Better late than never, right? I announced this tea of the month about a year ago and have had samples sitting around forever. The original goal of this report was to find some decent oolongs to age for the future. The samples from Mountain Tea and Teahome, two vendors that each had a few inexpensive options for roasted oolongs. Because these were acquired a while ago, they’re mainly teas from Winter 2014.
Aging & My Criteria for Aging
From my research and what I know, here’s the criteria.. Unlike pu’erh where retaining some humidity is important, you want the tea to remain dry. This may actually make the west a fairly decent place to store/age oolongs for the long-term. Seattle being somewhat humid may not be as good as somewhere consistently drier elsewhere in America.
There’s also a few assumed similarities for pu’erh. Aspects of quality like depth, longevity, mouthfeel, and general quality of tea are preferred and should be selected for.. Similarly, being allured by aroma and top notes is a no/no. I’m skeptical that bad tea will ever be good, so the tea simply needs to meet a decent quality threshold as well.
- Moisture is bad. This makes greener oolongs tricky and I opted just to avoid them. The main reason aged oolongs are re-roasted is that the tea picks up some humidity and turns sour.. Choosing tea that was given a healtyh roast is a good way to ensure that it’s not already carrying too much humidity.
- Not too expensive and not too roasted. I’m not looking to spend a fortune for this experiment.. I also don’t want tea that is so roasted that the content of the leaves has been significantly modified..
- Taiwanese oolongs have a strong track record of aging.. There’s no good reason why mainland oolongs can’t age but for the sake of simplicity and maximum assurance I’d go with the tried and true. I’ve also heard that mainland oolongs tend to have more moisture in them due to processing differences.
I also think being too anal and overly selective is unnecessary. I would choose the middle road, avoid the obvious pitfalls and I think that most oolongs that generally follow this criteria will age fine.
- Amusingly, there were a few teas initially included in this report which turned out not quite as advertised and were oolongs of the greener variety. A tea labeled as Black Dayuling is a green oolong that’s also certainly not real Dayuling.
Pu’erh People Doing Oolong or Maybe Just More Experience
Since I’ve been quaffing pu’erh for the majority of the past two years it has also fundamentally changed my approach to all teas. I find myself thinking about teas different and evaluating more of the intangibles like depth, aftertaste, and how the tea makes me feel (qi). Of course there’s also the possibility that it’s simply the evolution of a tea drinker gaining more experience. The reason is unimportant, but these notes do reflect the changes in my own tea drinking.
Floating Leaves Dongding A
First tea for me and a calibration session.. Floating Leaves is a very consistent vendor with always solid tea where quality is correlated with price.. For this exercise they were a little too expensive, at least in comparison with Teahome or Mountain Tea.
Brews up a gold color, sweet nut aroma. More roast comes into smell on second steep when the nut aroma fades. Very sweet taste. Really nice sweetness that lasts in the front of the mouth. Some flavors that extend to the back of the mouth, but not as much as pu’erh. A bit of charcoal in the finish on the subsequent steep. Good, clean, sweet aftertaste in the lower registers of the mouth. Eventually steeps into boring, old minerals before I stop around 8 or 9 infusions.
Would I age? Yes. But too expensive.
Teahome’s Brilliant Everyday ($16.50/300g, $0.06/g)
Sweet aroma that slowly turns towards the vegetal. It smells nice enough but is the thinnest of all the Teahome teas. Poor looking leaves. It sits in the mouth far more roughly. One of the sorts that you should brew at lower temperatures, something I’m unwilling to do while testing. Lands in my compost.
Would I age? Nope. Fails at being good.
Teahome’s Dongding Fruity Medium Roast ($23/300g, $0.08/g)
Much better than the not so brilliant everyday oolong. Spicy, sweet aroma. Sweet, nutty sort taste profile. The roast is light and decently done. Leaves aren’t as good as the Legend of Dongding. Reminds me of an inferior version of Origin’s Dongding and Floating Leaves. Lighter body than the two more expensive Teahome teas and it gets worst as it steeps.
Would I age? You probably could. But I’d personally aim higher.
Teahome’s Private Collection ($31.50/300g, $0.11/g)
Lowish oxidation, medium roast. More similar to the Legend, than the Fruity Medium Roast. Smooth, inoffensive middle of the road tea.
Would I age? Same deal as above. Maybe, but better choices.
Teahome’s Legend of Dongding ($42/300g, $0.14/g)
This would be my choice. The most expensive, but I think the quality is also the best and it’d be hard to call this truly expensive.
More roasted/more body than the other teas. The waiting period may’ve been kind to this tea as the roast is not at all overpowering in its current state. A good lasting effect on the mouth as well. Good depth and the session leaves me salivating. Decent tea.
Would I age? Yep!
Mountain Tea’s Medium Roast Dongding CY ($25/450g, $0.06/g)
CY stands for Cui Yu. I’m pretty sure I don’t like this cultivar or maybe it’s just used for more quantity oriented batches.. The tea starts out nice enough but I find the finish and the aftertaste to be poor, vegetal and bitter.
Would I age? Nope. Fails at being good.
