Sunday, July 25, 2021

Aging Red Tea

    For a few years already, most of the teas I am drinking are on the darker side. Red teas and roasted oolong, heicha and ripe puer, aged or/and wet stored sheng puers. And during the past year, more and more of the aged red teas found their way to my tea cabinet, pots, and bowls. As aging red tea is still not so well known, I would like to share some of my thoughts and findings from this category. I will try to keep it short, without going into too much detail but I still hope it will give you a nice starting point if you would like to explore aging red tea further.

Taking notes on teas...

First I will define and share my understanding of the aging process of the red teas and then I would like to talk a bit about four different red teas with different age and character. I have chosen to show you teas that still can be purchased so you can even give them a try and share your own experiences. But as wilt all teas, they will disappear from the market sooner or later. So I hope that this article will inspire you to find other teas like that to try or even to put some fresh ones aside to age.

Serenity- Dian Hong from 2008
Serenity- Dian Hong from 2008

Good red tea for aging

Let me start with a simple yet important point. All teas can age and all teas can get old. Aging I define it as changing over time when new desirable characteristics appear. On the other hand, tea which is getting old is developing in a way that is not enjoyable. In both, aging and getting old, mainly oxidation and fermentation take place. When the area is wide open for experimentation and surprises, there are teas that are recommended for aging and conditions which are recommended as safe and proven to age the particular genre of tea well. So how to choose red tea for aging? And what would be the perfect condition to age such tea? Here is how I approach these questions.

For me, I found that to get answers and to understand better, the best way is to start with drinking a lot of different aged teas (red teas in this case) and see which ones really speak to me. From there, I can ask what teas (region and processing) and what aging conditions led to these desirable results. For me, if done with an open mind, consistency, and honesty, this leads to knowledge based on my own experiences. And that is what matters to me very much.

Most of the aged red teas which I found interesting are actually dian hongs, red teas from Yunnan, China. There are more reasons why these are more suitable for aging than other red teas but one of the most important ones is in their processing. Dian Hongs are usually not fully oxidized and thanks to the sun drying, oxidation stops not so evenly. They are also not roasted, which means that they have more bacteria life and the humidity content is higher. So if this initial processing is followed by proper storage conditions, the tea will both oxidize (as oolong teas) and ferment (as puers). I believe that this quite unique combination is why I found a well-aged dian hong so amazing. There is richness in taste and aroma as well as depth and body of the tea. If, at the same time, the leaves themselves come from old tea trees, the magic happens.

What are “proper” storage conditions? Keeping the tea away from aromas and smells, direct light, and airflow. In a too dry an environment, especially if not seal and tea can slowly die. Too humid, especially if closed/sealed, and molds of different kinds can develop. I believe that to age well, red teas don't require such high humidity as sheng puer. If I should say a number, anything between 55-70% will work. Maybe you will also find an aged red tea that tastes like earthy beetroot. That's too humid storage for my taste. Or dusty, woody dry leaves without a depth? That might be the too dry/too airy years behind such tea...

Taking notes is not my regular way how I enjoy my tea sessions

Four red teas

All these aged red teas were purchased from Global Tea Hut. Even though there are several other teas from different sources, I like how these four teas, which I got from one place, give us variety in age and quality and slightly different experiences. I am not going to give you classic testing notes with valuations and judgments but rather point at differences between and main characteristics.

1)2008 Big Snow Mountain Dian Hong
2)2006 Red Cloud Dian Hong
3)Late 1990’ Red Pine Dian Hong
4)1990’ Sun Moon Lake Red Tea

2008 Big Snow Mountain Dian Hong

Serenity- 2008 red tea from Yunnan

Only tea from the four which is pressed in the cake (the rest are loose leaves). And also the youngest of all. This is “my precious”, a very special tea for me, which does not speak to so many people. It is the most expensive of all four and I heard a few comments that this tea is pretty ordinary and for that, you can get much more from other teas. For me, the secret is in using many more leaves. Yes, that will make it even more pricey but from a certain thickness of the liquor, this tea has amazing depth and juju. With not enough leaves it feels a bit watery or ordinary. I suspect it has something to do with the trees and the origin of the tea. A question I have here is how such tea, which is weak and strong at the same time, is going to develop over time. What it will be like in ten, fifteen years?

2006 Red Cloud Dian Hong
2006 Red Tea called Red Cloud

This loose leaf tea is the most accessible of all four. Strong body and taste, typical aged red tea aromas are clear and visible. It is quite easy to brew it and to get a strong, enjoyable tea session. The tea is also the cheapest one of all the four. Altogether it is a good candidate as an entry in the world of aged red teas as well as a daily drinker's choice. I got few bags and they are disappearing quite quickly.

Late 1990’ Red Pine Dian Hong

90' red tea called Red Pine

     Red pine is amazing. It has all the good stuff from the Red Cloud plus some extras. With a bit of a higher price tag you will get an amazing tea. I drink it quite often during cold winter days from bowl to let its super warming energy show its best. Now I switched to small gongfu, with more leaves and short steepings I get thick, aromatic, uplifting liquor for many rounds. Compare to the Red Pine, it feels like there are not only extra few years of aging but also the material (the tea leaves themselves) come from old-older trees. There is more to experience in the sense of subtle energy and depth.

1990’ Sun Moon Lake Red Tea

90' red tea from Taiwan

This tea is the only one of the four which is not from Yunnan China but from Taiwan. Yes, not only dian hongs are good for aging. But to find a good aged red tea from other regions is rarer for sure. I visited Sun Moon Lake (SML) a couple of times and I like teas from the Sun Moon Lake area very much. So it is great to have the opportunity to drink tea from there which was aged for 30+ years. When we compare this tea with teas which we most of the time find as SML tea, the tea leaves are pretty small and tippy. It is good tea and can be prepared very casually to get a nice, tasty brew. But to really get the best of it, it asks for our attention. I would encourage you not to be afraid to experiment with the amount of leaves you use, timing, and brewing methods.


Trying a variety of aged red teas also gives us a chance to better understand what in aged tea is the influence and expression of aging and what is the origin and processing of the tea. There is one taste/aroma line that you can find in all four teas, especially in the dry leaves and first steepings. Later on, more of the unique character of the particular tea leaf is visible. All the four teas I have mentioned above seem to have similar aging conditions, if it was in Taiwan (as I suspect) then the humidity was not too strong, and the teas were stored in a clean, protected place.

In the end, I would like to encourage you to not only go and try a variety of different red teas of different ages, regions, and storage. I hope to also inspire you to give it a try and age some teas you like yourself. For example, to get an extra 500g of tea you really like once a year and fill up some nice jar can be a nice tradition to start, don't you think? In ten, fifteen years, your older you is going to be very grateful to your present you for doing so. I do have some cakes which I store for more than ten years and some are super nice, some are so-so but all of them give me nice memories and, more importantly, a new experience-based knowledge.

Red Cloud in bowl...quiet morning

No comments:

Post a Comment