Recently I have started to notice that despite sharing aged white teas on our Instagram live sessions, and there being a growing trend in tea companies introducing aged white tea, there are still many tea drinkers out there who often comment in surprise, “What? You can age white tea?!”. Therefore it seems timely to write on aged white tea for this post.
Brief recap of what white tea is
To start off with, let’s briefly go over what white tea is. White tea is the most delicate tea that nature can offer because its production is the simplest of all teas. The procedure includes plucking leaves, sun whitering (to dry up the water content in leaves), and machine drying (the final process to dry up water content to maximum). This is the most traditional method of producing white tea, and the most important step is sun whitering. Because of the heavy reliance on the sun, local farmers often say their meals on the table are dependent on the sky. Compared to green tea and oolong, white tea doesn’t go through the process of “kill the green” 杀青, which is a process of stopping oxidation in order to preserve the freshness of the leaves. This is the key element to why white tea can be aged and what oxygen does to its kind. Fresh harvested white teas usually have green leaves and greyish buds, and as it ages, the color of leaves usually turn darker slowly. There are generally three grades of white tea, Silver Needle (all buds), White Peony/Bai Mu Dan (one bud and one/two leaves), and Shou Mei (some buds, two leaves and twigs).
Fresh Han Lu 2019
Aged Han Lu 2017
The key element for aging white tea
Oxygen is one of the key players when it comes to tea or aging tea. A tea that hasn’t gone through the process of “kill the green”, can still react with oxygen, meaning the chemical compounds in the leaves will produce different aromas or flavors when they react with oxygen overtime. Without getting too technical about the process, here is an example that may explain the process better. When it comes to high quality aged white teas, there’s a mixture of aromas of red dates, bamboo leaf or lotus leaf. This particular mixture is referred as a ‘medicinal herbal fragrance’ in Chinese. Experienced aged white tea consumers tend to seek this particular fragrance when buying their teas. Whether or not this aroma can be produced through aging heavily depends on two chemical compounds; cedarol and cedrene. They are usually found at the intersection where buds and leaves sprout on twigs, and hence, it’s difficult to age Silver Needle since it has only buds. These two chemical compounds that are responsible for the medicinal mixture aroma will react with oxygen over time, hence, the higher the content of these compounds, the more fragrant the aged tea. This is the reason why Shou Mei is easier to age and has a much stronger fragrance compared to others thanks to its big twigs and leaves.
In the pic: from young to aged, Han Lu 2019, Han Lu 2017, Shou Mei 2016, Shou Mei Cake 2013
If you leave green tea out for a year or two, its freshness will eventually only fade away because of oxygen (remember the process of “killing green”). If you leave oolong out for two years or more, some of its aromas will fade away because oolong needs the process of roasting to better preserve or restimulate the aroma to come back. If you leave black tea out for two years or more, not much would happen since it’s an already fully oxidized tea, hence there won’t be any further oxidized reaction left. And if you leave Pu Erh tea out, as you might guess, it will age as well for the same reason.
Benefits of white tea
In Fu Jian, where white tea is harvested and originally from, the local people have a saying; “One year old white tea is just tea, three year old white tea is a medicine, and seven year old white tea is a treasure.” Parents in Fu Jian always give a bit of aged white tea to their children when they catch a cold or have inflammation before seeking pharmaceutical medicines from drug stores. Some general health benefits of white teas include anti-inflammation, antioxidation, and strengthening your teeth (because of fluorine content). It also has the highest content of amino acid and polyphenols compared to other teas.
Aged White Peony 2015 Vs. Shou Mei 2013
How to store aged white tea
It’s not difficult to age a white tea, but you need a good white tea to begin with. A poor quality tea can never be aged into a good quality tea. White tea is aged naturally, meaning that the environment will do its work. All we need to do is ensure the environment is not too humid and the temperature is not too high (18C-22C). Generally speaking, the areas that are dry and have lower temperature all year round, such as areas in Canada, Seattle (where Serene Tea is based), Oregon, the aging process will take longer but the teas are less likely to become moldy. Whereas the areas that are more humid and tend to have higher temperature, even if just seasonal, such as New York, Georgia, Florida, etc., teas will age faster but the risk of getting moldy is higher. There are still some simple but effective ways to age and preserve aged white teas. Firstly, it’s important to store teas in shady areas to avoid direct sunlight. You can place teas in kraft bags and place the bags in cardboard boxes and seal the boxes during humid and high temperature seasons such as spring and summer. A more “luxurious” alternative is to get a Yi Xing clay jar, which is not something I normally would recommend since it’s less economical and the market is full of forgeries.
And that concludes our introduction to aged white teas! Feel free to leave a comment, or send us an email if you have any questions on aged white tea. We hope this piques your interest into another region in the vast world of tea.