Mountain Tea’s Medium Roast Dongding QX ($37/450g, $0.08/g)
Far better and easily worth the price difference between the CY.
Medium body, smooth form, relatively thin. Leaves a light sweetness at the front of the mouth. Sweet, but pretty vegetal with a bit of nuttiness. A bit too green for my tastes but nothing unforgiving. Not great, but alright enough.
Would I age? Could probably get by, but I’d aim higher.
Mountain Tea’s Fenghuang Guifei ($32/450g, $0.07/g)
More grainy sweetness in aroma. Still a very thin taste overall. Kinda put this in the same boat as the DongDing CY.
Would I age? Meh. Would rather go for the Dongding QX.
Mountain Tea’s Amber Oolong, Hong Shui ($26/450g, $0.06/g)
On the plus side this has a mid-fired roast and longer roast, likely resembling many of the favored oolongs of times past. On the negative side, because it’s not really a popular style it’s probably not getting the best base material or attention to detail.
It starts out very promising. Soft and smooth, with a well-rounded sweetness for the first two steeps. Thins out very quickly, losing sweetness and body. Has more grainy bitterness to it after a few steeps. I also find the roast is a bit strong but it wouldn’t be a bad aging pick. Has two good steeps then pretty average.. Weak aftertaste.
Would I age? I’d consider it if you are absolutely set on Mountain Tea. I’m not really sure what better alternatives there are but I bet you could find something better.
Mountain Tea’s Dark Roast Tieguanyin ($26/450g, $0.06/g)
In my opinion, way too roasted and not a good tea. Only really suitable for people who like their tea roasted to oblivion. Not a tea experience I’m looking for. This probably won’t age into anything decent either, since the base material is inherently changed and likely wasn’t good in the first place.
Would I age? No. Way too roasted.
Medium Roast Tieguanyin ($37/450g, $0.08/g)
Much, much better than the dark roast even if it’s not particularly great. Fairly pungent overall in comparison to all these Dongdings. It starts out nice enough but I find the finish and the aftertaste to be so/so.
Would I age? It’s worth consideration if you want something cheap and a little different than Dongding. But again, I bet if you shopped around you could find a better Tieguanyin.
Global Tea Hut’s Old Man Dongding
A toss in for kicks since it was laying around.. Very big leaves. Dense body. More of a lasting feel on the front of the mouth and a little in the back of the mouth. Good depth. More nutty/floral and not particularly sweet. Gets malty/grainy and loses a lot of its sweetness on the fourth infusion.
Would I age? Sure. Nothing obvious wrong with it. Would depend on price.
|Dong Ding A||Floating Leaves||–||–||#VALUE!||Good.|
|Medium Roast Dong Ding CY5030||Mountain Tea||$25.00||450||$0.06||OK-.|
|Hong Shui (Amber Oolong)||Mountain Tea||$26.00||450||$0.06||OK+.|
|Medium Roast Tieguanyin||Mountain Tea||$37.00||450||$0.08||OK+.|
|Fenghuang Guifei||Mountain Tea||$32.00||450||$0.07||OK+.|
|Medium Roast Dong Ding QX5030||Mountain Tea||$37.00||450||$0.08||OK++.|
|Dark Roast Tieguanyin||Mountain Tea||$26.00||450||$0.06||OK–.|
|Legend of Dong Ding||Teahome||$42.00||300||$0.14||Good+.|
|Dong Ding Medium Roast||Teahome||$23.00||300||$0.08||Good-.|
|Shanlixi Select Oolong||Teahome||–||–||–||Very Good.|
|Dong Ding||Global Tea Hut||–||–||–||Good-.|
I think easily the best bet for drinking and aging is the Legend of Dong Ding from Teahome. The price is more expensive than the rest (of Teahome’s Selection) but it’s really still reasonable..
If you are looking for variety the Medium Roast Tieguanyin and Hong Shui fit a different profile and could be OK for the low price. Neither tea is very good but in the case of Hong Shui, it’s at least more similar to older oolong processing. I also think both are good enough to at least be an OK aged tea.
Vendor Thoughts (aka Mountain Tea vs. Teahome)
There’s pretty clear pros and cons for both vendors.
Mountain Tea is domestic and offers many of the perks that can be expected from a western vendor (good customer service, fast shipping). The most appealing aspect is the very low prices, especially if you buy at high quantity over at Mountain Tea Garden. But beyond being cheap, I found the quality of the tea to be generally so/so. Many of them will age fine, but will they ever be anything special or even good? I’m not convinced. Depends what you want I suppose.
On the other hand, I would personally choose Teahome. The tea isn’t the best ever, but it doesn’t claim to be. They’re based around Nantou county and specialize in teas from that area (Dongding, Shanlinxi). The quality is markedly better and should result in better tea in the long-run. This is an underrated store that deserves a lot more credit for their quality. Of course they don’t actually need our business, because they sell tea in Taiwan.. There’s also a lot of teas not listed on their ebay store that can be accessed by emailing them. You’ll need to deal with worst customer service and shipping from Taiwan, but I think if you’re buying tea in bulk it is worth the extra trouble.. It may also be possible to negotiate a better rate at high quantity, something worth exploring for interested parties.