will have some leftover teas (later becoming the coveted “aged tea” that so many look for).  Twenty years later, some of these aged teas will be phenomenal and some won’t.  Shiuwen’s Nangang Baozhong will be exceptional, as will some of the Dong Ding. 

I wondered why more people haven’t thought about storing and aging oolongs, like they do pu’er?  Perhaps it has to do with the limited (but growing) appeal of aged oolongs, or the fact that a good aged pu’er currently fetches 4-5 figure prices whereas most aged oolongs are still in the 3-4 figure range.  It may also be that pu’er generally tastes and feels so much better after aging, whereas many oolongs taste exceptional when they’re fresh.  Regardless, my focus now is to collect good jars of all sorts and then to fill them with tea.  I was recently inspired by Josh Chamberlain of J-Tea in Eugene who is holding a tea-sealing ceremony (a get together of tea lovers to put their tea into various types of pots/jars, seal and date them, and enjoy tea and snacks as they do it) soon.  He also has a great aged Dong Ding that will be even better in the years to come (and it’s only $25 an oz!) that I’ll talk about in an upcoming post. 

In other news, I close on my home purchase next week (and my wedding is the week after, figured I’d do it all at once!).  I talked to my architect-friend yesterday about designing some kind of tea space either as an addition to the house or as a separate unit in the yard and wow, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than I thought.  In the meantime, my REI tea tent will have to suffice, although it might snow soon :)

Drink good tea and enrich your life.   


  1. I knew there was another NW/Seattle blog I was missing on my list! Would you mind if I added you to the "Northwest tea links" on my blog? Hopefully someday we'll cross paths and share a cup :) I'll be interested to hear about your oolong tea storage progress. I see Petr Novak is doing the same with some EoT Dong Ding, stored in one of his pots and sealed with wax.

  2. Awesome, thanks for the add! I like Floating Leaves Tea, but she specializes in Taiwan Oolong. Maybe we can share a pot of oolong there sometime?

    Yes, Petr and I have communicated about the EoT aged DD (great price for the experience, I wouldn't be surprised if they're close to selling out) as well as different storage methods. Petr has the benefit of being able to think of and create a type of storage container with a specific type of material to test his theories on storage. His stuff is also very artistic while being functional as well.

    Tea storage is an interesting and admittedly "geeky" subject. The tea makers in Taiwan think the subject is silly, though, since they've been using thick plastic bags for decades.

  3. $25/oz is really high for an aged Taiwanese tea....

  4. The tea is one of the gold-medal winners of the 2007 Lugu aged tea competition. Considering the quality, age (1986) the competition-winner award mark-up and the US retailer's mark-up it isn't a high price.

    Perhaps it could be considered "high" if one were to buy it for that price in Taiwan, but not in the US. Not here, where there are several retailers that sell "aged" Taiwan crap for between $20-85/oz. Many of our tea friends here don't have the language ability/travel opportunities/tea connections in Asia that we are lucky to have in order find quality, aged oolongs at stellar prices. A good alternative is to try to introduce folks to relevant teas that may be within their reach (both geographically and financially). I am always looking for good, aged oolongs, though, and as my post suggests, I am buying more vessels to put teas into, so suggestions for affordable, quality teas both to enjoy now and to store are definitely welcomed!

    I visited Josh's teahouse recently (another upcoming post) and my purchase of his aged DD was fresh on my mind. There will be an upcoming shout-out to Canadian retailer Camellia Sinensis, since they do in fact have many affordably-priced aged oolongs to try. I have tried several of their aged teas, including the Dong Ding, but I don't think that particular tea is nearly as good as the 1986 one that J-Tea carries. There are other aged teas from them that I liked and will definitely buy more of to store.

  5. Sounds good Rich! I'm open most Thursdays through Saturdays. With regards to your post here, I think one of the reasons that home oolong aging isn't more popular is because there's a lot less information available about what kind of storage conditions produce good aged oolong--especially since a lot of the good aged oolong we're trying now wasn't even purposely aged in the first place by the farmers who produced it. From what I hear, one of the biggest factors is how much you keep--not enough tea and the aroma and potency will dissipate. Who knows?

  6. Cool, I'll probably be there this coming Thurs in the mid afternoon. Please let me know if can stop by (and remind me to being tea!).


  7. Congratulations!
    What's a tea tent?

  8. Thanks Gingko! Tea tent? Haha, it's just my camping tent. Put a small table inside and hang a lantern in it and it becomes my makeshift outdoors covered "tea house" AKA tea tent. Ha!

    Saving money for something better....


  9. Rich,

    Thank you (again) for more guide-post on the topic I fall in love to. According to your plans to store more oolong you probably have some "theses" how to pick out good tea for aging...maybe next post about aged oolongs? I have very pleasant HungShui GaoShan from Stephane where my first idea was “hm, this roasting and aroma, it could be interesting in twenty years…”