It is not simply any old tea that has been put aside and found again after a long absence. Aged tea has been purposefully created in a way that will allow it to grow and ripen later gently. Additionally, it has been kept in storage settings that permit this type of aging. Some kinds of tea, primarily those that fall under the black tea category, require the tea to be aged as an essential component of their manufacturing. This production process is unique in that it may last virtually indefinitely. However, it is the tea owner’s duty to see to it that it does.
The process of aging may be thought of as a mellowing of the tea’s flavor. It gets more rounded and loses some of its early power. Unique flavors start to emerge after some time in preservation. That is where the appeal of aged tea resides. As tea ages, the hues of the dried leaves and their drink get deeper.
Chinese aged pu-erh tea is a black tea that is only made in Yunnan region in southwest China. Chinese black teas are the only kind of tea that is said to get better with age because of a unique production procedure that involves actual fermentation. These rare teas are made from a specific kind of tea shrub found only in that area called Da Ye (“big leaves”). Pu-erh is officially defined as “tea produced from leaves harvested from the large-leafed Da Ye tea bushes growing in Yunnan province, sun-dried, and having undergone a process of fermentation, either natural (sheng) or induced (shou).” Aged Pu-erh is renowned in the West for its extraordinary health benefits, in addition to its distinctive flavor.
Aged tea used to be rather simple to get throughout Asia, however, it cost more in accordance with its age. This interest in East Asia has traditionally been primarily focused on Pu-erh and Oolong. But starting about 2015, there was a sharp increase in demand for aged tea, especially black and white tea, not just in China but also in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. This has resulted in a decrease in supply and an increase in price for all aged tea.
Although there are no hard and fast regulations about how old tea must be to be deemed “aged,” what has been observed being sold in Asia shows that tea must be at least 5 years old before it qualifies as “aged.” Aged teas can also be 20, 30, or even more years old. These precious gems must be kept in ideal preservation circumstances so that they can relax, adapt, and develop an incredible level of complexity and taste over time.
The characteristics of the tea, while it is young, are used to choose the best tea for aging. Tea that is aging has potential for the future, thus the young tea needs to demonstrate that it can live up to its promise of maturing and evolving into something even more amazing. This decision is comparable to the one a wine connoisseur takes when deciding which young bottles of wine would mature the best after around ten years of repose in a wine cellar. Tea that is of poor quality or has a disappointing flavor when it is young will not get better with age, like wine.
How Does Tea Age?
All black tea varietals go through a fermenting stage as one of their last processing steps. They are exposed to a warm, moist atmosphere that encourages the growth of the bacteria that cause their fermentation in one manner or another. The teas will continue to ferment and age slowly if they are kept in storage environments that are favorable to these bacteria. In contrast to oxidation, this kind of fermentation takes place in low-oxygen environments. Many black teas are packaged compactly.
Factors to Consider when Aging Tea
Pu-erh is not the only type of aged tea. Teas that age well often include:
- Made from premium tea leaves: The poorest teas will not miraculously transform into exquisitely aged teas after a few years. To gain from age, the quality of the basic ingredients is crucial. A poor-quality tea will lose taste even more with time, much like a bad wine does not become better with age.
- Going through microbial post-fermentation: Dark teas, especially pu-erh teas, go through this process. Aged tea’s complexity, subtlety, and uniqueness are all a result of the bacteria engaged in the fermentation process.
- Avoid using excessive heat while processing tea: High heat destroys the enzymes that help tea leaves take on taste over time. Because of this, aged teas are usually lightly sun-dried, however, high-heat drying techniques can provide richer but fleeting tastes that fade within a year or two. Because of this, carefully sun-dried white tea has a larger potential for aging.
Types of Aged Tea
Although Pu-erh may be the most well-known aged tea, other kinds of tea can also be relished after aging. For instance, it is simple to find old tea of the following varieties:
- Aged White Tea
The delicate taste profile of raw white teas gains a completely new depth as it ages. White tea gradually becomes sweeter and less vegetarian as it ages.
- Aged Green Tea
More significantly, young raw pu-erh is an aged tea that green tea connoisseurs would love because of its similarity to green tea.
- Aged Oolong Tea
Oolong also ages nicely, requiring just occasional re-roasting every few years. Oolong that has been aged is likewise quite sensitive to the precise humidity and storage temperature conditions.
- Aged Black Tea
Certain black teas may be also aged. The ones that age nicely are often sun-dried. Old black tea has a smaller potential for aging than other forms of aged tea.
- Aged Dark Tea
Dark tea is an aged Chinese tea that has undergone secondary fermentation. Dark tea has a subcategory called Puer.
The enzymes in tea leaves that help produce taste over time are destroyed by high heat. Because of this, aged teas are usually lightly sun-dried, however, high-heat drying techniques can provide richer but fleeting tastes that fade within a year or two.