Aged Oolongs [March 2014 Tea Drinking Report]

Since the beginning of 2014, I’ve dedicated each month to a specific type of tea. This means I drink that genre of tea in some form at least once a day. This could mean gong-fu, grandpa, or even a cold-brew. I’ll still consume other teas, but the primary focus is understanding and building a palate for a specific type/genre/region of tea through repetition. This the most personal blogging type style of post for TeaDB, and the goal is to stretch my palate as well as give recommendations to those interested.

Primary vendors ordered from:

Also featuring:

1989 Hualien

1989 Hualien.


Camellia Sinensis

Camellia Sinensis has perhaps the most diverse selection of any tea vendor and probably the largest aged oolong lineup. Last year, I put in a big order of of their aged oolongs. I included 8 teas in my order including their entire Taiwanese aged oolong selection.

Alishan 1999

Pretty roasted, with only slight remnants of the sweetness of good aged oolongs. Much better than the Alishan 1997, primarily because it is not as roasted. Not all that interesting, but drinkable enough.

Alishan 1997

Much too roasted. I found it impossible to tell its age.

Alishan 1999 (Charcoal)

Not bad, but still much too roasted for my taste. The roast is more complex and interesting and allows some of the tea’s original character to show through. As I’ve become more experienced in aged oolongs, this has changed my opinion of the tea since we originally reviewed it. On the plus-side this one can brew forever.

Da Hong Pao 1997

Not very good and also on the expensive end. Manages to be both roasty (not good at this age) and too sour.

Miaoli 1993

An interesting enough tea. This has some nice characteristics (a rich sweetness), and for a re-roasted oolong the roast doesn’t necessarily overpower it. Its complex but still bears an unpleasant sourness.

Hualien 1989

I’m not sure if this is actually 1989, but it has a nice clean, aged taste. Easily one of the more pleasant aged oolongs. A nice plummy, rich sweetness. Easily one of the most pleasant aged oolongs of the month.

Hualien 1987

Marshaln has speculated on this tea’s origins. I’m not qualified or experienced enough to backup his assessment, but I will say that this tea was confusing and not necessarily in a good way. It was also too bitter for my girlfriend (something that an aged oolong should not be!).

Wu He 1981

A nice example of an aged taste. This tastes far more aged than either of the Hualiens, perhaps due to wetter storage. It tastes like a garden, with a very pleasant, vegetal sweetness. This was also slightly cheaper than the rest, would recommend for those interested in the taste of aged tea (in which aged oolongs/other aged teas converges onto aged pu’erh).

Toufen 1963

An interesting and complex tea. Its a pretty bad value buy but interesting enough. As I brewed it out, it had the distinct smell of a Chinese herbal shop. Some unpleasant sourness, but not as bad as some of the other teas.

  • Quality? Good and bad. Gave a good representation of what aged oolongs offer as well as some of their flaws. I’d stay away from their 90s stuff.
  • Price? $10-15/oz. Averageish.
  • Would order again? Yes, but would screen teas more heavily for re-roast.
1981 Wu He

1981 Wu He.


Taiwan Tea Crafts

With a really low free shipping rate, I placed a small order to Taiwan Tea Crafts for a few of their aged oolongs. Quality is highly varied and the site’s descriptions are interesting to read in tandem with tasting (or after).

Tieguanyin 1999

Not too aged. This is probably the punchiest tea of the whole bunch and quite a good tea. A nice body and still some bitterness (in a good way). Well-balanced tea. Would probably buy if it were cheaper.

Family Reserve 1993

One of the more disappointing teas. A worst, less interesting version of the Miaoli. This one has some sourness and also smells far too roasty. It’s too bad as some of the fruity sweetness is quite nice.

Sun Moon Lake 1982

An aged black. Kinda cheating, but it fits some of the criteria of an aged oolong. This isn’t amazing and has alot of stems, but for the price its a good value buy. It carries a somewhat similar mustiness and taste to the 1981 Wu He and 1970s Baozhong. However it has a different mouthfeel than both those teas and isn’t as sweet and vegetal. I enjoyed this one alot. A very pleasant surprise.

