Mrs. Teaist bought this tea for me during a recent trip to Stockholm.
She found it at Grace Tea House’s “everything must go” closing down sale.
She explained that, as far as she knew, my current tea stash covered most of the bases, so what, she asked, could they do for me that was, from a tea perspective, somewhat off the beaten track.
They came up with this tea, which certainly fit the brief.
This tea is a Fujian Tulou Old Tea. Let’s break that name down piece by piece.
As you’d expect, the tea comes from Fujian province.
“Tulou” refers to the famous earth buildings found in the mountainous area of southern Fujian ( read more about them here ).
“Old Tea” means that after initial processing the tea is stored many years before drinking.
The tea was grown at an altitude of more than 880 metres, and was picked at the time of the Qingming Festival, which makes it a spring tea.
After an initial withering process on bamboo mats, the tea is then lightly roasted over a charcoal fire. The tea is then collected in cotton bags, and allowed to age among the grain in the tulou’s granary, which offers insulation and even temperatures during the ageing process, which lasts seven or eight years.
The tea comes in a small tubular tin, which in turn contains 10 small sachets – the tea leaves are in a small open ended plastic bag inside a sealed paper wrapper.
One of the interesting things about this tea is the class of tea which it belongs to.
The Chinese text on the label refers to it as “lao cha ( 老茶 )” or “Old Tea“, which in this case refers to the ageing the tea has undergone after initial processing. This, however, has been translated into English as “Black Tea” on the box. This is where it gets a bit confusing for tea novices.
Black tea in English usually refers of course to heavily oxidised tea. This type of tea is called Hong Cha ( red tea ) in Chinese. “Black tea“, or “hei cha” in Chinese refers to a class of teas that may, or may not, include aged teas such as this, depending on how strict an interpretation of the term is being used. Babelcarp explains it all here.
Curiously enough, Grace Tea House refer to this tea as a yellow tea. From what I’ve read about the manufacturing process it doesn’t fit with the usual profile of a yellow tea, so perhaps they are classifying it by the colour of the leaf, or even the fact that this somewhat rare tea has been used as a gift tea, and the term “yellow” is sometimes applied to similar gift teas, a reference to the days of Imperial Tribute teas, with yellow being the colour of the Emperor.
Still, a rose by any other name and all that – what does the tea actually look, smell, and taste like?
The dry leaf has a yellowy orange colour, with an aroma similar to bread fresh from the oven – baked or roasted notes, with a kind of malty, yeasty thing going on.
Grace Tea House suggested a water temperature in the 85° – 95°C range, and I went for the middle, 90°, not wanting to scald the lighter leaves, but still wanting to extract as much flavour as possible from the darker ones.
Each sachet in the box contains what looks like 3-4 grams of tea, perfect for brewing up in a 150ml capacity gaiwan.
As it is an aged tea I did a quick rinse of the leaves, before performing an initial 5 second infusion. All further steeping times were increased by the usual 5 seconds a pop.
The tea liquor came out a lovely yellowy orange colour. The taste was just as nice – Grace Tea House talked about a honey-like sweetness, but I picked up something almost akin to icing sugar, sharply sweet but still subtle and not overpowering.
There was also a nice hint of astringency there, just enough to give a bit of a kick, but nothing more. I also picked up a bit of umami, not unusual with an aged tea.
The overall impression was what I can only describe as a mellowed out Yunnan Gold.
The used tea leaf, dark and light alike, turned a soft brown colour in the gaiwan.
What I might have to do with this tea is keep a few sachets back, just to see if it continues to age well. If it’s already 7 – 8 years old, I can see no reason why it shouldn’t.
As always, that depends on whether or not I can actually resist drinking it right now, which won’t be easy at all…