Well, I went back to that store today. The owner was nice enough, and I think it could’ve been a semi-honest mistake. What I think actually happened is this: this store has basically three labels for their teas. Not old, 35 years old, and 60 years old, it seems. This is more of a marker of price than actual age (or quality). Age inflation is also at work here. As the 35 years old I took home yesterday showed, some aren’t so hot, while others (like the one I actually want) is actually pretty good. The thing is, she has no idea what I got the first time, I think. Even though it looked like she knew who I was, she didn’t really, or, rather, she has no idea which particular tea I picked up last time. I actually lucked out that she gave me the right bag last time. Instead of actually trying to figure out what I got last time, or whatever, she just gave me the 35 years old that she has handy — even though it’s actually a totally different tea (and I think she knew it). Oh well
So… I told her my problem, basically having been given the wrong tea. She started saying “oh?” and when she brewed the two, she knew she couldn’t fool me — she had that “hmmm” look on her face. We searched around the store… in the back, in the front, and couldn’t find a single bag of the stuff that actually tasted the same. In the meantime, we tried probably 10 different kinds of aged oolongs of various quality. One or two was decent, some were ok, and others were crap (sour, weak, or a combination of the two). Her teas taste more aged than the candy store teas, although I think it has to do with roasting (her teas are more repeat-roasted than the candy store stuff) and also storage condition (in big plastic bags just sitting in the storage area, instead of inside big canisters that are pretty air tight). That might also explain the loads of old, somewhat sour oolongs she has.
After a lot of searching and no luck, she said she will call up to her storage (or is it home?) on the mountains and ask them to bring the tea down. That’s where they do the roasting, apparently. Ok, sure, but I have to return at 8pm to pick up those teas. Fine. I did, however, swap half my teas with her for another oolong we discovered while rummaging through the stacks of stuff. It’s different. It’s a strange puerh-esque oolong. Taste more aged than the candy store stuff, but not bad. It’s got that puerh musty smell. I haven’t gone wrong with aged oolongs like those yet, and it isn’t sour.
So I did go back at 8pm… she lined up some tea on the counter. Two bags she said she found in the back that should be the same batch as the one I got. I opened them and lo and behold, it is the same tea. The other stuff (the 8pm delivery stuff) however…. are not. Roasted, with a roasted taste. The stuff I bought completely lost the charcoal roast taste long time ago, so it’s not the same. No way, Jose.
So, I did end up returning some of the tea I bought, swapped them for some of the real stuff, and some other random aged oolong. No idea what any of them really are, at this point, as I think she makes things up as she goes along. If I had the time and money, I’d sit there in her store, drink through every bag, and buy up whole bagloads of this stuff if it’s any good. There are bargains to be had here (although the same can be said of the candy store…)