Tea is not static.
It’s a living, breathing entity that reacts to changes in its environment. And just like people, tea reacts when it travels.
Case in point: when I came to Taiwan this summer, I brought my favorite white tea with me, a 2012 Fujian wild white. It’s pressed into a cake (like a pu’erh), and has a fermented flavor, so it’s probably microbially active. More on that later.
After traveling from bone-dry Las Vegas (30% humidity) to muggy, stormy Taipei (75% humidity), this cake is definitely undergoing some interesting changes:
- Dry leaves feel more moist, almost wet
- Aroma is more potent now, especially the fermented aroma
- Tastes more sweet and smooth, but lost some complexity, especially the high notes
- Seems to have lost some stamina: I get fewer steeps than usual
It didn’t take long for these changes to pop up. I noticed these changes within the first few days of arriving in Taipei.
I brought other teas to Taipei too, but this tea changed the most. I’m guessing it’s because of changes in the tea’s microbiome: the yeasts and other micro-organisms that live on the tea’s surface. Those little guys probably threw a party in the high humidity.
Other factors are in play too. For example, we pick up aromas better in humid environments, which can cause the same tea to seem more aromatic.
Ultimately, I think that fermented teas, like aged white and pu’erh, will exhibit the most change during travel, but that all teas will change in some way.
Why not give it a try? The next time you travel, bring along a tea that you know REALLY well, and observe how it reacts to its new environment.