  • Quality? Varied. Generally good, although the 1993 Family Reserve was disappointing.
  • Price? $10-15/oz. Averageish. Sun Moon Lake was far cheaper and a great buy.
  • Would order again? Yes, their buying format makes it beneficial to sample first and then buy in bulk later.
1982 Sun Moon Lake

1982 Sun Moon Lake.

Origin Tea

Preface: Origin Tea is one of my favorite vendors and someone I regularly correspond with. I’d ordered Origin Tea’s Yancha (which is somewhat aged). Knowing I was interested in aged oolongs he tossed in an aged oolong teabag and a mystery aged oolong (guessing Meishan 1986/87). I also didn’t include the 2003 Shui Xian Hui Yuan in here (which I loved), because it resembles Yancha more than an aged oolong.

Meishan 1986/87?

My favorite of the bunch. Nice big leaves, great flavor. A plum, raisin, sweetness. Not much to say other than this is a very pleasant example of an aged oolong. This one has big, whole leaves and fits a similar profile to the Hualien 1989, although I prefer this. I’d highly recommend this if it were for sale!

Shui Xian High-Fired 1990s

A good value buy. This is a very pleasant drinkable aged Yancha. Still tastes like Yancha. I like this more than the 1997 Da Hong Pao, despite it being less than half the cost. I also had the less-aged Shui Xian Hui Yuan King which is excellent. This doesn’t have the same complexity and depth of that tea but is much cheaper and still very good.

30 Year Old Aged Oolong Teabags

Fun and also surprisingly very good. Great body and can brew for a while!

Meishan 86/87? from Origin Tea

Meishan 86/87? from Origin Tea


Hou de Asian

Purchased their aged oolong set of 70s Tieguanyin and Baozhong.

1970s Tieguanyin

A weird tea. Its pleasant enough, but I got hardly any of the aged taste. My guess is it has either been re-roasted recently or is not that old. When I brewed this harder (lots of leaf in a pot) it came out a bit sour, although it also had a bit more of the nicer aged taste (fruity pluminess).

1970s Baozhong

A very nice tea. Has a similar aged taste to the 1981 Wu He and 1982 Sun Moon Lake but is probably better in body and longevity than both of those teas.

Hou de Asian's 70s Baozhong

Hou de Asian’s 70s Baozhong.


Jing Tea Shop

Had their 1995 Rou Gui from a Yancha order.

1995 Rou Gui

Tastes more like an aged oolong than Yancha at this point. Despite having somewhat broken leaves, this has hardly any bitterness. Not sure if this is worth the money, but I did enjoy it.

Recommended Teas (with regards to price):

  • 1989 Hualien (Camellia Sinensis)
  • 1981 Wu He (Camellia Sinensis)
  • 1982 Sun Moon Lake (Taiwan Tea Crafts)
  • 1970s Baozhong (Hou de Asian)
  • 30+ Year old Teabags (Origin Tea)

What I learned?

Many of the younger aged oolongs were overly roasted. I still don’t have a great grasp of what some of the better aged oolongs would’ve tasted like in the 10-20 year range. Re-roasts seem like big no-nos, and the Miaoli was seemingly the only tea to be re-roasted and not overly so (although it had other issues). The other common unpleasant characteristic is sourness. Also, for many of these vendors $ is not necessarily indicative of quality.

As they age the oolongs develop a really pleasant plummy sweetness (1986/87 Meishan, 1989 Hualien). The other trajectory seems to be a mustier, vegetal, but still sweet taste (1982 Sun Moon Lake,1981 Wu He, 1970s Baozhong). It is still unclear to me if these are separate trajectories (perhaps based on the source material) or if the plummy sweetness eventually becomes the older, vegetal taste.

Tea Vendor $ Quantity Cost/Oz Rating
Alishan 1999 CS $16.28 1.76 $9.25 Mediocre
Alishan 1997 CS $16.28 1.76 $9.25 Medicore-
Alishan 1999 [Charcoal] CS $26.00 1.76 $14.77 Mediocre
Da Hong Pao 1997 CS $13.41 0.88 $15.24 Not good
Miaoli 1993 CS $13.89 0.88 $15.78 Interesting
Hualien 1989 CS $10.06 0.88 $11.43 Good
Hualien 1987 CS $10.53 0.88 $11.97 Mediocre-
Wu He 1981 CS $9.58 0.88 $10.89 Good
Tou Fen 1963 CS $9.10 0.35 $26.00 Mediocre
Meishan 1986/87? OT N/A 0.5 N/A Very Good
30 yr Aged Oolong Teabags OT $9.81 1 $9.81 Good
SX High-Fire 90s OT $9.16 1.33 $6.89 Good-
Baozhong 1970s HdA $7.50 0.525 $14.29 Good+
Tieguanyin 1970s HdA $7.50 0.525 $14.29 Disappointing
Sun Moon Lake Black 1982 TTC $4.25 0.88 $4.83 Nice
Family Reserve 1993 TTC $8.00 0.88 $9.09 Disappointing
Tieguanyin 1999 TTC $14.00 0.88 $15.91 Good
Rou Gui 1995 JTS $13.00 0.88 $14.77 Good+

Next up for April: Japanese Green Teas.

