Sometimes I would ask one same question to different people and learn what they have to say. It's not that I don't trust one person, but rather because many tea questions don't have standard answers. Sometimes I get opposite answers from different people, and I may like both answer as well. No answer is the final answer, but a collection of such answers make me learn little by little.
It was a summer afternoon when my friends and I sat in a small teashop in Beijing, drinking tea with the shop manager. In Beijing, teashop managers often share tea with customers, without intention to push for immediate purchase. It's a nice, warm traditional business mode that's seldom seen in other trades in modern day society. Of course not everybody walking in is treated with the top notch tea. But I was so lucky to be with my tea friends. Because of their friendship and good business relation with the teashop manager, we were treated with a lot of great teas, one after another. Among them, we had two Wuyi Shui Xian products. Both are high fire. One was made two years ago. One was made this year, manually roasted by this teashop manager. Both yield many infusions of complex great flavors. The 2-year-old Shui Xian is smoother and more sugary. The current-year Shui Xian is more striking with a lot of characters. We love both of them. My friend Charlie liked the 2-year-old Shui Xian better, while I prefer the new Shui Xian. In fact, many hours after our drinking session, at that night, the flavor of that Shui Xian came back to my mind again and again. It was not an aftertaste in mouth but an aftertaste in memory.
By the time we've exchanged a lot of conversation and I liked this teashop manager very much. She is a beautiful young woman, a certified senior tea taster, a qin player, a Buddhist baptized (? ordained?) in my favorite temple in Beijing. She is knowledgeable and witty, quiet but outgoing. In our conversation, I thought of this question that I've asked some people before, and I asked the question again to her. Do you think the inner quality of a oolong can be promoted by aging? I explained my perplexity to her. Although it was historically recorded that Wuyi tea of three years old was favored by tea drinkers even more than new tea, and although I did enjoy a few great oolongs that had been aged for several years, I don't have much idea about what long-term aging (say, 10 years or more) will do to a oolong. I also had some aged oolongs (not sure for how long though) that's definitely mild to stomach, good to your health, but not so special in taste. I thought it would be interesting to learn what she thinks.
The manager told me she believes Wuyi Yan Cha can benefit a lot from aging, while she doesn't think Tie Guan Yin can age as well. Here are her reasons. Tie Guan Yin is made from relatively young tea bushes, while the best Yan Cha is usually made from old bushes. Besides, Wuyi tea bushes are grown on top of very thin soil, and majority of their nutrients and complex biomolecules are stored in the leaves instead of roots. Therefore, Tie Guan Yin's value is usually in its floating, refreshing aroma, while Yan Cha has thicker and naturally more complex flavor, which last well over years and has great potential to build up a great aged flavor.
I further asked her, If we give a grade 100 to a good oolong when it was new, will aging make its quality up to 120, 150, or allow it to maintain 100, or will aging cause its quality to fade to 80? She believes for Tie Guan Yin, aging will cause the tea to fade little by little, while for many good Yan Cha products, aging can promote the tea quality to 120, 150, 200 or even higher.
These are my question and her answer. With my limited experience, I don't know how much I am ready to accept this answer, and I am aware this is only one of many different answers on this question. But I think I like it that she has reasonable explanations on her opinion.
Previously in a blog on a vintage Tie Guan Yin, I recorded answers from a different group of people to the same question. Their answers are quite different from the response from the teashop manager, but they do share some common ground.
15 hours ago