An Old Shuixian

And why it's like wine.

While tea is often regarded as a bedfellow of sorts with coffee, the former, I opine, actually shares more similarities with wine. And I think this can be easily illustrated with vintage/aged teas.

A shuixian 水仙 from the 1980s.

A shuixian 水仙 from the 1980s.

You see, freshly roasted coffee beans are good for two weeks to a month, if stored properly. When ground, the lifespan is considerably shortened, which explains why you should only grind your beans just before you make your cup of coffee.

But proper tea has a much longer shelf life. In fact, some teas get "better" with age. Now before we get to that, it should be pointed out that "better" might be a bit of a misconception. The passage of time does not imbue quality to a product. All things decay as they get older; some take a few days, some a few centuries. But in certain cases, the process brings about desirable characteristics. Take wine for instance — tannins, anthocyanins and a host of other organic compounds go through some form of alteration as the wine ages. As a result, it becomes smoother or rounder and develops secondary and tertiary aromas and flavours. The same could be said for beef, certain cheeses, and other foods.

So, unlike coffee, some teas get "better" with age, like this 1980s shuixian. It's actually a serendipitous discovery — I stumbled upon it while trying to hunt down a tea tray. Quality-wise, it's nothing to write home about, but 30 years of sitting in a dark corner somewhere has earned the tea pretty special traits. It is rich, complex, and almost savoury, evoking bitter dark chocolate and baked earth framed by a sense of austerity.

It's not the kind of tea that I'd reach out for on regular days. But when there's an onset of melancholy, I know where I can find some reassurance.