1962 Toufen

1963 Toufen, feat. Camellia Sinensis

This entry was posted in Aged Oolong, Article, Drinking Report, Long-form Article, Oolong, Taiwanese Oolong, Tea Learning, Wuyi Oolong and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Aged Oolongs [March 2014 Tea Drinking Report]

  1. Richard says:

    Thanks James, enjoy your articles and this was no exception. I’ve tried many of the teas you list here and share many of the same opinions. Did you experiment with different teapots? One thing I have found is that these older teas seem to mesh well with certain pots, not always in predictable ways. Did you attempt using slightly cooler water with the teas you thought excessively bitter? I was surprised by the omission of Hou De’s 90’s Fehg Huang Dancong, it is a bit young in comparison to this collection but it has aged qualities and is rather unique.

    • James says:

      Hey Richard,

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words! Just about everything here was brewed in a gaiwan. I have since (upon realizing my personal enjoyment) dedicated a pot to aged oolongs. The pot has been producing interesting results so far. I don’t have a strong reference/control yet, but I’ve been enjoying the results.

      Brewing teas with sourness/bitterness a bit lighter did help. For me this usually means a little less leaf and not particularly interesting tea.

      I was most curious towards aged Taiwanese oolongs and Yancha as those are the two genres I’m most familiar with and didn’t end up ordering any aged Dancong. That tea sounds interesting though!

      Cheers!
      -James

  2. Richard says:

    James,
    Understood on the results you have seen with using a pot and not including Dancongs in this list. It is a genre of oolong that I have generally been challenged to enjoy to the same level of others. However I make an exception for this rolled tea from Hou De. It has a nice aged quality and is not tricky to brew (relatively speaking).

    Speaking of brewing, have you tried keeping the leaf amount up (say 7grams/100-120ml), dropping the temp (about 195-200, just off-boiling) and using longer times (70/60/70/80 etc)? That is my usual approach to this kind of higher roast/aged oolong, especially if they are rolled.

    Cheers,

    Richard

    • James says:

      Hi Richard,

      Some good ideas. I definitely haven’t experimented with brewing parameters as much as I’d like. Every single decent aged oolong I’ve had a very limited quantity of, so its been hard to have a proper control for any sort of controlled experiment. Will have to mess around with longer steep times though (I usually go by feel but am around ~15-20s to start).

      As a reference, my normal brewing parameters are largely off of feel, but probably are around 7-8 grams/100 ml with boiling/just off-boiling.

      Cheers!
      -James

  3. Bef says:

    Interesting post. I would love to see the same kind of post, but regarding Taiwan high mountain oolongs!

    • James says:

      Hi Bef, Thanks for the feedback. Planning on doing these types of every month I do hope to cover Taiwanese oolongs again at some point. Next up (after Japanese greens) is a whole lot of pu’erh, starting with Yiwu.

      More than happy to talk about Taiwanese oolong advice on any specific vendors as I’ve certainly tried my fair share!

      Cheers,
      -James

  4. Peter says:

    Another great article, chaps! I am always fascinated by how others rate teas from various vendors. Am looking foward to the next one on Japanese greens, which are perhaps my favourite teas.

    • James says:

      Thanks Peter :). It was an interesting exercise for myself to simply track and compare teas in this fashion. It’s been equally as interesting to switch pace to Japanese greens, a tea genre I haven’t drank in quite some time!

