All stored food is alive, except for things like dried peas or true canning. Even these have a shelf life, a time when they taste best. But fermenting foods like puerh tea are indeed truly alive, and the organisms within are living creatures. We can’t see those living creatures without the aid of a microscope, but they are very much alive.
Puerh is a living food, we cannot store and ignore.
Anxiety around puerh storage is largely justified if a person wants to store it and ignore it. Some people do this, but you are playing a crap shoot. You can put several bushels of potatoes or apples in your basement for a month or two. When you go back to check on them, you are likely to find some spoiled or moldy apples and potatoes which you need to remove. Perhaps you can identify the reasons behind why a particular apple spoils, maybe it had a bruise, or maybe you can’t figure out what happened. But you know that even potatoes from the same harvest will have a few that go bad for no particular reason.
Maybe you like to make wine. You store a dozen bottles, and two turn to vinegar, one explodes and the other nine are drinkable. You may learn something about the bottles that went bad, but to some extent you also accept loss as part of the hobby. We are still trying to fully understand why some wines and whiskies turn out better than others. The same is true of puerh tea, we are only learning why some cakes turn out better than others.
If you enjoy flowers, you might decide to start a garden of sorts. Orchids and roses are beautiful, but are like babies requiring daily care. Do you want to spend the time? If you find caring for your orchids relaxing and engaging, then these flowers will bloom under your mothering. One cannot ignore orchids, and knowing this you might wisely decide to plant day lilies instead which need little or no care and are beautiful in their own right.
Do you want to spend the time with storage?
I prefer cats to dogs. I love dogs, but I believe that dogs need to run, or at minimum vigorously walked more than once a day. Do I want to spend the time walking the dog? If I have a large property where the dog can run, maybe it can go without me. But then I’ll still need to check it for ticks and burrs or other wounds. And like it as not, that dog will still prefer to sleep in my bed than outside, so I’ll need to pay a great deal of attention to this dog. I don’t have much interest in doing what really should be done for a dog and I cannot bear it when I see dogs neglected. So I have cats. My cats are still a lot of work, but I enjoy doing what they need.
Can I do what it takes to maintain a large collection?
Puerh shopping is fun, and most of us know how easy it is to click and buy and watch the tea pile up. But do you have a storage solution for your tea? How much tea do you drink every day? Can you consume most of your collection within a few years? If not, then you need to find a way to store the tea so it continues to mature.
If I don’t enjoy puerh storage, then perhaps I need to keep my collection small to a series of drinkers that I will consume within a few years. Or maybe I should spend my money on truly fine aged puerh teas. I could buy one of the 1990s Liming for $1300 and focus my attention on drinking this one fine tea, rather than spend the same amount of money on brand new puerh teas only to lose them to fading and drying. Ah, the idealism and purity of this! For all our aspirations to stop with one cake, not many of us manage to avoid the slippery slope of buying more.
You hereby invited to the hobby of puerh storage.
Sheng puerh ferments in ideal conditions of at least 70-85 degrees F, or about 20-30C with relative humidity of 65-75%. When temperatures are a little lower, the microbial activity slows accordingly. When humidity is lower, then the tea begins to get dry. To maintain and preserve your tea “as is,” you will need room temperature and 50-60% humidity as minimum parameters. Lower than these numbers and the tea begins to dry, and the microbial activity will slow. If your numbers are higher, then you must provide air circulation for the tea, and babysit for mold.
Regardless of how or where you store your tea, checking the tea is important if you want to maintain fermentation conditions. You won’t lose your entire collection overnight. You’ll get warning signs. Too cold and dry, your tea will lack odor, it will not have any tea smell. Too hot and wet and you’ll see signs of mold, well before your entire collection is affected.
Your tea will pick up any odors from its surroundings, so choose its company carefully. I found my tea picked up cardboard box odors. Kitchen storage is a bad idea because of cooking odors. Wood too can impart odors if the wood is fragrant, or contains oils as cedar wood does.
If your climate is dry, then porous containers like clay jars will be far too drying. If your climate is hot and humid, on the other hand, then clay jars might be a fine idea. But you still need to check the tea! Bugs and rodents like tea as much as you do, and can get into your collection unless you watch out.
When choosing storage, check with people who have the same climate as you have. Don’t blindly copy storage conditions in Asia unless your climate is the same as Asia. Feel free to experiment! Check out traditional storage methods where you live. In my part of the world, people traditionally used glazed thick clay crocks for vegetable fermentation and food storage. I found these local crocks are ideal for storing puerh tea, but I still need to add humidity much of the year. In summer, however, my tea can enjoy the local hot and humid climate.
|My blog has a number of ongoing articles on crock storage as an option|
Store puerh tea with love.
Check your tea because you love it! Check it not in a panic nor worry about losing your collection. You know what? There is always more tea. Tea will be your friend for many years. You can baby your most precious cakes, and with others you can always start over. Sniffing the tea and brewing up a bit is the pleasure we have, like gardeners who taste their bounty in a salad. When I get home from a long day, or am feeling my body’s aging and fatigue, I get a lift from heading to my crocks and checking a well-loved cake of puerh tea.
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