I picked up this tea from a vendor in Taiwan in 2017. Generally speaking, I lean skeptical of age and even moreso extreme claims of this extent. But I spent considerable time with this vendor and trust them more than most. Call me a chump, but I mainly believe it in this case. Finding tea this old is not common and I wanted to document the experience since I have not encountered many oolongs that I reliably consider this old and doubt I ever will.
About this Tea
This tea was picked in Pinglin which isn’t too far outside of Taipei and was one of the primary growing regions in Taiwan during that period. Like other teas, the processing of Baozhong has changed substantially over the years. I had the opportunity to try a (young) Baozhong produced in an older style when Origin Tea was still in business and it fit firmly into the category of a darker, roasted oolong. Today, the tea is typically processed very green and is usually considered one of the greenest oolongs on the market. It’s unclear to me if this tea was roasted during its initial process or a bit later. Regardless, it does not taste like it has been roasted anytime in recent history.
It is possible to encounter a fair amount of purportedly 15-25 year old tea if you seek it out in Taiwan. It’s considerably more difficult to find tea that is older. Most of my experience with aged oolongs is also with the 15-25 year sort.
The leaves are small and twisted but the leaf integrity is pretty good overall for something this old with brittle leaves. My experience with a 1976 somewhat wet Pinglin Baozhong I bought from Origin Tea is that the leaves are also quite small and a little brittle.
7g/95ml. One rinse. Brewed fairly hard, starting with around 20-25 second steep times and adding time quickly. In retrospect could’ve maybe even added a gram. Rather than splitting this tea into a number of smaller sessions with smaller amounts of liquid, I wanted to get the full experience. If possible I prefer this approach of loading a pot with a typical or even higher ratio. For this session I pour straight into my cup skipping the cha hai. I also reheated my water liberally ensuring that it was very hot.
Waterwise I used some low TDS water from Whole Foods. I drank this in the summer in a dark room ta 85F. Pffft. Seasonal drinking is highly optional.
Brewed for 20-25 seconds. First steep is earthy and woody, a different woody than you get from a fermented teas like Liubao or ripe. There’s a warm milky texture and body to it. This reminds me a little of a finer silky texture that I get in some older Liubaos, but is stouter and thicker. Not sour or tart in any way. It’s also interestingly aromatic and lively in an earthy/wood way. The aftertaste isn’t prominent yet.
Brewed for 30s. Similar in taste to the first. It is thicker. Develops an even milkier texture. A bit more depth. Starting to feel some of the throat coating.
Aroma falls back a little bit but this is the strongest brew yet. It picks up a certain oaty/grainy/woody quality to it. There’s a slight tartness to it, a product of the heavy brew. Body is medium. Back of mouth sweetness.
Brewed for ~1min. Thicker. Milky texture. The taste isn’t very sweet. The chaqi isn’t initially very intense and I start to feel some flow in my chest, a culmination of the four strong brews. Flavor wise the tea gives pretty consistent brews. Dark wood.
After a quick break, I brew for 1 minute or so. Fading out slightly. Color has gone from black/dark red to more of a vivid red. Woodier. Not quite as active. Softening up ever so slightly.
Pushed for 2-3 minutes. Milky body mouthfeel. Aromatic wood. Still brewing reddish. Really feeling very relaxed and even a little light-headed.
Gave the tea a ~2 hour break. Ate lunch before coming back to it.
Consistent flavor and milky texture. The more interesting aspects of the tea are over, but it gives very smooth, aromatic earthy brews. There’s a few more minerals and roastiness to these later steeps. And the wet leaves smell a bit roasty.
Long steeps 10-12 the next day.
These are at minimum 30 minutes up to a couple hours.. These continue similar to steeps 7-9 and brew a deep red color. Mellow, mineraly a bit roasty. Very mellow.
Thoughts on the Tea & Some Comparisons
This is an interesting tea. The tea is mellow but not weak. It brews up for 4-6 good and very dark brews before descending into less active brews. The tea does not knock your socks off with its potency but hits hard especially in the early brews during my session that built up over the course of an hour. In some ways, the longevity is superior to old Liubao, but it does not hold up as well to very long steeps.
Younger Aged Oolongs
This is probably the most relevant comparison. I’ve recently had some interesting conversations with a tea friend about when certain teas peak and when you should drink them. The 1967 Baozhong adds to this conversation. It has virtually none of the rich plumminess that are associated with younger aged oolongs. I think it’s possible to also construe an argument that for many consumers it’s best to consume these teas while they maintain those plummy, fruity notes. I’m not experienced enough with these older oolongs to make that distinction or judgement for myself, but if you want brighter, plummier notes there isn’t much here. The closest tea I have is a 1976 Pinglin Baozhong that blends the two genres a bit, but is considerably brighter and plummier but also a bit tart.
Similarly Aged Old Teas
I have not tried many other decent teas as old as this one. A couple teas that do fit that criteria are the 1940s and 1950s Liubaos from Su. In comparison, this tea lacks the softness and mouthfeel of those teas. Interestingly, those teas actually occupy a fuller range of notes, including higher notes. This tea is a bit more active in comparison. Notably these old Liubaos teas were dry-stored, something that isn’t necessarily the case for other teas. For instance, the 1960s Wistaria loose pu’erh while perfectly drinkable is straightforward in its earthy, smooth profile and has clearly seen some humidity..
I also disagree with the assertion that this tastes exactly like shu or other post-fermented teas. There is some flavor convergence as it darkens up, but to me this is something different, with its active, earthy, milky, and surprisingly aromatic profile. I would guess that this comparison stems from a collective lack of familiarity and repetitions with aged oolong and other teas of this age. Maybe this is most similar to an old shu compared to other teas people I’ve had, but it’s still different.. In the end, this tea is a good tea and an interesting and enjoyable experience.