Aging oolong? How to do it?

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Rickpatbrown
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 9:32 am

We tend to focus a lot on aging pu'erh, where adding humidity is important. Oolong on the other hand, does not do well with moisture. This is why asian tea shops will reroast their aging oolongs, periodically, to drive off excess moisture.

Here in the west, our drier climate is problematic for pu'erh, but seem well suited to aging oolong. I've read that reroasting destroys some of the aging flavor, so it might even be better than asian stored oolong.

The big problem, of course, is that aging oolong takes a lot longer than pu'erh. Its sounds like 20-30 years is a good point to start drinking.

Every spring, I buy large amounts of gaoshan and Dong Ding. Most years, I have a few bags/cans left over. I usually would give most of these away, but am thinking of holding on to a couple each year for aging. I'm not going to get carried away, though. I'm almost 40 years old (not sure how that happend :shock: ), so 30 years of aging is cutting it close! But it will be fun.

Does anyone have any experience? Should I just keep them in the original vacuum sealed packs? Or should I remove the oxygen absorbers and repack them into jars or cans? How airtight should they be? Should I add wax around the lid?
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OCTO
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:06 am

@Rickpatbrown

All I did was store my oolongs in teapots and wrap it up. Keep them away, somewhere cool and let time take it's course. Successfully aged a small batch of roasted Taiwanese TGY. Aged for 10 years, inside a Heinies teapot.

Cheers!
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StoneLadle
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 12:10 pm

I have also found aged oolongs unintentionally, while going thru stuff. It was in tin tea caddies, sealed in plastic, sealed in original packaging foil. Almost everything has been drinkable and interesting and the general rule seems to be confined airspace and low humidity.

Have been cautious since then, portioning out 50-100g amounts into drinking caddies so as to keep the remaining stock intact and encouraged to age further...
mbanu
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:20 pm

Step 1 is to have one of the handful of oolongs that can be aged. Most of these were produced accidentally through having a bad kill-green, so aging them is a bit like dry-storing white tea or loose pu'er. As far as I can tell these are a new thing invented by pu'er hunters in Taiwan buying old competition-winning oolongs from teashop display cases. The thing about bad kill-greens is that when the tea is very fresh, the flavor can actually be a bit better than a tea that has had a proper kill-green, it just quickly deteriorates. So if someone was thinking, "I just have to have the tea win the competition, then the batch will sell out immediately" they may have been tempted to do this. So then the tea won, most was sold, and a souvenir was put in the trophy case, where it slowly began to change. I don't know how you would go about intentionally seeking out fresh oolong with a bad kill-green, though.

It is important not to confuse these types of oolongs with Hong Kong style re-roasted oolongs; these are more accurately "preserved" oolongs. The re-roasting does not improve the flavor, it just prolongs the shelf-life. A re-roasted oolong that has been re-roasted many times eventually loses all of its original character, and all that is left is roast flavor. So it comes down to recognizing when the tea needs to be re-roasted, whether it can stand another re-roast, and then re-roasting it.

If you just store normal oolong with a proper kill-green, it will go stale like normal tea. If you store it quite dry, it will go rancid first, which if you are lucky will produce pleasant rather than unpleasant stale flavors, before going flat like the teas stored normally.
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Rickpatbrown
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 4:28 pm

mbanu wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:20 pm
Step 1 is to have one of the handful of oolongs that can be aged. Most of these were produced accidentally through having a bad kill-green, so aging them is a bit like dry-storing white tea or loose pu'er. As far as I can tell these are a new thing invented by pu'er hunters in Taiwan buying old competition-winning oolongs from teashop display cases. The thing about bad kill-greens is that when the tea is very fresh, the flavor can actually be a bit better than a tea that has had a proper kill-green, it just quickly deteriorates. So if someone was thinking, "I just have to have the tea win the competition, then the batch will sell out immediately" they may have been tempted to do this. So then the tea won, most was sold, and a souvenir was put in the trophy case, where it slowly began to change. I don't know how you would go about intentionally seeking out fresh oolong with a bad kill-green, though.

It is important not to confuse these types of oolongs with Hong Kong style re-roasted oolongs; these are more accurately "preserved" oolongs. The re-roasting does not improve the flavor, it just prolongs the shelf-life. A re-roasted oolong that has been re-roasted many times eventually loses all of its original character, and all that is left is roast flavor. So it comes down to recognizing when the tea needs to be re-roasted, whether it can stand another re-roast, and then re-roasting it.

If you just store normal oolong with a proper kill-green, it will go stale like normal tea. If you store it quite dry, it will go rancid first, which if you are lucky will produce pleasant rather than unpleasant stale flavors, before going flat like the teas stored normally.
This is very interesting, I've never heard this perspective. Everything I've read makes it sound so easy. Things usually are not.

So the inadequate kill green leaves some active enzymes? Wouldn't these teas need humidity much as pu'erh does to age?
mbanu
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 5:53 pm

Rickpatbrown wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 4:28 pm
So the inadequate kill green leaves some active enzymes? Wouldn't these teas need humidity much as pu'erh does to age?
Well, no humidity is not really no humidity; there is a comfortable level of humidity that people take for granted. So if the tea is not kept airtight it will inevitably be exposed to and absorb moisture. Normally keeping tea dry is the constant struggle of any tea-lover even in dry climates.
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Bok
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:27 pm

A lot of what is sold as aged Oolong in Taiwan is exactly as @mbanu said, not intentional, forgotten and often subpar, thus unsold tea.

