Aged tea is a smooth beverage quite unlike the fresh tea that most of us are familiar with. The aging process transforms the vitality of fresh tea to the characteristic mellowness of aged tea.
To produce aged tea, the tea master supervises all stages of processing. Harvesting time is chosen to so that the leaves are neither too old nor too tender, but with just the right level of acidity. The leaves are ball-rolled by the same method as other Taiwan oolongs, and are roasted to remove excess moisture.
After roasting, the leaves are packed in large earthenware pots which can be either glazed or non-glazed. If the container is not glazed, it must have a layer of charcoal at the bottom to absorb moisture.
The pots are filled to the brim with the tea leaves, which are covered with a heavy paper to absorb moisture. This paper is the same which is used for traditional Chinese calligraphy.
The pots have tightly fitting lids, but they are not sealed. The pots must be stored in a cool, dry area, with a consistent temperature. In the past, the pots were buried in the ground, but this can expose the tea to excess moisture, so is no longer recommended.
The tea is examined every 2 or 3 years, and if the tea master decides, it will be re-roasted to remove excess moisture.
After the tea has aged for 3 years it will have lost its fresh flavor and begins acquiring the mellowness that is characteristic of aged tea. From 5 to 10 years the color of the leaves turns from green to brown and the tea liquor takes on a reddish hue. After 15 years the tea is mature, although it will continue to improve with further aging.
Brewing Aged Tea
For best results, aged tea should be brewed in a pear-shaped oolong teapot - round shaped with a narrow top. Use slightly more tea leaves than when brewing fresh oolong tea, and use a higher water temperature - around 95 C.
The brewing time should be slightly longer than with fresh leaves. You are aiming for a liquor color of dark red, but if the tea is brewed too long it will be simply dark without the reddish hue.