Tuesday, November 7, 2017

10 years of successful Oolong aging

 Aging tea is a very tricky undertaking, because it takes so long until you know if you have aged it properly or not. The problem starts with the fact that few people know how well aged tea is supposed to look and taste like. Take Oolong, for instance. Most people say that you need to roast your leaves every year or so in order to age it. A tea farmer told me that one way he recycles unsold Oolong is by roasting the leaves very strongly until they are as black as charcoal. He would then place them in a pottery jar and sell this tea as aged Oolong! The wood/charcoal fragrance of such Oolongs can be interesting and enticing, but it's not what real aged Oolong feels like.

During my studies with Teaparker, I had the opportunity to experience aged Oolongs early on. The fragrances were complex and not to be found in young Oolongs. In wine terminology, we'd speak of tertiary notes that come with age, like plum, old wood, incense... But the most fantastic characteristic of well aged Oolong is that they still feel alive and fresh! According to Teaparker, such aged Oolongs are obtained if you keep your roasted (or well dried) Oolong in a porcelain jar without re-roasting it. The aromas of such young roasted Oolongs are quite different from an aged one. Is it really possible to age Oolong without re-roasting it? Teaparker seemed pretty alone in the tea world with this advice. The only way to find out was to try!

10 years ago, in winter 2007, I purchased some Qingxin Oolong from Lishan (2000 meters+) that had been roasted by Master Zhang in Dong Ding. (I chose a high mountain Oolong, because the winner of the Dong Ding Oolong competition in spring 2007 told me that his leaves were harvested in Lishan). In February 2008, I started aging this roasted Oolong from Lishan in a porcelain jar. In January 2010, I removed the plastic foil under the lid, because Teaparker recommended not having any plastic in direct contact with the leaves. In December 2013, I compared the leaves in the jar with those I stored in the original plastic foil and found that those in the jar tasted nicer.

Today, I'm brewing this Lishan Oolong from the jar again and I can finally start smelling the nice scents of aged Oolong in this tea! The fragrances are indeed starting to turn into those familiar refined notes of plum and precious wood. And the taste is still so powerful and sweet!
This tasting of a 10 years old roasted Oolong that I have aged myself in a porcelain jar proves that it works! It's possible to age Oolong with re-roasting it. And not only is it possible, but it gives excellent results!
 "Vertrauen is gut, Kontrolle ist besser": It's good to trust, it's better to control, my German boss liked to say in my previous job...
 I'm glad this experiment turned out so well and confirmed what I've been learning. We can learn a few more things from these pictures. Look at the dry leaves. That's how they are supposed to look after 10 years. There are still hints of green in the color. Also, 10 years isn't old enough for the rolled Oolong to unfurl significantly. (The older, the looser the leaves will appear).

We can also look at the open leaves and observe that the leaves are opening up nicely after the brewing. It's a sign that the roasting wasn't too powerful and retained the freshness of the leaves.
To experience older aged Oolongs that were not re-roasted, check these ones (except the older 1979, which must have been re-roasted along the way).

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