I doubt though that the competition judges would be unable to identify an improperly processed tea...
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pedant
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:30 pm

it makes sense that improperly processed (insufficient killgreen) tea may be set aside and forgotten about, and therefore a lot of it ends up as aged tea.

but does aging decent (or good) tea really give an inferior result??
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Bok
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:35 pm

pedant wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:30 pm
it makes sense that improperly processed (insufficient killgreen) tea may be set aside and forgotten about, and therefore a lot of it ends up as aged tea.

but does aging decent (or good) tea really give an inferior result??
Not in my experience. I’ve had 20y stored Taiwan oolong without any re roasting and it was delicious. Also had one that was amazingly still producing a yellow instead of an dark orange or red brew as an aged tea probably would... lots of grey areas
mbanu
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 8:20 pm

It is a very confusing subject. Part of it comes down to, "Why would unsold tea be kept?" If you take the internet at face value, Taiwan is home to warehouse after warehouse stuffed full of decades-old oolong tea that was never sold or thrown away, despite being a populous island with a fixed amount of space. There are also the typical costs involved with warehousing any product that would surely add up over time, protecting the tea from pests and elements. I am unfamiliar with government policy in regards to tea in Taiwan, but unless they were being paid to keep it, it is hard for me to understand why they would have if there was no expectation of it being sold at the time.

Another part is, "How would someone find this unsold tea?" To me, this must mean that some of this tea was not in warehouses but in teashops, where space is at even more of a premium. Of course, not all teashops are run in a rational way (MarshalN's series of blog posts on his 2007 vacation to Taiwan which he seemed to spend almost entirely hunting for old oolong was helpful to me for providing context), but normally businesses discard what they can't sell unless it serves a purpose, such as for advertising.

A third part is, "Why would anyone even want this? Why would they look for this when there is fresh tea available every season, as there is in Taiwan?" A very helpful bit here was a post from Stephane in 2005, when drinking this type of old oolong was still new enough that it needed to be explained: http://teamasters.blogspot.com/2005/09/ ... young.html The speaker sees the desire for old oolongs as a nationalist counter against pu'er tea.

Then the final part, "Some of this tea is not being reroasted, but is still being bought; are people just drinking stale tea, or is something else going on?" which goes back to what is happening when tea goes stale, and why something like this could even be possible, which goes back to the enzymatic reactions in the tea, since these old unroasted oolongs are apparently not post-fermented teas, have nothing preventing them from going flat such as re-firing, and yet are still apparently in OK shape.
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Bok
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 9:52 pm

Interesting points you raise here @mbanu. From my personal observation: while it’s a small space, Taiwan has still a lot of if available especially on the countryside where house are huge with lots of storage space intentional and out of laziness to clean it up. Which brings me to the next point: a lots of shops(not only tea) are incredibly crammed with stuff, so it’s a very strong possibility that stuff is being forgotten.

Farmers less likely, they’re more pragmatic and sometimes don’t even care about tea, but not so the tea makers and shops. Another are people who bought a lot and then got old and pass away with their stash being forgotten by their descendants. Happens frequently that teas are found like that. Imagine that hardcore tea friends store their teas by the the 1-2kilo jars X a few dozen... that is more than most will ever finish in their lifetime.

Some guys like Chen Ah Qiao were already famous and expensive by today’s standards in their lifetime so it would have made sense to store some.

It’s complicated.
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:11 pm

Bok wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:27 pm
A lot of what is sold as aged Oolong in Taiwan is exactly as mbanu said, not intentional, forgotten and often subpar, thus unsold tea.
I’d rather consume a subpar 20-30yr old oolong than a subpar newly made one.
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Bok
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:14 pm

Chadrinkincat wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:11 pm
Bok wrote:
Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:27 pm
A lot of what is sold as aged Oolong in Taiwan is exactly as mbanu said, not intentional, forgotten and often subpar, thus unsold tea.
I’d rather consume a subpar 20-30yr old oolong than a subpar newly made one.
Not sure about that... we frequently sample some mystery aged teas and they can be quite unpleasant. I distinctly remember one with hints a what would normally be described as dish washing liquid smell... a lot of of old teas are also blends of leftover teas thrown together.
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pedant
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 11:00 pm

not to mention that over 20-30 years, there is a lot of opportunity for the tea to get contaminated by its surroundings (either liquid or vapor contamination).

dish washing liquid smell? maybe it was actually contaminated with a cleaning product or something, hah.
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pedant
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 11:08 pm

ok, i have to ask..

does anyone have any anecdotal evidence about tea stored in aluminized mylar bags (or similar) long term? because that's how most of my oolong tea is being "aged" right now. some has 5 years or more on it.

i'm guilty of buying tea and just letting it sit unopened. some of it has desiccant packets. some even has O2 scavenger. but let's just consider the case of tea being sealed in a bag without extra preservation devices.

does anyone know for sure that this is going to give a bad result?

was it common to store bulk tea sealed in bags like that 30 years ago?
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