Can/should I store Pu-erh in an air-tight container?


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Can/should I store Pu-erh in an air-tight container?

Postby waltcamp45 » Mar 14th, '06, 13:44

Folks,

Recently I tried (and immediately took to) Pu-erh. I was reading around the Web to learn more about this unique tea when I encountered a site that advises you to NOT store Pu-erh in an air-tight container. But they didn't say why.

Can anyone shed light on this? Given Pu-erh's unique characteristics, I wouldn't be surprised if it needs to breathe. But what's the downside (if any) to storing it in a sealed glass canister?

Thanks!

Walt
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Postby Warden Andy » Mar 14th, '06, 16:48

Allowing the Pu-erh leaves to come in contact with air will continue the fermentation process, and the Pu-erh will get better over time. Just keep it away from strong odors.
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Postby waltcamp45 » Mar 14th, '06, 17:36

Andy wrote:Allowing the Pu-erh leaves to come in contact with air will continue the fermentation process, and the Pu-erh will get better over time. Just keep it away from strong odors.


Thanks, Andy! So, it sounds as if allowing the tea to come into contact with air can improve its flavor (by allowing the fermentation to continue). But are there any problems with storing in air-tight canister?

Put differently, letting it come into contact with air may make it better, but will keeping it sealed make it any worse?

Don't mean to be picky ... it's just that this is the first tea I've come across in which air-tight storage wasn't recommended. Are there any other teas that also benefit from contact with air?

Thanks,

Walt
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Postby Warden Andy » Mar 14th, '06, 18:28

Keeping it in an air-tight container won't hurt the tea at all. It will just stay the same as it was when you sealed it.

I think Pu-erh is the only tea that can come in contact with air without going stale over time.
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Postby jogrebe » Mar 14th, '06, 22:01

Right it will simply stay the same with time instead of ageing. I have a box of mini cup sized puerh blocks where each one has been vacuumed sealed in metal foil and according to the box it was packed in 1999. In this case instead of having 7 year old aged puerh you can't tell the difference between that and a puerh from last year.
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Postby MarshalN » Mar 15th, '06, 19:08

Actually, depending on whether your Puerh is "raw" or "cooked"... if your Puerh is "cooked" then leaving it open to air wouldn't change its quality, whereas if it's "raw" then it should definitely not be in an air-tight container.
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Postby waltcamp45 » Mar 15th, '06, 21:44

MarshalN wrote:Actually, depending on whether your Puerh is "raw" or "cooked"... if your Puerh is "cooked" then leaving it open to air wouldn't change its quality, whereas if it's "raw" then it should definitely not be in an air-tight container.


Being new to Pu-erh, I've encountered, but not yet mastered, these terms. What do "raw" and "cooked" mean with regard to Pu-erh?

Thanks much!

Walt
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Postby MarshalN » Mar 15th, '06, 22:11

Well, reading your blog, it sounds like you got a "cooked" puerh, which is normally the case these days. Musty, earthy are the types of characteristics that one would associate with a "cooked" puerh. I think I explained this somewhere in my blog too, although those things are awfully hard to use when you actually want to find useful information.

Basically, my understanding of raw vs cooked is this, and this is mostly information I've gathered in Hong Kong when I hang out at the tea shop with very experienced Puerh drinkers. They know their stuff. It really takes a lifetime to master.

Raw puerh is sort of how puerh is supposed to be, in its original, natural form, so to speak. Puerh's distinguishing feature is that it ferments after it is formed into shape, often in a cake or a brick shape. Over time, tihs tea ages, and the character and taste of the tea evolves. This would often take 15-30 years, and the more time it spends in this process, usually the better it will taste, assuming that it is kept properly, i.e. dry, away from sun, cool, and not in a location where it will absorb funny smells (putting it next to your perfume case, for example, might not be a good idea). In the old days, when the puerh firms in Yunnan province made tea the old fashioned way, they would make the cakes, leave it in storage for a certain period, and then they will sell it onto the market. It's a significant investment on the part of the firms to keep the cakes around for that long, but if you've been doing it for 30 years, that means every year you've got stock to release, so no problems.

If you buy raw puerh that is only a few years old, it will look like green tea, the tea is very astringent, sharp, brews a yellow/green liquor, smells strong, but not earthy. It is rather harsh, and is really not meant to be consumed yet. A proper raw puerh that is well aged should be some shade of brown. It is still somewhat astringent, but is much less sharp. The liquor should be brown in colour (the shades will vary depending on the age, the tea, and the amount of leaves you put in it). There will be some medicinal smell and taste, but as with wine, the tastes depends on how the tea has been aged and the quality of the original leaves. A properly kept puerh will taste different from a puerh that got slightly wet during storage, etc. This is where tasting experience and skills come in. This is also why well kept, well aged raw puerh is exorbitant (say, $2000+ USD for a cake of 350g). Part of that premium is in the variety and the changeability of the tea -- it really does change and has a very wide variety in taste.

