September 10, 2012 by bethanjthomas
In all of my time studying and working in tea, I had always believed that the only type of tea that should be aged is puerh, and perhaps also 黑茶 (black tea – similar to puerh, but not the same). This is widely publicised by companies and it was therefore a surprise to find that many tea producers and lovers in Fuzhou have a preference for ageing white tea.
Now, Fujian is the home of white tea – Fuding being the most famous ‘terroir’ and the place that historical records first record (1796) white tea as being produced. In the West we prize white tea for its minimal processing and fresh flavour, and as a result consider the freshest white tea available to be the best.
This is also true in China, but they also prize the development of white tea’s flavour over time. Drinking and comparing fresh white teas with aged white teas is a favourite past time of many tea company owners here.
I was lucky enough to sit down with friends and try a 2012 Fuding white peony and a 2007 Zhenghe white peony a few weeks ago. Zhenghe is a less well known ‘terroir’ for white tea in Fujian, but produces some wonderful teas.
Looking at the leaves, the Zhenghe leaf was slightly darker in colour than that of the Fuding, and once infused the darker colour of the Zhenghe also came through. The Fuding tea was grassy and refreshing, with a smooth after taste and fruity flavours. In comparison, the Zhenghe tea was much more mellow. It had lost all of its refreshing grassy taste, but the deep fruit flavours of the tea really came out. I found it very hard to know which one I liked more.
DISCLAIMER Both of these teas had been kept in individually sealed packs. In China, keeping good quality tea in a pouch of 50g is considered unfresh. Instead all teas are packed into individual portion size bags that are heat sealed. You use all of the pack once you open it, and ensure that the tea doesn’t lose its fragrance or flavour to the air. Therefore the ageing process isn’t linked to large amounts of contact with the air – if you have white tea that’s been lying around for several years but hasn’t been sealed properly, it probably won’t be as good…