Wonks said

Oolong shelf-life?

So I’ve been looking for some new oolong to buy. I have ran across tons of oolongs that’ll say something like “2007 Aged Tie Guan Yin Chinese Oolong”, but I was under the impression that pu-ehr is the only tea that is aged. So does all oolong age well?

15 Replies
Wonks said

I’m going to chime in because I actually found a lot of references on this. Apparently oolong ages after it “goes bad”. I found a ton of sites that talk about aging oolong at home, what containers to use, how long…etc. Here’s a link that sums up everything quite well.


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I was also told that fresh green oolongs will go stale after about 12 months but the darker ones will age nicely.

I’ve had some aged TGY type teas but those are usually roasted as well. My guess is there’s a difference between aging them on purpose for 10 years vs. some old oolong sitting around that someone is trying to get rid of…

I’ve heard the same of the darker oolongs. I hope they do, ’cause I have one or two that are “aging” right now. :))

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Geoffrey said

Strip-style oolongs in particular, such as the various varieties of Wuyi rock tea and Phoenix Mountain Dancong, have excellent aging potential. Robert and Mary Lou Heiss touch on this “New Tea vs. Rested Tea vs. Aged Tea” topic at various points in their books (The Story of Tea & The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook). Here is a summary on their website:


Wonks said

I may check out those books…. I didn’t know there were such books….

“page not found”?
But it’s a good point that rested tea and aged tea are not exactly the same.

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Will said

Depends on the taste you like, as well as the processing of the original tea (not just the level of roast, but the level of oxidation as well). Oolongs can sometimes get into an awkward stage at some point in, but many oolongs benefit from aging.

With heavy roasted ones, the fire will often smooth out with time.

Some people believe in a more interventionist style of aging oolongs, with periodic refresher roasts to take out the moisture. However, for the most part, if stored well in a not super hot / humid environment, many people feel that this isn’t really necessary, and that it may actually produce inferior results.

Aged oolongs can have a lot of different kinds of taste. It is true that in some cases, they’re just stale tea, however, you can often guess based on the style of processing, whether or not the tea was made to be aged. For example, if the tea has a heavy roast, but not much oxidation (for example, a mainland tieguanyin with the “red edge” torn off), I would tend to be suspicious that it’s last year’s stale tea. Also generally, be suspicious of “murder death roast” aged teas. If an oolong has a good quality base tea, some degree of oxidation, and a sufficient, but not too heavy-handed, roast, it should improve with age for quite some time. Some teas will develop some sourness, kind of a Chinese sour-plum taste. Some people don’t like this, but as long as it’s not excessive, I like a bit of that taste.

In any event, saving some of your own teas, even ones you don’t think will benefit from aging, in a dry, dark environment is a good way to learn about the different ways tea changes with time. There are some excellent aged oolongs available for purchase, so it’s also worth seeking these out.

Historically, my understanding is that oolongs were often aged for medicinal purposes (for constipation / digestive problems, for one example).

Wonks said

Very informative. I may attempt this on the side just to see how it goes. Thanks Will.

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I am absolutely with Will and Amy above. When buying a fresh oolong, make sure it’s from at least this year’s harvest, preferably the most recent seasonal pick. These teas are divine when they are fresh, and are simply “nice” and then bland as they stale.

When it comes to aging, it’s worth seeking out an intentionally prepared and aged oolong. The malty, sometimes smokey flavours and the incredibly sweet, sometimes citrus, aroma from a properly aged oolong are exquisite. I am particularly fond of our 40 year old oolong which we only recently started to make available at www.cloudwalkerteas.com/oolong.

Wonks said

Thanks! You may actually hear from me soon concerning the aged oolong.

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From what I understand from my research, there are oolongs that are intentionally aged like pu-erh, though they go through a different process and develop their own flavour profile not at all like that of the pu-erhs. They are more than just “stale oolongs” and have been carefully stored and re-roasted at intervals over many years. I think that these are primarily a Taiwanese phenomena? I bought my first one recently and posted a review here. Since I am a fan of oolongs, I am glad to have found another way to enjoy them!

“I think that these are primarily a Taiwanese phenomena?” Femmeofbksntea, I have the same impression. It’s a tradition in a lot of places where oolong (and other teas) are aged as herbal medicines instead of for any connoisseur appreciation. In some regions such as Wuyi and Chaozhou, there was also the traditional belief that oolong improved over years – but historical records of such “years” were mainly about a few to several years. Today in China, there are still many people sneering at the idea of aging oolong. I was very much shocked when first time hearing some people intentionally age oolong for more than 10 years and not for medical purposes :-p But after tasting some aged oolong, I think some of them are wonderful. I still don’t know if I myself want to invest time and space to age oolong (but I’m a lazy person to begin with…) but think it’s definitely an interesting field to pay attention too.

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Of all the aged oolongs that I’ve tasted, generally, I think my favorite ones are those that have never been re-roasted (but those are no more than 10 years old either). My second favorite ones are those that have been re-roasted and then rested for quite a few years without further re-roasting. And then there are some aged oolongs that I think they have unique great tastes but I can’t decide which I like better between them and some younger oolongs.

I feel the roasting taste could be a small pitfall in aged oolong. If an aged oolong is dominated by roasting taste, then probably it’s important to wait and find out if there is any other significant taste when the roasting taste subsides.

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mbanu said

Oolong does not age like pu-erh does. In pu-erh, cultivated microorganisms slowly process the tea to change the flavor from that of a young pu-erh to that of an old pu-erh. In an oolong, however, there should not be any microorganisms.

The change in flavor in “aged” pu-erh comes from the slow accumulation of moisture in the tea and the regular re-firings to drive the moisture out. Unless a tea is kept in an air-tight container in a place with a constant temperature, it will slowly accumulate moisture from the atmosphere over time. Once it reaches a certain moisture level, a tea risks developing “stale” flavors that most find unpleasant, or becoming a welcoming environment for wandering molds and microorganisms, which can lead to an unpleasant flavor when not carefully selected. So a tradition developed among certain tea re-sellers to “re-fire” a tea to drive off the moisture when it has sat for a certain period of time. The general tradition is that re-firing is a necessary evil, as with each re-firing more of the tea’s natural character is broken down and replaced with the roast character of the processing. However, some people actually enjoy the flavor that comes from a tea after multiple re-firings. I guess it is really a matter of taste. One thing to keep in mind is that an oolong that has been refired many times will be quite unlike the original; just because the original tea was outstanding, that does not mean the refired one will also be outstanding.

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Gregg said

The link below will open a page on the Tea Trekker website that will give you a link to the “New Tea, Rested Tea, and Aged Tea” article as a PDF.



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