Question about darker oolongs
I’ve heard that darker style oolongs, like Wu Yis and Dan Congs do not go stale very quickly and some of them may even improve with age. So I’m wondering if anyone knows more about this. How long is their shelf life?
I’ve noticed some retailers like Seven Cups are offering significant discounts on their 2010 teas…
WuYi Yancha teas have much to do with baking skill. There are basically 3 degrees of baking: light, medium, heavy.
Lightly baked Yancha has a very light, amber infusion color, with very strong fragrance and sweet taste (the tasted and fragrance varies depending on Yancha variety). Lightly baked Yancha doesn’t store well over long periods. The tea reverts to a state known as “revert to green,” thus necessitating the need for further baking. In Fujian, my lightly baked Yancha won’t last more than 6 months before reverting to this state (in large bags).
Medium baked Yancha has some (though less pronounced) of the fragrance and taste characteristics of lightly baked tea, but also has the baked characteristics (whether charcoal baked, or electric baked).
Heavily baked Yancha has little of the floral/fruity fragrance and taste of the lightly baked tea, since it’s all been baked off. Instead, the tea takes on a much more robust, zesty flavor, very dark infusion color, with a much more pronounced baked flavor. This heavily baked Yancha can store well for a much longer time, especially when totally sealed, and can even be aged for some years. In fact, medium and heavily baked teas taste much better when aged over a period of half a year to a year – to allow the baked essence to recede a bit.
In my experience, the key maintaining freshness is to keep the tea totally sealed, thus preserving its original quality. I’ve had lightly baked yancha, sealed in individual packets (thus never opened) and stay fresh for over a year.
My favorite Yancha is the lightly baked, because there’s so much floral fragrance and taste (which becomes lost with baking) – the downside though is that it doesn’t store well. I have to buy lightly baked Yancha from a small dealer. Large, brand-name tea chains mainly sell medium and heavy-baked Yancha here in China – since it stores better. In fact, teas from this years April-May harvest won’t even come onto the market until sometime in August. We’re still drinking last year’s crop at the brand-name tea chains/tea houses.
cool, thanks for the info. I see a lot of descriptions that talk about roasting but I don’t know how to tell which ones are the more heavily roasted vs. lighter roasted. Do you normally know by the name of the tea or can you tell just by looking at it?
You can’t tell the degree of roast by the type of YanCha, all can undergo roasting to some degree. Roasting is necessary to correct the problem of fan qing 返青 when the tea absorbs moisture from the air, creating an off-flavor. Re-roasting over low heat removes this excess moisture.
As for degree of roasting, you can tell by looking not at the dry leaves, but by inspecting the infusion color and brewed leaves. For lightly roasted yancha, the brewed leaves have hints of dull green, and the infusion color is light yellow. For medium roasted yancha, the brewed leaves are dark; though having floral fragrance and the infusion color is light orange. For heavily roasted yancha, the brewed leaves are dark, having a pronounced charcoal/baked aroma and the infusion color is dark orange.