Bourbon Barrel Aging Tea

We've come a long way since Portland tea blogger Geoffrey Norman pushed me through my paralysis by enthusiastically suggesting what type of tea to fill my then recently arrived freshly emptied bourbon barrel from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. I'd gotten the barrel to fill with tea, but I just couldn't pick one to use. The barrel wasn't cheap, so I was planning on filling the barrel most of the way full with tea. Sometimes it can be difficult to obtain a bourbon barrel. Generally, the shipping alone makes the price of barrels high. Sometimes I wish I was in the barrel business. Deciding which tea to use often comes down to an issue of quantity. Aged Puer is a cooked puer tea that we had in ample supply. We filled the barrel and the resulting barrel-aged tea was a great success.

Photo of Buffalo Trace

Now we are filling barrels with 120 to 180 pounds of tea depending on the type of tea is used.


Next we received barrels from Heaven Hill distillery. Freshly emptied, they were more than moist, Each barrel had some visible remnants of Heaven Hill. I noted this, not sure what to make of it. The question was if I should empty the barrels completely of their contents before adding the tea. I decided not to come to an answer, but rather let the options weigh in. And so they sat... Nestled into the teahouse, they felt far away from home. We had to give them time to settle in before we imposed upon them their new fate as tea contaminator; tea container, rather. But eventually they were more than comfortable sitting around and taking up lots of space. What was I thinking? So the barrels had to be filled. The day came to fill the barrels.


Andrew peered into the barrel lifted his head and said, "Come look at this."

"I know," I said. "Fill it up."

"You don't want to empty it?"


The decision was made. We filled each of the three barrels different teas.

Barrel #1: Broken leaf black tea from Ceylon. The tea was grown organically. The flavor is pretty awesome and the Ceylon is probably the most successful partner in crime yet.


Barrel #2: Green oolong from Nantou, Taiwan. After resting in the barrel for a little over a month, I noticed that the leaf had expanded some and this worried me. Maybe it soaked up too much moisture from the barrel. I quickly went about removing the tea and transferred the tea to our roasting station. Because of the volume, it was roasted in batches. Each batch was roasted at a low temperature of about 200 degrees F for an hour. This tea quickly became one of my favorites. Grapefruit citric sweetness seemed to be coming out with each steep. That combined with the floral green lightly oxidized oolong for a spark like connection.


Barrel #3: Cooked puer from Yunnan, China. This was the original tea used and it has a dedicated following. We still love this tea for its rich and creamy texture, and solid base that displays the bourbon scenting so well.  

Posted by Josh Chamberlain

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The blog of J-TEA International's Josh Chamberlain, curating his experience with quality loose leaf teas.

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