This guide has two main features:
- it’s simple
- it’s from someone that has researched various “state-of-the-art” methods and actually has stored large amount of puerh for a few years
This is a basic setup, you can have much fancier and time consuming setups (notably a hot box) but this will be enough for most people and certainly good enough to start. It’s the setup I use for most of my 100kg+ tea collection.
The purpose of this guide is to safely and slowly (dry storage) age puerh, not to do it in the fastest way possible.
By safely I mean:
- not getting mold
- not getting the tea tasting sour or metallic because of it being too dry or too cold
- keeping intact the different complex layers of a tea
1 Each type of tea is in its mylar own bag, so that smells are kept separate
What make a lot of high quality puerh so enjoyable is that it has its own character and smells, you don’t want smells all mixing.
Wrapper paper is generally odourless, but other materials around tea (cardboard, wood, some kind of plastic) can impart their own smell to tea over time (even if they don’t smell like much).
You want good quality mylar bags where the zip won’t fail, a good supplier in UK/EU is mylarshop.com
Note: It can be easier to maintain humidity in a big box containing a lot of tea each separated by thin layers of food grade plastic but I find that in the long run it’s quite a head ache, and the added costs of having separate bags for each tea pays for itself over the years.
2 Proper humidity is maintained
I propose 65% boveda as the gold standard for
- Dry aging to continue, while keeping the complexity of the tea intact
- Avoid head aches with possible mold growing
69% could be used on tea you really want to age fast. The higher the humidity, the higher the chance of mold (particularly if temperature is on the lower side) and “too fast” aging (losing the complex layers of the tea) happening.
Is 69% safe? For sheng puerh probably yes if there’s no mold already on the tea but… you’ll need to check more often, and at some point over the years you’ll forget. I don’t think it’s generally worth the risk, unless you have a small collection and a lot of time to dedicate to checking it.
I don’t even think 69% is desirable on very good sheng, slower aging (65%) will preserve the tea better. Boveda also makes a 62%, useful for tea that’s already great as it is or even too humid and needs a bit of drying. Unfortunately they don’t make anything useful below 62% (the next one is way too dry at 49%).
For shou puerh, I’d only use 65%, 69% is asking for trouble.
I sometimes use 69% on half the cakes I have of a specific tea if I’m unsure of the desired effect, but almost all of my puerh is at 65%.
Boveda packs are the easiest way to maintain humidity within +/- 1% of the desired level. Find them anywhere online (beware of fakes on amazon in some countries) in 8g up to 60g sizes.
- 8g size is cheap enough to just leave in a single cake bag (assuming heat doesn’t go up and down fast, this won’t cause any problems).
- 60g can be used to raise the humidity of 1 tong that’s not too dry (and leave it in).
In both the cake and tong cases, if the tea could be very dry (or too humid even) you may want to apply a larger amount of humidity packs (still at the same humidity %, not higher!) for a shorter time (say ~2 weeks) and remove them after this.
Once all the humidity is out, the pack will get dry and crumbly. While it could be possible to re-hydrate boveda packs, it’s not advised as they could behave unpredictably after (releasing too much or too little humidity).
Assuming everything else in the guide is followed, I haven’t had any problems in having boveda packs touching directly the wrapper.
3 Proper heat is maintained
If possible keep the tea in a relatively warm place, around 25c would be ideal. If that can’t happen, 20c is still better than 18c, and much colder really doesn’t work in my experience.
Do not have too much heat variation during the day (a place that gets very hot when sunny and then quickly cold when sun goes away is not suitable).
Note that as soon as you apply heat (maybe by using a seedling mat), you should have the tea sealed in bags or the humidity will drop off quickly. Also, it’s safest to not have humidity packs inside the bags of tea that’s being seriously heated (over 25c).
4 Direct sunlight is avoided
Either the mylar bag are completely covering the tea, or if they have a plastic window they should be covered from light.
5 Get tea that’s already well stored
And then keep on dry storing it for the longer period in your own home. It’s much easier to buy cakes stored in dry Taiwanese/Malaysian/Guangdong storage for the initial transformation to have taken place, and then do the long “refined” finish at home.
6 Keep away from smells
All the tea being in sealed bags this doesn’t matter so much, but you will still open the bags from time to time… if at all possible, keep away from a kitchen. If not, make sure to only open bags once there’s no smell in the air (hard to do consistently over time).
Some western homes are full of smells at all times (cooking, laundry, deodorant, incense, perfume) or sometimes one wears perfume or uses perfumed handwash just before handling puerh. Needless to say, you may be used to your own smells so you can’t feel it, but they’ll go in the tea anyway.
On receiving a new cake
- If the cake has had a long period of travel, it will be “jetlagged” and taste weird, hold on judging the tea at least after it has rested in your storage for as long as it’s been travelling. You may want to “air” a cake that’s jetlagged, it’s unclear to me if this does anything much, or if what’s needed is simply to wait enough time. I still wouldn’t do airing for longer than a few days (ideally a few hours) so as to not lose too much humidity and smells.
- Good tea vendors will send tea already in a good quality re-sealable mylar bag. If not, place in one.
- Break up whatever tea you will drink in the next 1-3 months, put in a small mylar ziplock bag (if the tea has travelled a lot, you may want to apply a 8g humidity pack to it)
- Unless you’re sure of the humidity of the cake, apply a humidity pack to the cake – if the tea has travelled a long time, you may want to apply a bigger size
Did I miss anything you’d like to know about? Please ask in the comments!