Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Time Machine for Two 1993 Teas

Have you ever longed for a time machine that could fill your teacup with the amazing teas of yesteryear, grown back before pollution, global warming, and "efficient" agricultural practices starting chipping away at the quality of even the best tea? Roy is always fondly recalling the high quality of the teas he used to acquire back when he first opened Imperial Tea Court. So imagine his delight when he stumbled on stashes of two 1993 teas from Anhui--a qimen mao feng and the green tea huo qing (jade fire). Even more exciting: when we tasted these teas it turns out they've actually improved with age!

Among the latest tea fads in China is a taste for aged black tea, and that led Roy to prowl around the warehouse, looking for specimens that might interest his Chinese customers. That's when he stumbled on small, long-forgotten containers of the Anhui teas. As Roy says, "tea just doesn't grow like this any more." In fact, once common huo qing is rarely seen these days. The dark, tightly rolled huo qing leaves with furry tips that Roy unearthed have a hard, shiny lacquered appearance, the elusive bao guang ("treasured luster") that occurs when plump leaves full of nutrients and flavor ooze out their juice during processing; the juice coats the dried leaves and hardens into a glossy shell.

Roy explained that certain teas age well if they have enough nutrients in the leaf and are maintained in a mild, dry climate like we have here in the Bay Area. The remarkable teas of Yunnan are so rich in nutrients that they improve even under the extreme conditions of an accelerated shou process. For the Anhui tea, especially the green huo qing, a bit more luck was involved.

After inspecting the dry leaves we infused them in 195-degree water. As Roy noted, a green tea this old needs hotter water than when it was fresh, to help it rehydrate and bring out all the dimensions of flavor and aroma that have long been dormant. We immediately noticed that the leaves stayed on the bottoms of both gaiwans, instead of floating to the top, and the submerged leaves were quickly surrounded by a small puddle of color. Roy said both of those were positive signs that the leaves of the two teas are heavy with nutrients.

At last it was time to taste. All those years in storage have deliciously concentrated flavors and added new dimensions. Roy raved about the qimen. "It's heaven! I never thought I'd taste qimen like this again," he exclaimed. "It's totally sweet, smooth, and non-aggressive, with none of the green harshness you find in today's qimen." The red-orange liquor was thick and juicy, totally lacking smoky or astringent notes, and it brewed up bright and clear.

Meanwhile, the huo qing was rich, sweet, and complex, with a satisfying thick texture. It was vaguely reminiscent of Yunnan green tea, but without Yunnan's pronounced fruitiness. The liquor was a clear golden color. Even after 16 years, the infused leaves were still green.

The good news is that, although quantities are very limited, there's enough of these very special teas to share with customers. While supplies last, you can find them in our online store.


Upon infusion in hot water the leaves quickly opened up and began coloring the water.

The qimen produced a rich red-orange brew, while the huo qing had a golden liquor.

The infused leaves of the two teas.


1 comment:

Jason Witt said...

I'm intrigued by the improvement of these teas with aging. Few people admit that a green tea or a black tea can do well after some time has passed in secure storage. However, I don't agree that tea isn't or won't be what it once was. Of course it isn't true that tea is either certified organic or modern farming has spoiled it. And global warming is not yet heating things up beyond temperature variations that have occurred for the past few thousand years. I'm afraid the truth is nothing has changed much in the past few decades in the world of tea. --Teaternity