This post is in response to questions asked by Darwin regarding Pu Erh storage practices in Malaysia, therefore I thought it might be productive to discuss it under the umbrage of 'tropical climates' to encourage a wider range of responses and opinions.
I live in Malaysia, and maintain a modest amount of tea for immediate drinking and medium term storage and aging. Like many people, I divide my teas into two major groups, namely sheng and shu. Within them I have small sub groups as well.
For shu, I generally keep them whole, whether in tuo, beeng or chuan forms in their original wrappers in a dark, ventilated space, and these would tend to be cardboard boxes or large biscuit tins with a loose fitting lid. When selected for drinking, it would be broken down into flakes or bits and kept in a purple clay container, with a thin piece of fabric or paper underneath the lid. I believe this helps to 'aerate' the leaves and yields better tea over breaking them out on an as needed basis. When the container gets to almost empty, it's time to refill and move on to another tea while the new batch aerates. For older shu, say 20 years plus, I am inclined to break these to keep in porcelain containers in a cool place to keep whatever properties they might have intact to to discourage further aging.
For sheng, they are also kept in their original wrappers, sometimes in cloth 'beeng' bags if the wrappers are too fragile or in bad condition. These are simply stacked according to type in a cardboard box within a larger cupboard in a ventilated room. I was careful to ensure that the cupboard did not possess any smells such as varnish or linseed in order to maintain an odour neutral environment. Sheng beengs intended for drinking are kept near the tea table, sometimes broken into clay containers like the shu.
Generally, the sheng I have in possession are between 5 to 20 years old, and they are all drinkable depending on context and company. Some exceptional teas older than 20 years are kept whole in their cloth bags with small segments broken kept in small clay containers for easy access when required.
I am quite casual in my storage methods as due to the endless summer in Malaysia, indoor temperature (without airconditioning) is quite constant, with the only fluctuation to consider being humidity. This varies between 75% to 100% (saturation) depending on the prevailing monsoon. Of course, the indoor environment provided ventilation is adequate, ambient humidity would be lower than external conditions. Therefore, finding the correct space in one's home would be the key.
The advantage to storing tea in a climate such as Malaysia's is that aging would tend to be accelerated over more temperate climes such as southern China or the United States (depending on where you are of course) or Europe (shivers!). This is ostensibly due to the fact that for much of the year in the places mentioned, temperatures do not get high enough for our bacterial friends to work their magic on the Pu. Also, humidity here and in similar parts is relatively constant, with enough variation to provide interest and just a touch of anxiety.
Some friends of mine keep their cakes and bricks in large clay pots, almost invariably made from purple clay and even terracotta. This helps keep the temperature relatively constant, and the occasional airing of the pots provide circulation of air. Some prefer to keep theirs semi-sealed (never fully sealed) and some prefer to leave them simply covered with fabric. Even when fully sealed, the porosity of the clay theoretically provides for an exchange of air. The clay pots also provide some humidity adjustment due to the material's absorbent nature. One problem however, is finding enough space to keep these large pots!!! Tongs are kept intact in this way, as are individual cakes or bricks.
Others prefer to use cupboards or ceiling spaces coupled with boxes. These are invariably helped along with small electric fans switched on intermittently to both circulate the air, and control humidity somewhat, although the theory goes that with circulation, damp is not an issue. Of course, with regards to damp, all storage methods involve raising the relevant containers or vessels above the ground, especially if the tea is kept on the ground floor or lower ground (we don't really have residential basements here).
I personally do not keep teas for long term aging as teas that I own for that purpose are kept whole in their original consignment of tongs or batches at various locations, thus occupying 'rented' space in vessels or containers owned by friends that are better suited to aging than my own humble cupboard and boxes.
We have seen teas age for say 7 years, like a year 2000 7542 for instance, start to display qualities of Pu Erh kept for much longer periods of time in locations such as mainland China and Hongkong. Also, with loose tea, the change is even more noticeable over a shorter period of time. These are kept usually in paper bags, bamboo baskets or clay vessels.
It should also be noted that in spite of all the precautions and methods described, occasional batches of tea do go bad, but sometimes the remedy is as simple as opening it up and leaving it to air for a week or two to 'clean' it up and remove damp and mould.
So, how do you store and age your tea if you live in a tropical climate?