; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Puerh Storage is a Crock #2 ;

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Puerh Storage is a Crock #2

Old Cwyn has too much tea, no doubt about it. Any more and she will be needing a larger house. In addition to wedging issues with my tea cakes in the storage fridge, I have many cakes and tuos stored in crocks. Now I can add loose maocha to my storage, which takes up even more space. At my age I can afford to experiment because the kid is just going to throw out all my tea anyway when I pass on. Recently I received a quantity of loose maocha from a tea seller for the purposes of storage experimentation, so I came by this tea for free. My understanding is this maocha was originally sample quantities for potential cake pressing, but rejected for unknown reasons. So the bottom line is the tea seller doesn't want this stuff, and thinks sending it to Old Cwyn the Tea Drunk and Professional Tea Hoarder is a good idea. I suspect the tea seller is also a Hoarder who can't throw tea away, and like my other hoarding friends who send me outdated vitamins and old spices, the solution is to send it me.

The Tea

Might as well do something with this lot, there are actually two quantities which I'm not going to bother to weigh. This tea is two different batches I've decided to just mix together. We have a 2013 Zhanglang Gushu, and a 2012 Spring Bada mountain. Both teas arrived very dried out in plastic bags. I don't expect crock storage to improve these very much, if the tea had been fairly fresh with some moisture in it, I might be able to fast-ferment it. But the tea is dried and reconstituted with a bit of water now, at best my goal is to see if I can darken it up a little.

The Crock

This is actually a very large crock bread bowl, an American Watt #14 Ovenware bread bowl to be exact. The finish is crazed from years and years of use.
Old stoneware bread bowl
 I got this bowl from my step mother, and I remember her using this bowl back in my teen years. My stepmother grew up on a Wisconsin farm, the oldest of 5 children and the bread bowl belonged to her mother, that roughly means 80 years of use at least. I remember the batches of caramel pecan rolls my stepmom made using this bowl.
Kinda hard to see the crazing on the glaze.
 She gave the bowl to me specifically to get rid of it. She is a hoarder too and apparently my house has a sign on it "If you're a hoarder, send me your shit." To her, the bowl symbolized years of cooking for a large family and husband, and she hated cooking. The bowl meant servitude. It's hard for me to feel sorry for a housewife of a multimillionaire, but the "gift" of the bowl was to remind me of what she suffered on my behalf, a passive aggressive way of her Scandinavian heritage. Whereas my Polish-Jewish family making the same point would have chucked it out the window into the yard and been done with it. Or sold it on EBay.

But now the bowl will come in handy to see if I can do anything with this tea. My house is currently boasting an RH value of 30% in midwinter, rather desert-like, so I must keep tea in storage with some sort of humidity, either crocks with humidity devices or my puerh fridge with a jar of water. I will use the sauerkraut method of storage which is to use a stoneware crock bowl covered with a wooden lid.

I rinse the maocha and soak it in water for about 5 minutes, turning the tea until it absorbs the water. You can see the after photo of dried, wet tea.
Would you do this with YOUR gushu? Didn't think so.
For the cover I'm using my rosewood tea tray because, well, it fits.

Vintage rosewood.
The bowl is placed on a cast iron radiator which is warm because of winter heating. I plan to turn the tea once a day, adding a bit of water as needed. An hour later the tea smells quite fragrant. My plan is to continue this for a month or two and see what happens.
Rinsed/soaked dried maocha before first brew.
Next I must brew up the tea so I can compare it a month from now. The 2012 Bada already has nearly three years of age on it, and the 2013 Zhanglang almost two years. Ugh, not sure I want to try it.  Bottoms up, old gal.

First steep. Drank two steeps in all.
The tea brews up a dark urine color, and the aroma and flavor is grape-like, tastes rather like Yiwu. I was bracing for a gut bomb of young puerh bitterness, but the tea is actually a bit thin. I can understand why it never made it into tea cakes. The buds and leaves are small and pretty, but the tea has a rather thin body and tastes light on flavor. I get some slight bitterness and tang along with the grape leaf flavor. This is no Bulang, that's for sure. So I can relax and not feel guilty if I mold up the entire batch, however I don't think that will happen in the super dry climate. In fact, I expect the wet tea will have mostly dried out by tonight, even in its microclimate bowl. The challenge will be adding moisture and promoting any change this time of year. Summer would be a better time to get fresh tea to change instead of reconstituting dried tea in the middle of winter, but we'll see what happens. So, let's check back in a month or so with this batch assuming old Cwyn doesn't forget about it and wonder what this bowl is doing on the radiator.

In North America we know so little about storing fermented tea, any data is at least a start. I really appreciate the emails I'm getting from other tea heads who are using stoneware crocks to store some of their tea. This week I received another one:

"I thought I would drop you a line cause I'm also attempting puerh crock storage in a very dry region. I'm in KY, and right now the humidity in my tea closet is only about 38%!!  I have been having decent luck using crocks, my tea stays pretty okay as long as I keep checking on it regularly and keep the tobacco pouch buttons fresh. Lately I've also been using clay shards from those terra cotta pots which has also been working ok."

Great hearing from all of you!


  1. No throwing away! Plan tea wake ahead of time. Or consider donating your collection to the Tea Institute at Penn State.

    I'm just planning my first bing purchase from YS, and am really happy to have discovered your blog (spotted you on the Steepster TTB thread). I look forward to reading! (Today I shall be drinking sheng and reading your archives).

    1. Hm I wonder if Penn State would take old Cwyn. I can guarantee she will be be a-slosh with tea on the way out.

      Thanks for the kind words!