Aged & Rested Tea

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What is rested tea ?

Rested tea is tea that has been kept in storage for several months to a year or more to mellow any rough edges in the flavor or to allow the tea to become richer and deeper in flavor and character. Rested tea is not the same thing as aged tea, but simply tea that has been put aside to gain positive value from a little maturing.

Many Asian tea connoisseurs prefer to ‘rest’ certain new harvest teas before drinking them, such as some green, white, and oolong teas.  A short resting period, if it is deemed appropriate, allows the flavor elements ‘come together’ with more harmonious appeal. Oolong teas progress through a long rested stage before they are considered ‘aged.’

New harvest Japanese green tea powder – matcha – is a good case in point. Many matcha producers blend new matcha with tea from the previous year that has been kept in storage. This is to allow a careful transitioning of flavor from the previous season to the new that will maintain a consistent flavor in the matcha. Additionally, some Chanoyu teachers store new tea until the fall before using it to allow the tea to develop additional richness and character.

What is aged tea?

In Asia, aged tea is relatively easy to find, albeit proportionate in cost to its age. There are no hard and fast rules as to how old tea must be to be considered ‘aged,’ but what we have seen for sale in Asia suggests that tea needs to be 6-10 years of age before it qualifies as ‘aged.’

Aged teas can be 20, 30, 40 and more years of age. These rare beauties must be stored under good preservation conditions so that the tea can rest, change, and become more complex and astonishing in flavor with time.

Do not confuse aged tea with ‘old tea.’ Old tea is just that – tea that is old, past-its-prime, lifeless, flavorless and not worth drinking. Not every tea can age well: oolongs, Pu-erh and black teas, assuming that they are good quality tea to begin with,  will age successfully, although the various oolong styles age differently one from another, and require different storage conditions than sheng Pu-erh (discussed below). Yin Zhen, the all-bud white tea ages extremely well and is quite the rage in Asia right now, especially when compressed into a brick as Pu-erh is bricked. However, most loose-leaf, bulky white tea should be drunk within the year of harvest.

Tea for aging is chosen based on qualities that the tea possesses when it is young. Aging tea is about future potential, and the young tea must show signs that it is able to fulfill the promise that it will mature and develop into something even more wonderful. This is similar to the judgements that wine aficionados make when evaluating which young bottles of wine will age best after a decade or so of resting in a wine cellar. Tea that is of poor quality or disappointing in flavor when it is young will not improve with age. There is also a difference between able to ‘keep well’ and ‘age’. Many teas will ‘keep well’ which is to say that they will maintain their current status and not deteriorate; however, ageing implies that the leaf will improve (or at least noticeably change in a positive way) over time. This is quite a different phenomenon.

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