In the world of beverages, aging is almost always associated with wines. Teas are rarely considered for its aging. This aged like a fine wine, like wine things get better with age. These quotes make a round every few months in social media and it is true that wines do age fine. Of course, I've met people who wonder if teas expire and a little over a year ago, I experienced the mastery of an unintentionally aged tea myself.
It was the first I’d ever seen or tasted myself. Tea has been and always will be a mystery and this incident simply solidified the vastness of what this brew is capable of.
Earlier this year, I got my hands into a batch of our tea from Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center. The classic wooden tea box instantly took me back to the factory where the tea had once been processed. I opened the packet and found myself quite a pleasant surprise! The earthy and fruity aromas burst out of the packet to reveal some finely sorted tea leaves. It was rather brownish in color with quite a lot of tips. I immediately knew it was our classic second flush black tea- SFTGFOP1.
With a lot of questions and curiosity in mind, I prepared a tasting set to really understand what this tea had in store for me.
I set a classic factory tasting parameters of 5 minutes timer, 212 F, 2 grams of tea, 8 oz of water and I was ready to dive into it.
When the timer went off, I placed the cup in the bowl, let the infusion leave the cup to a bowl! I opened the cup to a delightful smell of fruity aromas that transformed into the infused leaves particularly well. As I played around with the coppery leaves, the fresh earthy aromas filled my nose and I was excited to take the first slurp.
The first long slurp brought only a wave of disbelief. The second slurp; an even longer one, played around in my tongue all around the mouth. The tea had quite a robust body with a tannic but fruity finish.
I enjoyed the tea quite a lot but I still couldn’t believe how fresh everything was. This was in no way a fresh batch of tea and so I was in disbelief. This tea was supposed to taste bland and even somewhat stale but I found none of that here.
I basically summed it up to my personal bias. After all this tea has been a part of my life. I thought this was a classic case of denial even though it had never happened to me before. I was confident enough to distinguish the quality of the tea, especially ones from our very own farm. Until of course this mystery tea.
So I did this experiment.
I sent this tea to five friends whose taste palates were significantly more mature and versatile than mine. I told them I would only reveal the story of the tea once they provided honest feedback and nothing else whatsoever. Following were their responses.
Jeremy is a co-owner and farmer at the Bella Vista Tea Company
My dad and I did a number of infusions from a 5-gram serving of it this afternoon and we both enjoyed it. It was a tea we would both drink again. Wow! I am honored that you sent me some of the tea from that special box. Thank you and no, it definitely was not stale at all. It was delicious - my dad and I both enjoyed it. Yes, that is definitely fascinating and to be honest, I think aging tea is very interesting. I know there are people that collect and age teas just like wines. Personally, I have a number of tea cakes/bricks that I am aging.
190 degrees F
Tap = Softened Well water
Dry leaf appearance: Dark brown with some green leaves and pieces. Some tips. Lightly twisted with even rolling. My guess is a slightly less oxidized 2nd flush from China varietal.
Dry, leafy, fairly mild. Some woody notes but not musty. Some richness.
Dark brown, large, choppy leaves, Firm. Glossy luster. Some red tints. Uniform size.
Winey, mild chocolate, rich, baked, hints of light fermentation.
Deep copper red with brown tints. Yellow halo. Bright but a bit cloudy.
Mangoes!! Sweet, fruity, rich, light acceptable astringency. Baked. Flavor lingers, both the sweet and astringency. Good returning sweetness in the throat.
I really like this one! The mango taste was so strong, right at first. It tasted almost like a flavoring was added. If it is natural, it is great. The tea its self is nicely made, good laef appearance and general uniformity.
Liquor color was bright and rich. The smaller brokens and tips made it slightly cloudy but ok. Infused leaf color was rich and warm brown tones with some noticeable luster.
Babette is the founder at International Tea Sippers Society
I've enjoyed this tea because of it's balance between the very slight astringency that gives it freshness and a deeper resonance that builds body in the cup. I pushed it with time and temperature and a very long/strong cupping and still found it still very smooth. Using this method to concentrate the liquor works well with this tea. But I also tested multiple infusions and found it to be vigorous throughout each one. It offers many different personalities. So, this makes me think that it is a second flush and that the processing might include some rolling during the oxidation process.
Was I close on anything? Final thoughts are that this is a black tea that is very forgiving to beginners and gives you a lot of value in the cup. I believe you can have a wide audience for this tea. Does it have a name and a story yet?
After these reviews, I could safely say I wasn’t just making up the freshness of this old tea. I was relieved to be able to completely trust my palate and also a sense of pride to have this amazing batch of tea come from my own tea garden.
You may ask me why the sense of pride, well it’s because this tea was almost half a decade old. It was processed and packaged in in June 2014 to be precise. Here’s a look at the back of the packaging.
I had secured these boxes of tea (approx. 26 units) which were sent in 2014 to my sister to sell them in a small store that they operated in Connecticut. When they moved to Texas they just stored these teas in their basement and actually had forgotten about it. Earlier in February when they sold the house, I was helping them move and there lay these special tea boxes that I have treasured since.
For me, this specific incident answered the infamous question of tea’s expiry dates. There really is no expiry date for a good quality of tea that is packaged and stored well.
Teas get old, they don’t expire. Their taste dulls over the time making the brew less flavorful. The “best by” dates stamped on the back of your tea pack is not exactly an expiration date. They are a suggestion as to how long the quality as intended during the packaging of the product will remain. It isn’t a concern of safety or even when the product is no longer good enough to be consumed.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this mystery tea if you’d like to experiment yourself! Test your palate and tea knowledge with this mystery tea. You can even do a blind tasting with others in your cabinet or from our portfolio and even challenge your friends to recognize the mystery tea. Let us if you want to know more!