Now before you get all excited about the prospect of Cwyn skewering an article, I'm actually not going to do that. We're talking only about one point, after all. And when I get worked up, I'm not a fighter. Or a self-mutilator. I'm a graffiti person and so I just draw bad cartoons with my permanently tea-stained index finger. That's right.
Now, to be fair the article mentions things like RH factors and temperatures, but this is confusing for people because these can also refer to the conditions you need in your storage solution. The article covers possible storage solutions, but doesn't really help anyone with how to decide what storage solutions are needed, based on
Write it down.
The problems we run into with information on puerh storage and fermentation is that so many early articles on the net focused only on how puerh is stored in southeast Asia, where the climate is hot and humid. Places where it rains for three months or more a year, and I'm not talking about the oozy rain of the northwest US. I'm talking about torrential monsoonal downpours on a daily basis. This is why people in these climates stored their tea either just in the bamboo out in the open or in unglazed clay jars which breathe, and use fans to circulate whatever air is available during all this rain and hot weather. In this type of climate, circulating the air is a huge concern. Even with good circulation I'm sure people are fighting 6 inch thick mold even with the closest attention to their tea. But I have a theory that people in these types of climates don't notice musty tastes and smells as keenly as people in drier climates simply because everything smells this way all of the time. So "traditional" storage tea is musty and nobody tastes it because it reminds people of home.
I think the focus on southeast Asian storage has been repeated so often that everyone assumes the way tea is stored in Asia works willy-nilly everywhere else in the world where the climate isn't hot, humid and rainy. This makes absolutely no sense. When you live in a really dry climate, which is mostly every place which boasts a RH factor of less than 60% and temperatures lower than 78F/25.5C, you are going to need a storage solution that is NOT an unglazed clay jar. The only reason to use an unglazed jar is if you bought yourself a tea cake that was stored in a humid climate for a number of years, and all it needs is airing out before you drink it, or you bought a shou with pile fermentation odors and flavors.
So, the very FIRST thing you need to do when storing your tea is take a look at your climate and where you live. My house, this past winter, reached a temp of 62F/16.6C and boasted a RH of 24%. Yes, that's right, a cold desert. In fact, when I check my local ecosystem online, my area of Wisconsin is classified as "prairie" and "oak savanna." Savanna means really, really dry.
We need to think storage from the Outside-In, rather than Inside-Out. Start with climate outside, and then your house, and then pick the correct solution. Analyze what will be outside the tea storage and then pick the storage. When we do this, we pick the storage that matches the climate factors around the tea. But if we work from inside-out, choosing the storage before looking at the climate around the tea can mean making a choice that doesn't work.
What about you? If you don't know what the ecosystem is where you live, check on Wikipedia. This is important to know because your house is affected by degrees from the outside climate. Also helpful is knowing when the outside weather can help the tea, so on humid days you can expose the tea to the free boost. And then when the weather is dry or cooler, you can close your puerh away from the adverse climate.
Still not sure about your ecosystem? Go to your local drugstore and check the hairspray aisle. If the store primarily sells sprays to control fly-aways, your climate is dry. If the store sells mostly anti-frizz, your climate is humid. I can't guarantee this method is any better than 75% accurate. However, I have been to the middle of England in the West Midlands, and I had to buy anti-frizz hairspray which is pretty much all I saw in Boots. Also, I've seen the rubber seals on the high efficiency washing machines in that part of the world, and I tried to scrub one with bleach to no avail. Needless to say mine does not look like THAT, and I haven't used the Boots hairspray since. So, unless one lives in an island sort of place, I and probably you too will need some sort of storage solution that creates a separate micro-climate that is favorable for puerh.
Okay, so here is something of a checklist on When to Use which storage solution.
When to Use:
Cardboard Boxes and Paper Bags--When you are airing shou puerh or humid-stored musty sheng of unwanted odors. But don't do it for long. I've already tested this for you. I stored a shou puerh in a cardboard box for 5 years. And it tasted like cardboard box.
Plastic wrap and plastic bags--temporary until you develop something better. In the long term, my climate is too dry for plastic wrap, it just dries out and becomes brittle, and then so does the tea. Puerh needs heat and humid air to age, plastic does not survive cold, heat and dry air over the long haul. And do you truly want plastics all over your vegan, organic, BPA-free, lactose-free and gluten-free tea for thirty years?
Presentation Boxes---when you give a gift. Really.
Shelves--good for humid climates and storing out in the open.
Wood boxes/drawers--put the bras back in, ladies. Wood has too many variables like oils, odors absorbed from the air especially at the humidity levels you need for the tea. A large enamel pot with a lid is better, wipe the inside of the lid with a damp cloth for moisture if needed, and leave the lid slightly ajar.
Cupboards--semi-humid climates only, and not in the kitchen.
Yixing and other Unglazed Jars--only if you live in tropical and humid climates. You sweat constantly. These jars are good for airing shou puerh that has wo dui fermentation smells. Can air out any aged sheng for a SHORT time after you receive a package from China. Then move to regular storage. If your jar doesn't have a lid, you can cover it with either a china plate or cover with a cotton cloth/paper towel secured with a rubber band or string.
Glazed Stoneware crocks---anywhere Yixing Jars are not appropriate, anywhere less than humid, hot and muggy. Add tobacco pouch buttons as needed or shards of soaked terra cotta clay pots. These create a micro climate when stuffed full of tea cakes and tuos.
Porcelain jars--somewhat humid climates. The TeaDB folks are reporting some results on ceramic and porcelain jars in Seattle. I would think covered casserole dishes might be an option too for storing whole puerh cakes.
Old unplugged refrigerator--ugly but works. Add a jar of water or humidity device purchased from a tobacco store. Make sure the device doesn't smell of store tobacco. Keep a RH and temp device in there and watch it like a hawk, fridges are cold and can get dry if you aren't careful. Open the door every so often to air out. If you smell lovely tea smells, you're probably okay.
Wine Cooler--a stylish investment.
Custom storage vault--now we're talking. And I'm on my way over.
1. But it's ugly.
Get creative, an old radiator cover that doubles as seating with a couple coolers inside.
Use black spray paint on the exterior of a few coolers or ice chests. Or use square baskets for humid climates. Toss a few colorful pillows on top. Lift the lid when you need to check everything. I keep my best cakes in an old dorm fridge which doubles as a side table in the living room in winter, and on the porch in summer.
2. I don't have any room.
Empty out your wife's walk-in California closet. Appropriate the shelving.
Now, a person doesn't need to store every single bit of tea you own in a custom storage solution. Teas you are actively drinking, for example, can be stored anywhere you darn well please. Like in your bed. Or in that pretty porcelain caddy you found at the dollar store. Pouches and baggies are great for small amounts of tea you plan to get to any day now, as long as that "any day now" happens in the next month or two. The teas you really want to find a solution for are the ones that need more time to turn into that fantastic sheng to sell for thousands of dollars at Sotheby's someday. Because if that's your plan, you'll be needing the best storage solution you can get. Unless you are old-like-Cwyn and plan to have "Dead Blogger" labeling large in the auction catalogue. In that case, well, bathroom storage is just fine.