Storing and aging
Pu’er is a tea that has tremendous potential when picked from old trees, processed by masters, and brewed by someone with patience and care. This potential can be brought out or lost if the way in which we store it is disregarded. There is a remarkable amount of material online about how we shall store our teas, so let’s instead keep it very simple and touch on the key points. Some very valuable Pu’er teas have become worthless because of careless storage, so this is an important detail to consider when storing your teas. Pu’er tea is a living thing, so it shall be treated as such with some very key points.
There are two different teams in the discussion over humidity and Pu’er storage. Team one: Dry storage. Team two: Wet storage. They are just as they sound. Wet storage is basically when the tea is stored in a climate that is humid, or an artificial climate that is humid. The humidity in this case would be ~50% or above on average. The advantage here is that we keep the tea very alive and it matures and sweetens much faster. An environment that is too humid will absolutely cause mold or mildew, so be careful not to leave it in such conditions or to introduce too much humidity to it. The leaves, the tea liquor, and the smell become sweet and richer in aroma and color with wet storage, most often. A great deal of the value of a Pu’er does have to do with where the tea, and how the tea, was stored because of that particular area’s climate. Remember how Ripe Pu’er is made? It is placed in big warehouses with a very humid environment and turned, like compost, for months. We want a fresh Pu’er that tastes like tea, not like the process it underwent. Dry storage is a much drier condition that some people/producers prefer to wet storage as it doesn’t age/mature/ripen the tea quite as quickly, but too dry can kill the leaves and make them brittle and, quite literally, dead. Aroma is also an issue at times with tea that was dry stored.
Just as humans and plants and animals need air to live, so does our Pu’er tea. Why? Because it is also alive. Pu’er has micro flora living with the leaves that need to breath rather than being suffocated. This air must be clean and odorless, otherwise the tea will begin to smell, and taste, like the surrounding aromas, spices, foods, or teas. Storing it with similar teas is best. The fresh air can easily be brought in by an open window or even as simple as an open cabinet door. Basically, one would not want to zip it in a plastic bag and lock it away from the elements; this will literally kill the tea and forfeit any chance of it maturing. Fresh air also helps to reduce any risk of mold or bacteria build up in higher humidity climates.
Where to store?
Best circumstance is to store the tea with other tea just like it, and a lot of it. Whether you have 1 pound of Pu’er or 500 pounds, store it with each other. It is also important to move the tea often. Every few months, turn the tea cake over or, if it is loose leaf, simply shift the leaves so that all of the leaves are getting exposure to the elements. Store the tea away from odors and preferably in porous containers (clay, wood, ect). If you have received the tea in a box and foil bag, it is best to drink it sooner rather than later. Otherwise, open the foil bags and discard the bags and either leave the tea in the box or store it using the above suggestions. The average home has a perfect place: the top shelf of your closet. Place your tea up there along with a bowl of water nearby. Make sure there are no strong odors, and perhaps introduce a humidifier every-so-often if the area is too dry. There should be plenty of fresh air coming in as you open that door often and perhaps leave it ajar from time-to-time with a window open.
Keep the area above 55°C (130°F) and below 80°C (175°F) on average.
Remember how Pu’er was discovered and how we came to notice it was great when aged. Caravans of horses and mules travelled thousands of miles by foot over snow-capped mountains and through sun-heated desserts. Through these drastic changes in temperate and conditions, the tea tasted different at the destination than it did when it left the tea village in the mountains. At times, the horse would die or be sold off and they would have to leave the tea at the roadside or in villages only to return months or years later to pick it up and continue on. With this, they noticed drastic changes…without even trying! Have fun. Place some in your cabinet, some in your closet, and maybe even some on your porch. Just remember, this tea was cared for and crafted with absolute mastery and now it is up to you to learn to store it with care and prepare it with patience. You, my dearest tea friend, are the final master in this tea’s journey.