Thursday, January 17, 2019

Aged tea myth: Top Oriental Beauty from 2010

Fall 2010 top OB from Hsin Chu
Tea gardens are mostly asleep during winter. So, January is when tea farmers have the most time to spare taste tea with their customers. And since there are no fresh teas in January (except Dong Pian in Nantou), this is also a good time to explore their aged teas.

Before I introduce the nice fall 2010 top OB I've found in Hsin Chu county, let me give some warning about aged teas. A few weeks ago, a Taiwanese vendor was caught selling fake old tea by a Chinese customer. How did the customer find out? He used a detector of fluorescent chemicals and found some in the paper wrapping the tea. The paper was supposed to be as old as the tea, but these chemicals are much more recent. Apparently, this detector is quite cheap, but it's not something that most of us carry around in our pocket. Luckily, there are other ways to spot fakes. 
First brew
The most important tool is common sense. Does the story make sense or is it too good to be true? The first common sense observation is that time is money. Storing and keeping tea has a cost. An aged tea that costs less or about as much as new tea should be suspicious. The older the tea, the more suspicious. In the case of an old tea that costs about as much as a new tea, there are 2 possible explanations: 1. the tea is a fake, a new tea that has been processed to look and taste old (heavily roasted Oolong or wodui/cooked puerh). 2. the tea is old, but not very good, because it's a leftover from the past that has not aged well. (For instance, when Dong Ding Oolong became popular in the late 1970s, a lot of Wenshan Baozhong didn't sell anymore. Unfortunately, most of these Baozhongs were kept in cheap transparent plastic bags that didn't protect the leaves well.)

If the price of the tea is much more expensive than new tea, then you have to be even more careful! Again, some common sense:
- Packaging is easier to fake than tea. If you know what good aged tea looks and smells like, you should disregard the packaging and focus on the tea.
- Otherwise, ask yourself if the packaging is really as old as it claims to be. Try to research the company and see if they were really in business for this type of tea at the time claimed by the seller. Are there any mistakes or inconsistencies on the wrapper? I remember a fake where the telephone number indicated on the package had too many digits. Were teas packaged in such a manner in the past? Let's remember that before the second world war, tea was still a very luxurious product that had artfully decorated packaging. 
- High quality and expensive aged tea leaves should be clean and in excellent condition. With time, the scent is getting fainter. A strong scent is not normal for a very old tea.
In this case, 8 years isn't very old when it comes to an Oriental Beauty from a farmer in Hsin Chu who processes and roasts his OBs the traditional way. It's enough to compare the aged with the new to taste the difference and the improvement. The tea was wrapped in thick plastic foils that don't let sunshine in. And they were stored in a dry and clean place in his warehouse. Besides, there wasn't much left over in his inventory: about 3 kg only. This also makes sense, because farmers don't age big quantities of good tea on purpose.
Second brew
This aged Oriental Beauty Oolong has a very rich taste that stays strong, especially at the back of the throat. In the front of the mouth, it feels very smooth and oily. And it has a wonderful sweet candy fragrance! The roast flavors have mostly faded away, but I reckon that this OB still has many years of improvement ahead. Its taste hasn't reached its peak, yet. But it's already very pleasant to taste now or it could be a good choice if you wish to remember the year 2010 with a top OB.

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