Timeless Teas – The Art of Aged Tea
Just like fine wine, there are certain varieties of tea that age beautifully, accentuating or transforming their flavor and increasing their value. While most teas have a shelf life of about a year, after which the flavor becomes dull and stale, specific varieties of white, oolong and pu’er tea taste even better with time.
In our fast-paced culture, with Prime 2-day delivery, instant coffee pods, and obsession with elusive “quick fixes”, the idea of waiting for anything doesn’t come easily. However, if you are a tea lover, all it takes is a taste of a nicely aged tea to spark your interest in aging your own teas. After all, it’s really quite simple, and if you are patient, can yield marvelous results.
The Art of Aging Tea Like Fine Wine
Artfully aging high-quality tea bestows tea leaves with astonishing depth of flavor and complexity, as well as the special essence of time that the soul savors with delight. In order to be considered “aged” tea must be at least 5 years old but can be aged upwards of 50 years if stored in good condition.
Proper storage is essential for aging teas, as tea tends to pick up on surrounding flavors, and certain teas like to be air-tight, others like to breathe. You can read more about how to store tea here.
Types of Aged Tea
Aged White Teas
The other day I sampled the 2012 Vintage Shou Mei Tea Ball. While I enjoy white tea, it’s not something I generally gravitate towards. However, after trying the aged white tea ball it felt like the essence of the white tea had revealed itself in a deep, almost thick mouthfeel with strong floral and herbal notes. White teas are usually quite mild and subtle, while this aged white tea was nothing of the sort. It was really a unique experience that I savored more attentively and delightfully than just another cup of tea. There’s something about the essence of time imbued in the tea that gives the brew a magical feel. I was certainly enchanted.
White Teas, though minimally processed and delicate, age gracefully, producing a nuanced brew. Only unflavored white teas are candidates for aging so no Jasmine Whites or other flavored white teas. Stick with the classics and with time and patience you will get to enjoy these white teas become richer and smoother. Here are three of our white teas that age beautifully:
Vintage Shou Mei Tea Ball is a sphere of compressed white tea leaves harvested in 2012. You can enjoy this aged white tea now, or store it to continue the aging process. When brewed this tea provides a unique experience to truly be savored with deep herbal and floral notes.
This rare white tea is dried under moonlight, hence the name. These tea leaves are grown in the pu’er region but processed as a white tea. Full of smooth, honey notes, the unique flavor of this tea accentuates with time.
The most sought after white tea, the celebrated “silver needle” from Fujian gets its name from its silvery down-covered buds, which are hand-harvested for only a few days in the early spring. The light and sweet mellow brew of freshly harvested leaves becomes a deeply mellow and strongly honeyed taste with age.
Aged Dark Oolong Teas
Dark Oolong Teas lend themselves well to aging. With time their flavor becomes rich, deep, nutty, and smooth. Oolong teas require periodic re-roasting to remove any moisture from the leaves. We recommend re-roasting the tea leaves once per year. This not only keeps the leaves from going stale, but it accentuates the nutty aroma from the roast. With time these oolong teas deepen in intensity and complexity of flavor. Oolong teas can age for just a few years or several decades.
You can re-roast your teas at home with a ceramic tea roaster or in the oven. Once cooled, reseal the oolong tea in an airtight vessel.
- In a ceramic tea roaster: Roast the leaves for 3-5 minutes, stirring gently and continuously to ensure even roasting. You’ll know it’s time to stop when the leaves release a rich, nutty aroma.
- In the oven: Spread the tea leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 300°F for 5-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the leaves to prevent them from burning.
Here are a few dark oolong teas that are perfect for aging:
As the premier Tawainese or “formosa” oolong, Bai Hao is oxidized more (usually 50-60%) than other oolong teas. With such diminished astringency, this is the oolong for those who prefer a smooth brew and enjoy the aroma of stone fruit.
This oolong, named after the goddess of mercy Kuan Yin, has been roasted after aging, giving it a distinctly sweet and smoky flavor with a mahogany liquor and a deeply ethereal aroma. This particular vintage tea is from the 2008 harvest in the Fujian Province.
A spectacular taste sensation that undulates in lingering layers of fresh honey and golden peach. Each subsequent infusion reveals greater depth and subtle nuances of further flavor and intrigue.
A truly regal incarnation of Cliff oolong tea. Da Hong Pao is a hand-rolled large leaf tea that is well-oxidized, smooth and with great body. Wei Bertram, Arogya Tea master, tested over 100 varieties of Da Hong Pao before selecting this particular producer.
Pu’er teas age well as long as you start with a good pu’er and you store it properly. Unlike most teas, pu’er tea likes air flow, so it’s important to keep the tea in a container that is not air-tight. We age our pu’er teas in their original packaging, or in unglazed ceramic containers. As pu’er tea is a probiotic tea in continuous fermentation, the tea radically transforms with time.
Pu’er can be purchased “raw” – naturally and slowly fermented, or “dark” – meaning aged in a specific environment to accelerate the fermentation process. The dark pu’er teas are produced to simulate natural fermentation, accelerating a 15+ year process into one year. While you can continue to age dark pu’er tea at home, you will not notice such a dramatic effect as with the raw pu’er. You can enjoy raw pu’er young or aged, but keep in mind that these pu’er teas are only considered “aged” after about 15 years. Young raw pu’er is sweet and clean, reminiscent of a green or light oolong tea, but with more body and vigor, which pu’er is famous for. With time the tea is transformed into a dark, rich, smooth, and earthy brew. It’s truly amazing to watch the transformation of this wonderful tea.
We have many varieties and vintages of pu’er tea, only a fraction of which are listed on the website. If you are interested in curating a pu’er collection or selecting an assortment of teas for aging you can consult with Arogya Tea Master, Wei Bertram. You can book a private tea tasting in our Vintage Tea Room to explore the possibilities of aged tea and creating your own collection.