Saturday, January 10, 2009

Learning about Old Oolongs

This winter's explorations started with Teaparker's presentation at the Taipei Story House in early December. He explained that the most suitable Taiwan Oolong for aging is the Hung Shui (=red water) Oolong. This isn't a new kind of tea tree, but a specific process: oxidation is a little stronger than for High Mountain Oolong and roasting is light (low temperature, but for a long time period). So, it doesn't really matter if the farmer uses luanze Oolong, Da Pa or Jinxuan Oolong. All Oolong varieties can be processed into Hung Shui Oolong. However, luanze (qingxin) Oolong is particularly well suited, because it has the most body and the Hung Shui process aims to produce a tea that's not just fragrant, but also has a nice mouthfeel. We brewed both a Gao Shan Oolong and a Hung Shui Oolong from this winter to experience their differences in taste and aromas.

And to finish the presentation, I brewed a 1980 Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding. In 1980, the High Mountain Oolong trend hadn't started yet. Traditional (or classic) Dong Ding Oolong meant a Hung Shui Oolong process. The amazing thing about this 28 year Oolong is that it hasn't been roasted since, just stored in an airtight jar. -Convential wisdom holds that Oolongs need to be roasted regularly to age, but this tea shows that if the storage conditions are sufficiently dry, then reroasting isn't needed-. The tea was fantastic: pure, transformed and mellow aromas, fine taste and, most striking, a lively touch. It's as if the tea had retained its original freshness, life, and had added new layers of depth and deeper aromas with the passing of time.

You can contrast the golden color of the old Hung Shui Oolong with the very dark color of these old (often) roasted Baozhongs. Reroasting is sometimes necessary to dry leaves that have absorbed moisture (bad seal or when the jar/pack is often opened and closed). For unsold teas, roasting can also be a technique to improve their taste and refreshen stale leaves. There are plenty of good reasons to roast Oolong and this process can yield great results when it's well done and when the quality of the original leaves is high. However, excessive repeated roasting will end up killing the freshness of the tea. Then the magic of having an old and yet lively brew is gone.

So far, all the old Oolongs I could find were of this reroasted type. Luckily, thanks to the educational content of my blog, a tea collector has accepted to sell me of his Spring 1990 Hung Shui Oolong from San Hsia. I've added it to my selection for those interested to experience the natural, slow aging of well stored Hung Shui Oolong. Because, in tea, a cup is like a 1000 words!

On a related note, I recommend this article in the The Leaf's Issue 4. It's a translation of an old text (1595) by Zhang Yuan: "Precision, dryness and purity" are indeed the attributes of an excellent, well stored tea! Thanks for making this translation available.


Soïwatter said...

Thanks for the precisions about Hong Shia Oolong. I think you had intriged more than one of your reader with the latest posts. And I hope being able to taste and savour such teas.

Thanks also for anouncing the issue of the Leaf 4. I missed it last month. This translation of Zhang Yuan is very intersting and It remind me some passage of the Cha Jing (I've read it last month) It somehow replace some assessment of the Classic in a more modern vision.

Anonymous said...

Est-ce que c'est une traduction de l'article "la mode des vieux oolong" ou bien c'est totalement différent?

Anonymous said...

Wow quite a good read! I feel with your blog I am learning quite a bit!

TeaMasters said...

C'est une synthèse de plusieurs articles passés,

Thanks Pat! I'm glad you find my blog interesting.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog!Enjoyed being here and learning more about old oolongs. Oolong tea is one of my favorite tea. I use gong fu method of brewing oolong tea in a small teapot and love the taste, which is somewhat fruity. Try Talbott Teas of Chicago they have an array of gourmet tea flavors for true tea indulgence. Visit here