      Cheers,
      -James

  5. John says:

    Hi James
    Great post as usual. I have learned so much from you guys and have come to trust your information / opinions. I note that you are a bit more critical than usual in this post. I actually like that…your videos tend to focus almost exclusively on what you like rather than sharing a critical analysis. It was refreshing to read this more critical, but I think fair, analysis. I would have liked a bit more nuanced distinction between tea that you think is ‘off’ or objectively poor quality vs tea you simply did not like because it does not fit your preferred flavour profile. I realize this is a subtle distinction that is not always clear. However, for example, it seems you do not prefer heavily roasted tea.
    I happened to be drinking a 1999 strong roasted oolong from Tea Masters today so your post was timely. I found the Tea Masters offering to be very similar to the CS charcoal roast…enjoyable but not my absolute favourite. For me personally I enjoyed the later steeps much more than the early steeps. I found the strong roast dissipated a bit and the sweetness of the tea became more noticeable. I wonder if this is a general trend with the more strongly roasted aged oolongs? Also, Stephane at Tea Masters has written about the value of decanting aged/roasted oolong in a ceramic container for a period of time before steeping. To be honest I am not confident I can taste the difference when I do so…but I think the decanted tea has a somewhat softer roast flavour. Do you have an opinion about this?
    One of my favourite aged oolongs was a 1994 Mucha Tie Guan Yin from CS…the last time I checked they did not have it on their website anymore (fortunately I have a bit stashed away still).
    Finally, I just wanted to say I like this format. If possible it might be kind of fun to know what you will be drinking ahead of time so that we can purchase some of the same teas and compare notes! Looking forward to the pu’ erh tasting coming up.
    Best
    John

    • James says:

      Hi John thanks for the comment and the kind words! I’ve received alot of positive feedback about my increased negativity in the post (who knew!?). I realized after reviewing both the CS 89 Hualien and 81 Wu He TeaDB episodes (both positive) that we were giving a skewed positive view of most vendors. We tend to pre-screen teas, and naturally bring on mainly our favorites. The purpose of this post was to take a step back and look at vendor’s offerings more holistically, with both the good and the bad.

      On subjectivity
      Most of what I say (in this post and otherwise) should be taken as my personal view. I personally don’t believe in judging things as “objectively” better both in tea and other topics. Taste, at least in my opinion, is and should be a highly subjective matter. I try to avoid even attempting to rate things in an objective manner and qualify most ratings I give as simply my opinion. This is one of the reasons we don’t rate teas on the show, and a reason we avoid the (imo silly) 0-100 scale. The ratings should all be taken as my own subjective opinion.

      On Roasted + Aged Oolongs
      I actually do enjoy roasted oolongs, but only when they are not marketed as aged oolongs. There are undoubtedly some very good re-roasted aged oolongs out there, my preference so far has been towards the oolongs left alone. Marshaln has compared re-roasted aged oolongs to shu pu’erh (un-re-roasted being sheng pu’erh), an interesting and apt comparison. They should likely be treated as two different types of teas as their trajectories are very different. I, too, have noticed that the roasted+aged oolongs do last forever, although they have a tendency to be a bit monotone.

      Decanting/Aging/Storage
      I’ve read Stephane’s material and talked with a couple other vendors about decanting/airing them out before drinking. It sounds reasonable enough, although I still don’t have any personal experience.

      On the Format
      Great idea on posting ahead of time! Since I am unabashedly a tea nerd, I have a spreadsheet mapping out the next several months planned out. I’ll try to figure out a way to release this ahead of time, but here’s my current schedule: April (Japanese Greens), followed by Yiwu (May), Nannuo (June), Menghai Factory (July), and Xiaguan (August).

      Thanks for commenting and I hope this clarifies some of my views!

      Cheers!
      -James

  6. Matias says:

    Provided I don’t have as much experience with aged oolongs as you, but I definitely recognize the same problems that makes the pursuit of decent aged oolongs a frustrating endeavour.

    I hate those roasted-to-death old oolong some vendors carry. This is why I brewer to buy relatively young oolongs and store them myself. So far I’ve noticed lightly-medium roasted oolongs turn absolutely amazing and complex with 5-8 years as the roasted aroma disappears.

    Oh well, my favourite aged teas whether it be oolong or puerh have always been those at a “semiaged” stage. All of the truly old puerhs and oolongs I’ve tasted so far have been intolerably bland and uninteresting.

    I recognize the problem of sourness in my personal aging stash. Interestingly, I think I have managed to remove the sourness by very lightly reroasting by myself.

    Perhaps sourness is a result of moisture in the leafs that can be removed by roasting. On the other hand I suppose tea leafs need moisture and air to go through the aging process, so I would not roast too often, or maybe just before you want to start drinking it and then let it rest until the roast disappears.

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