Not feeling inspired to drink any of my usual teas this morning, I dipped into a container of heavily-roasted Floating Leaves Dong-Ding from 2010. Shiuwen brought back an unhappily small quantity of this tea last spring and couldn't remember from whom she got it, so it's unlikely we'll be seeing another harvest (though it's good enough I'll never completely give up hope). So, I've got my jar full and my wish that I'd bought more. After sampling it several times last June, I decided it needed some time to rest--the roast was high enough that an acrid charcoal note accompanied most of the early steepings. That kind of thing is ok with me when I'm in the mood, but I knew that if I let the fire taste mellow out for a bit I'd be much happier with my average encounter with this tea. The question is, how long will it take? I wrote earlier about roasted teas that taste best given a relatively short rest--considering the quantity I have of this tea (not much) I'm not holding out for 20 years of aging.
Other blogs have deliberated quite heavily on the pros and cons of different storage methods--unfortunately most of my tea budget goes toward actual tea and yixing ware, so I don't have much money to experiment with different vessels, which can often be quite pricey. For a roasted oolong, I feel safe enough with well-sealed porcelain, filled as full as possible. Since I periodically try this tea, I'm not sealing with wax or anything--plus, a feeling inside seems to tell me that a wee bit of air will probably be beneficial when it comes to mellowing out this tea's charcoal.
Maybe I was just in the mood today, but this tea is tasting really good--the acrid bite on the front end is much diminished, and considerably more balanced with the tea's base flavor. The real help is that this is great tea--I've come across very few heavily-roasted ball oolongs that combine the best of both worlds: the roasting is perfect; quite heavy but not enough to make the leaves crinkly and unable to unfurl (they stay a bit squiggly but become good and soft after brewing). At the same time, the tea used is obviously of high quality--the base comes through after a couple of steepings, reminding that this is actually tea, not just soaked charcoal, and later steepings repeatedly bring out a broad sweetness that usually craps out quite early in most high-roast teas like, for example, this now sold-out Dong-Ding from Camellia Sinensis, whose roasting disappeared during brewing to reveal...not much. There's still a bit of astringency hanging out in these leaves, but if today's session is accurate, I won't have to wait too much longer before this tea hits its sweet spot. Until then, I'll have to keep drinking the other great, not-quite-as-heavily-roasted Dong-Ding that Shiuwen (and subsequently I) purchased much more of.
For Westerners without the means to travel to Asia, our knowledge and experience of tea comes second-hand, with a healthy dose of mystery. Therefore, it's tough to really know anything for sure, let alone make claims about being any sort of expert. Instead, we can only enjoy and learn from small tastes of something ... smuggled in ... hopefully building a reliable knowledge base and maybe even scratching the surface of truly great tea.