Cooked puerh is how a lot of puerh made today is. Cooked puerh is basically raw puerh that got processed so that the fermentation took place at a much accelerated pace under artificial conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, putting it in a damp storage, sprinkling little bits of water over it, etc, to aid the fermentation. The tea ages faster, and becomes drinkable at an early stage. The problem is that the tea then becomes more or less fixed -- it will undergo no further fermentation, so it makes no difference whether you keep it around for 5 or 50 years. In fact, cooked puerh is meant for immediate consumption.

Cooked puerh brews a dark, pitch black almost, liquor. The taste is much weaker than the colour of the tea, and is rather mellow, with an earthy taste. There is a sweet aftertaste to it. There is no overall astringency -- the tea doesn't "cut" but instead "smooths". Some people prefer this taste. The tea leaves, when wet after brewing, should be pitch black. You can sometimes tell when a company mixes raw and cooked puerh together. The raw leaves are rather green, and the cooked leaves are pitch black. That's a mixed tea, which can be decent with age, although not of the top quality.

There's a lot of confusion over this, and I myself am no expert on this question either. Whiel nowadays I'm not too bad at distinguishing raw and cooked teas, when it's a really good cooked tea or a poor raw tea (poor usually due to original quality, or more likely, how it was kept) I get confused too. But for the most part, puerh you can get in the states sell cooked teas. Raw teas are generally very raw (under 5 years) and will look distinctly green. Those really shouldn't be drunk right now, although for experimentation sake you can buy a cake, and try it every few months to see if you taste any change.

That's a very concise version of it. I have described a few different kinds of puerh I've tried at various points in my blog. I really ought to take more pictures....
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Postby Phyll » Mar 16th, '06, 13:33

My understanding is that if you buy the raw type ("Sheng"), try to know from which vintage/year it is. Generally, as a rule of thumb, a Sheng type pu-erh is good to drink after 7 years (1st stage), then another 5 years (2nd stage), then another 3 years (3rd stage). The older it gets, the better.

Cooked pu-erh ("Shou") is a manhandled tea designed for immediate consumption, but can also be aged a little more without much change. I said manhandled because it is meant for consumers who want to enjoy a ready-to-drink-now pu-erh without having to spend a lot of money or wait for a long time for an aged Sheng pu-erh.

It is a misnomer to categorize pu-erh as a "black tea". It is actually a green tea in its original form. It's only "blackish/dark-reddish" because of age (natural or expedited).

Pu-erh is the only tea I know that benefit from air. Others have a time window when they are best drunk (the younger the better).
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Postby Messorius » Mar 17th, '06, 01:11

So what kind is the tea offered from Adagio, raw or cooked?
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Postby jogrebe » Mar 17th, '06, 01:33

Adagio offers a cooked puerh.
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Postby yresim » Mar 17th, '06, 02:29

My understanding is that all loose-leaf pu-erhs are cooked.
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Postby waltcamp45 » Mar 18th, '06, 00:12

MarshalN wrote:Well, reading your blog, it sounds like you got a "cooked" puerh ..."


Marshall,

Thanks tons for the expansive explanation. I am nearly certain my Pu-erh was cooked, as it has all the characteristics you describe. So, the basic difference between "raw" and "cooked" Pu-erh is that the raw variety is intended to ferment naturally over a long period of time, whereas with cooked Pu-erh, the fermentation is artificially induced and accelerated.

That sound about right?

Walt
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Postby Phyll » Mar 18th, '06, 07:36

yresim wrote:My understanding is that all loose-leaf pu-erhs are cooked.


Yresim, there are a lot of loose leave pu-erh that are raw (sheng). I just got back from Canton with 500gr of 21 years old loose leave raw pu-erh from Meng Hai in Yunnan province. It cost me a pretty penny. In the stores over there, they display their aged loose leave raw pu-erh in big sacks and bamboo baskets.
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Postby MarshalN » Mar 19th, '06, 23:53

waltcamp45 wrote:
Marshall,

Thanks tons for the expansive explanation. I am nearly certain my Pu-erh was cooked, as it has all the characteristics you describe. So, the basic difference between "raw" and "cooked" Pu-erh is that the raw variety is intended to ferment naturally over a long period of time, whereas with cooked Pu-erh, the fermentation is artificially induced and accelerated.

That sound about right?

Walt


Essentially, yeah.

Phyll wrote:Yresim, there are a lot of loose leave pu-erh that are raw (sheng). I just got back from Canton with 500gr of 21 years old loose leave raw pu-erh from Meng Hai in Yunnan province. It cost me a pretty penny. In the stores over there, they display their aged loose leave raw pu-erh in big sacks and bamboo baskets.


That's right... I tend to buy loose leaf puerh that are aged as well. Cakes cost far too much, and raw cakes that are still fermenting are hard to keep around, although I do have some.
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