No discerning lifestyle maven worth her pink Himalayan sea salt would leave “tea” out of her repertoire of meditative, slow-living habits. Exotic blends of chai, matcha, and teabased cocktails have gone mainstream, becoming chic status symbols and calling cards of healthy living. But before you conclude that this is the peak of artisanal tea wellness, consider the growing appeal of aged tea.
Like most coveted wines and liquors, the concept of aged tea came about via a joyous accident that dates back more than a thousand years to the Yunnan Province in China. Tea leaves being transported to Tibet, a journey that took almost a year, fermented naturally on the journey, and arrived at their destination with less acidic, mellower, and richer flavour profiles.
This spelt the dawn of commercial fermentation processes in the making of ripe, aged tea. Connoisseurs discern aged tea like how sommeliers explore grape-bearing terroirs, age of barrels (tea trees in this case) and provenance. And while various types of tea can be commercially aged— white, oolong or black—it’s the aged pu’er dark tea that offers an admirable range of complex, rewarding flavour profiles, and increasingly, high auction prices sometimes. The longer the aged teas hold, the better they become.
Aged tea leaves can be found either loose or compressed into bricks or cakes, and are often referred to as Bian Xiao Cha, or “tea for beyond the border”. Dating back to the Tang dynasty, compressed teas would certainly have been easier to carry across the vast distances of the ancient tea route, given their shape and density.
Unlike black tea, matured tea undergoes a secondary oxidation and fermentation, making it a truly unique type of tea. Plucked leaves are spread out in the sun to wilt, and are then pan-fried to prevent further oxidation. Rolled and shaped, they are dried in the sun, and pressed into cakes or left uncompressed. They undergo several fermentation processes in specially conceived tea cellars and are sold at maturity. As with some fine wines, certain matured teas are renowned for improving with time.
The lure of the dark
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