Shiuwen Tai is the founder of Floating Leaves Tea
in Seattle, and a noted authority on Taiwanese oolong teas
. She has taken a particular interest in aged oolongs
, and she shared her expertise on aged oolongs in the following Q&A:
How do you define aged oolong?
I think an aged oolong has successfully transformed to a new flavor from the orginal oolong, and yet still keeps the same degree of mouthfeel
, if not more.
What differentiates a stale oolong from an aged oolong?
Stale oolong has already lost its original taste/fragrance and when you smell the tealeaves
it feels like there is too much moisture in the bag. An aged oolong also lost its original taste/fragrance. However, new, distintive flavors appear.
How old should an oolong be aged before it becomes an aged oolong?
My experience told me it changes at around ten years, but it doesn't stop aging after ten years.
What does an aged oolong smell and taste like?
Typical aged oolongs smell like prune, raisin, herbal notes... some can even smell like
What are your tips for selecting an oolong to age?
Always start with a good tea
. The safest way to do it is to start with a roasted
oolong with a strong mouthfeel.
Do you find that certain types/origins of oolongs age better than others?
I do notice there are more aged "Baozhong," "Dong Ding" and "Tiequanyin" available. (These tea growing regions
in Taiwan have existed longer than high mountain production regions.)
How do you suggest storing oolong during the aging process?
In a fairly airtight stoneware canister.
What is it about aged oolong that intrigues you
I like the unique tastes that an aged oolong provides. Also, good aged oolongs have a
warmth. Perhaps it's the "Cha Qi" (tea energy) tea people talk about in Taiwan. I don't tend to feel "tea energy" in fresh oolongs, but I have experienced some sort of energy from a couple of aged oolongs.
When did aged oolongs become a collector's item and gain a connoisseur
I asked some tea people in Taiwan. (They've all had tea businesses for around 20 years and I thought they are more qualified to answer this question.) One told me that he couldn't remember, but he feels that customers from time to time will ask for aged oolongs. Another told me that he
noticed more people started asking for aged oolongs around eight years ago.
Why do you think aged oolongs are becoming popular?
I think when a tea becomes popular is because some people intentionally mention it. Enough people tasted it and thought it was good. I personally think that, compared to a lot of other teas,
aged oolongs are not "popular" yet.
What kind of customers do aged oolongs appeal to?
In Taiwan, I noticed they appeal to people who are more than 45 years old. In the United States, I think aged oolongs attract to tea drinkers who are looking for unique and good quality teas.
Where can customers find aged oolongs in United States?
I sell some. I know Hou De Tea
in Texas and Red Blossom
in [San Francisco] California also have them, but I bet more vendors in the US carry aged oolongs.
What kinds of aged oolongs do you sell?
The aged oolong I currently have is a 13-year-old Baozhong. I found this tea in my May 2010 trip to Taiwan. This aged Baozhong has a wonderful prune/raisin notes, and it's sweet.
Sometimes when I am brewing the tea, a floral bouquet
will show up, which reminds me when a Baozhong is fresh, and sometimes some sort of warm Chinese herbal scent will show up, which a lot of even older Baozhong will have this note. It's very interesting. It's a tea I see a past, present, and its future.