As we photographed our beautiful Yixing clay storage container last week to put it on our website, teatrekker.com, we learned that on January 31st, 2015, three Qing dynasty Yixing tea storage containers containing Pu-erh tea went up for auction in the USA and sold for record-breaking amounts of money.
We thought this a very auspicious coincidence as the story about these antique storage containers would serve to emphasize the conversation that we continue to have with our customers about storing tea, aging tea, and using the ‘right’ type of tea container for aging those teas.
This year our tea storage container is made from unglazed Yixing clay, and we are pairing with some wonderful shou Pu-erh tea. The tea has already been rested for a few years, so we know it will continue to improve with proper storage. The Yixing tea container is gorgeous and well-made and quite substantial in heft and the tea we are including with it is delicious. All in all, we have priced this dynamic duo very favorably.
Unglazed Yixing clay contains an abundance of minerals that will create good energy for storing tea. It is also a type of clay that ‘breathes’ so it is particularly good for storing and aging Pu-erh, which is a tea that likes to ‘breathe’ while in storage. We think the energy of the container and the energy of this tea will be a good ‘marriage’ for successful aging and pleasurable drinking.
Record Prices at Auction for Qing Dynasty Tea Storage Jars with Pu-erh Tea
In China and Taiwan aged tea is highly desirable and, circumstances depending, very costly. Similar to the way that provenance adds to the value of fine antiques (if the emperor owned an object it immediately becomes more valuable than if the gardener owned it) certain aged teas will be more valuable than others.
Many variables contribute to this. If the tea can be documented to be a certain age or be from a specific time period, or from a famous tea factory that has closed, or from a desirable batch in a certain given year, then the tea rises in cost. If there are seals on the jar to authenticate the age and provenance of the tea, that is even better.
The three Yixing tea storage containers shown below are interesting to us for several reasons.
1. It reinforces what we have observed in our many tea sourcing trips to various regions of China which is that traditional habits regarding tea drinking, tea storage, etc have changed little over time. How it was done in the past is often how it is still being done. Proven ways are that and often there is no need for improvement.
2.These vessels are excellent examples of documenting the name and age of the tea that one puts inside of a container to age. Proof of the age of the tea (and the clay container) makes all the difference to knowing how long a tea has been aging and to understanding the capacity that tea has for aging. Similarly to long-cellared wines, there is most likely much to still to learn about the potential for Pu-erh (and some oolongs) to age – does anyone really know when has tea reached the point of being stored ‘too long’ and will be exhausted? I think the possibilities and the variables are too many to ever be sure.
3. Perhaps the selling prices that these Yixing clay crocks of tea brought is enough reason to convince some tea drinkers to store a little tea for either enjoyment or investment in the ‘years down the road’.
Tea does not have to be this rarefied to be worthy, but it sure is fun learning about ones that are.
1. Yixing clay tea jar of cylindrical form in the shape of a bamboo basket with a highly detailed lid. It contains 360 grams of Pu-erh tea from 3rd year of Republic
or AD 1914, Qing Dynasty.
Pre-auction estimate: $9,000 USD Selling Price: $12,000 USD
2. Yixing clay tea jar of cylindrical form containing 360 grams Pu-erh tea from 3rd year of Republic or AD 1914, Qing Dynasty
Pre-auction estimate: $9,000 USD Selling Price: $12,000 USD
3. Yixing Clay Tea Storage Jar with Pu-erh tea. The paper seal indicates that the tea is from year ten of the Guangxu Period, AD 1884, Qing Dynasty
Pre-auction estimate: $12,000 USD Auction Price: $14,000 USD
Why Age Tea ?
Because time matures Pu-erh and other HeiCha into a new level of tea drinking pleasure. Think aged wine, aged cognac or scotch whiskey, or cellared cheese: what aging brings to certain foods is richness, maturity, complexity, finesse and outrageous deliciousness.
Tea enthusiasts appreciate the energy and deep, nuanced flavors of an aged tea, similar to the lush, mature flavors that wine enthusiasts appreciate in a fine bottle of aged red wine.
Many Chinese and Taiwanese tea drinkers rest freshly-made shou Pu-erh before drinking it. This encourages the flavors of the leaf to ‘harmonize’ and allows the excessive wuo dui taste of newly-processed shou Pu-erh to dissipate. Aging the same tea for a longer period is even better – it allows tea with promise to develop into something magnificent.
During aging, the tea sleeps, turning inward, waiting to release its flavor and aroma upon contact with hot water. Aged shou Pu-erh has pronounced complexity, condensed flavors, and very little of the brash youthfulness it has early on. The aromas of aged shou Pu-erh are softer, fruitier and sweeter.
The best aged shou Pu-erh has matured under careful conditions for 10, 20, or 30 or more years. This is when doing it yourself comes into importance. Purchasing young tea and aging it yourself is a small investment in future tea drinking enjoyment.
How is Pu-erh Tea Kept for Aging?
The idea is to protect the tea from direct sunlight or strong lamplight; the drying influence of radiator or wood stove heat; and air conditioning. Tea storage containers should be kept where there is minimal temperature fluctuation from season to season and where the tea can relax in a moderate temperature. Humidity in season is fine as long as neither the storage jar nor the tea actually gets wet.
There are many types of containers for aging tea in China and Taiwan that are made from local, unglazed clay. The size can be large or small, and the shape round or square. Yixing clay tea storage jars have a clay lid that will keep the contents of the jar protected.
How Do I Know If My Tea is Aging Well?
We suggest that you resist the temptation to look inside your container too frequently. Perhaps once after the first 6 months has passed, and again at 1 year, just to be sure that no moisture has crept inside the container. After this, re-seal your container and open it only once a year. It can be a good idea to notate openings for future reference.
After 5 years remove just a few leaves and steep them in a small drinking cup to monitor how the tea is aging. But don’t stop there – the longer the tea ages the more powerful it will become.
Just as an aged wine is opened to celebrate life’s important moments, so too an aged tea is tasted and shared in celebration of life, love and friendship..
The Pu-erh that we are including with our Yixing Tea Storage Container is a blend of 2007, 2009 and 2013 loose-leaf shou Pu-erh. It has been resting together for about a half year, and will continue to meld for many years to come. The older leaf will influence the younger leaf and ultimately in 5 years and on, the entirety will take on deep nuance of flavor and an increased sense of the ‘qi’ that one expects from an aged tea.
To purchase this Yixing tea storage container please visit: teatrekker.com