Friday, May 10, 2019

Spaciba to my Russian friends and aged tea!

Russians and citizens of former Soviet republics have a special love for tea. Despite writing only in English and French, my blog stats often show that Russians are among the top readers of my blog. (And they are also regular buyers on my online boutique!) Several years ago, in 2012, Vladimir, one of my Russian readers, even gifted me this box of aged red tea made in Georgia in July 1960! After the Aged Tea event at Penn State, I wished to revisit this tea again and see what we can learn from it.

1. The packaging
The first risk with aged tea is to purchase a fake aged tea. To avoid this risk, we can look at the packaging to see if it fits its supposed historic context. The fact that this is a gift and that I didn't pay anything for this tea means I have zero financial risk, but maybe the person who gave me this tea got fooled by a seller, who knows? Even if it's a gift, you still must be careful and not take everything at face value. A PSU professor came to one of the events with a box of tea he had received from a colleague who returned from China. He had no idea what it was. After examination of the leaves, it turned out that it was an artificially scented red tea (from Fujian). The person who made the gift probably also didn't know what he was buying...
With this metallic box, we can clearly see how time has impacted the paper and the metal. This is what you'd expect from a 50-60 years old box. Second, the shape of the tea box is the same as that of Chinese tea boxes in Wuyi, before 2000, and in which they'd keep samples of all the Yan Cha produced by the State company. (Teaparker showed pictures of similar boxes in Wuyi). And, indeed, this box serves the same purpose in Georgia: keeping samples of the teas produced then.
While there are a lot of fake teas in the famous tea regions of China, there are fewer risks that someone would fake the relatively unknown red tea from Georgia. The fact that the person who got this for me is Russian also makes sense, because Georgian teas are mostly sold in Russia (and not China or England).
 2. The tea leaves
Now that we have established that the packaging is genuine, let's examine the leaves and see their appearance. The leaves are small and black. There are some stems, but no buds. These leaves are mostly broken. Their scent is light, sweetly astringent with notes of wood and clean. There are no signs or scents of dirt or mold.
3. The brew
This tea is an excellent example of what quality aged tea should look like: excellent transparency and shine! (And I didn't rinse the leaves!) It almost looks like a new red tea! However, the fragrances are different and confirm that the tea is indeed aged. Nevertheless, the fact that the brew looks so similar is also a sign that fully oxidized teas don't evolve as much as Oolongs or puerhs. Even after almost 60 years, this tea feels like a red that has only aged a bit. Compared to an Oolong, it feels only 20 years of age. Maybe the cool and dry Russian climate also helped preserve the freshness of these leaves longer.
The last time I brewed this tea (on the blog) was for Christmas 2012. Then, I used more leaves. Now, I am much more aware of how precious an aged tea of 60 years is. I used my Ming dynasty Dehua porcelain teapot to brew it! This added another dimension to the experience.
Again, spaciba to Vladimir and all my Russian tea friends!

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