10 April 2011

The Value of Bronze

I use many different types of storage for my oolongs.  Stainless steel, tin, pewter and aluminum are some of the metal storage containers that I have.  Copper and bronze containers, though, I don’t use.

My problem with copper (and bronze, which contains copper) is that it may tarnish or oxidize.  That green-colored deposit that you may have seen is the by-product of this oxidation, and I have seen it mostly on older copper and bronze vessels.  There is an associated rust-like/tart smell that develops as well.  Tea stored in a bronze container can pick up the smell from the metal.  Steel and quality pewter, on the other hand, don’t impart odors to the tea.

I’ve been told that bronze in particular makes a high-roast oolong taste more balanced and soft.  I had a friend store a roasted Tieguanyin in a bronze tea caddy for about a month, while I stored the same exact tea in a glazed clay jar and a thin-walled tin caddy for about a month as well.  A few tea friends and I tasted all 3 teas and found them to be vastly different.  The clay pulled away the biggest amount of fire from the tea, making it taste soft and delicate.  The tin trapped too much air with the tea and made it taste stale.

The bronze, though, surprised me by pulling out some of the fire from the roast while leaving the tea full-bodied.  It made the tea taste energetic and highlighted the fruit note of the Tieguanyin.  A very nice surprise, but the bronze had the predicted side-effect of imparting a tart smell and taste to the tea.  The bronze tea caddy had already oxidized to the point that there was some green and white oxidation both inside and outside of the caddy, so there was a strong odor in it already.  Perhaps a newer bronze container would benefit the tea without causing the side effects.

Although the farmers still shake their heads at me every time I tell them about my experiments, I continue to be fascinated by the effects that different materials have on tea that’s being stored – even for a short period of time.  As in the simple experiment with Tieguanyin above, all 3 teas tasted different enough after 1 month of storage that a taster thought – reasonably so – that they were 3 completely different teas.  I used a clay jar to store a roasted oolong that I had previously thought to be too strong for my tastes and after 6+ months of storage, it was actually enjoyable, definitely a candidate for a good-value daily drinker.  Experimenting with storage, re-roasting and just patiently waiting for natural changes has led me to re-evaluate the suitability of several teas that I’ve tried.  I can’t say that these experiments have caused me to bring a tea from my bad column onto the good one, but I’ve definitely gained some surprisingly pleasant tasting experiences.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.

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