1983 Dong Ding Oolong - really?
In 1983 this tea was picked, withered, rolled and roasted with charcoal. It was a very high quality tea even when it was picked. It's important to choose a tea for aging that has an excellent flavor profile when it's fresh. Then, it was stored in a ceramic pot inside a shed or farm equipment area. It was not neglected, but rather it was kept safe and gently and expertly re-toasted over charcoal every two years to keep the moisture levels low and to maintain freshness.
Aged teas are usually a farm product, made for the farm, consumed on the farm. Like Dandelion wine, or Sloe gin, or pickled vegetables, products that are fascinating, ingenious, tasty and sensibly made by farmers in quiet seasons, these are products that are usually not for resale, and rarely found on the public market. That's the first reason this tea is so rare.
When they are found it's hard to know what makes them authentic - what other tea is there to compare them to? Luckily, on a previous buying trip to Taiwan, I was on Dong Ding mountain staying with a farmer and her husband and after several glasses of oolong wine, and showing off her oolong honey, she was persuaded to bring out her antique oolong. The taste was unforgettable, but not for sale. Later, when I came across this 1983 Dong Ding, I knew what I was looking for and was shocked to find not only the same taste in this oolong, but a more complete, more pronounced quality. This is the second reason this tea is so rare: the quality of flavor is excellent for it's class.
Last year, we sent a sample of this oolong to our tea teacher who was able to authenticate this as an oolong from the early 1980s. Why, we asked, how could he be sure? I had tasted another antique oolong like this whose age I did not question, but how would he know? The quality of flavor, he explained, was the reason. After an oolong is freshly roasted it has notes of fruit, sweet fresh fruit. (Let me clarify here, by oolong, I'm talking about TKY and Dong Ding rolled oolongs.) From about the 5th to the 10th year, the oolong tastes more like sour fruit, like sour plums or sour pickles. they remain sour for another 5 years or so, then they develop an old, antiqued quality and a richness that is unmistakable. Therefore, he concluded, the age of the tea I gave him was correct, over 20 years, and most likely 1983. He also confirmed the kind of varietal according to the shape and size of the leaf as well as the ridging along the edge of the leaf all add up to confirmation: yes, this is an aged oolong. This is the third reason this tea is rare: it has been authenticated. But this is the best reason to appreciate this tea: it's flavor.
What does it taste like? Have you ever smelled roasting chestnuts on a winter day? Deep notes of charcoal and the sweetness of toasting nuts and their shells are enchanting. Or consider the smell of mohogany wood, soft and full bodied, a soothing and heady aroma. This is a dark liquored tea with a honey caramel thickness that is very distinguished. The flavors will linger on your palate and the aroma will linger on your breath. In the back of your throat and cheeks there is a cooling sensation that refreshes. This is an extremely drinkable tea when brewed well, a tea to learn from and a tea that can teach you it's secrets. You'll find our 1983 Dong Ding here at the bottom of our Rare Tea page.
Note: I refer to this Dong Ding tea as antique, but in Taiwan or China, aged teas are referred to as Lao Ren Cha, or "Old peoples tea". It is called old peoples tea because grandmas and grandpas like to drink it for the stimulating and refreshing properties it has even though it's low in caffeine, and it is perfectly fine with me if you consider me old fashioned for liking this tea.