It happened Sunday 25, and I was there! Below this article, I already posted more pictures yesterday. In the meantime, Teaparker has also written an article about this big tea party with over 200 participants in the full red playhouse, in the Simeding district.
The event lasted 2 and a half hours, with many speakers, Teaparker amongst them, to teach and tell us about Taiwan's old teas. Such teas are not very well known among the oolong and pouchong/baozhong drinkers. Tea drinkers usually only associate old tea with Yunnan's puerh. One speaker even talked about this misconception in political terms: "Taiwanese, be proud of your old teas! Don't turn to the Mainland for old puer, but discover the uniqueness of Taiwan's oolong." He seemed to imply that oolong had been invented in Taiwan. Fortunately, I was sitting next to Teaparker and he told our table that this was wrong as oolong originated from China (Fujian, if I remember well) and not in Taiwan. (Nothing political here, just a plain fact.)
The event was quite interactive: each table had a tea set and 3 samples of the old teas presented that day. This allowed everybody to brew and taste these teas while listening to the speakers and a musician.
Teaparker's presentation was one of the most interesting, and the only one to rely on Powerpoint. His subject was more general: what is old tea?
1. Age: A tea starts to be old around 20 years.
2. Storage: To slowly change and improve with time, a tea needs good storage conditions. The humidity level must be kept to a minimum to avoid that the tea turns sour. Tin cans are recommended. Regular roasting is one of the methods employed to freshen up Taiwan's old teas on a regular basis. But such roasting better be light, otherwise the tea may die as it looses all its youth. It's like facial surgery: done lightly and you look younger, but if done aggressively, then you may end up looking uglier than in the first place!
3. Tea quality: Some oolongs are more or less suitable for aging. Jinxuan, a very fragrant tea, is best drunk young and not a good candidate for aging. The best one is hong shui (red water) oolong, because this tea kind is very dry and thus necessitates less roasting. The season is also a factor. Taiwan's dry season is in autumn and so teas harvested during fall will also age better.
How are we then to appretiate old tea?
First, let's say how it should not be appretiated: drinking a story. Many sellers will prefer emphasizing by which miracle they got the tea, rather than talking about the drinking experience. So there are many stories of teas forgotten in a trove or buried during the war...
True tea fans will quickly forget such stories and focus on the tea itself. The characterisic of a truly excellent old tea is that it will give you a glimpse of its youth. (I'm still paraphrasing Teaparker). You will not only smell the old, but also see the youth within the tea. Here I'm thinking of my 79 years old grandfather, who only recently stopped writing in the local newspaper. His white hair made him look old already long time ago, but the high spirits he diplays when he talks still let me see his youthful vigor.
This was unfortunately not the case with the teas we drank that day (my private opinion). But it was still a great day and I'll tell you more about my other findings in the coming days.