Pu Erh storage in a tropical climate


One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

Pu Erh storage in a tropical climate

Postby Jedi » Apr 25th, '09, 08:34

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?

Cheers,

Lee
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Postby odarwin » Apr 25th, '09, 10:30

Wow! That’s a very long and insightfull reply
This is inded a very interesting and relevant discussion

Here in manila, we have constant temperature indoors. 27-31c all day. For humidity its 50-65% during the summer, and 65-80% during rainy season. It only reaches 85-90% when it rains consecutive days.

I store my teas both sheng and shou in small cardborad boxes stacked on top of each other on a “table” about 3ft off the ground. Im still new to storage and its only my first rainy season, but so far the highest humidity level is only 77%. So far there are no problems with the cakes. The sheng box has slight perfume smell from the cakes, sometimes pungent, sometimes less. I havent seen any mold yet, apart from many months ago when I placed damp cakes inside the box (during my trial run), but since I started to make sure the cakes I buy are dry, ive never seen mold yet.

Do you have mold problems there? If so based on your experience, what is the culprit? Is it high humidity or low ventilation?

Is it ok to break a cake and put it under a fan to ventilate even when it is raining with about 75% humidity level?

Its interesting you mentioned clay jars. In your experience, does tea taste better after being aged in clay jars compared to just cardboard boxes?

I actually have contemplated a lot and even asked cloud about clay jar storage. Its easy to make custom jars here, the big ones that can fit a few tongs in, and I actually have one sample from a factory, but craftsmanship is not good so the lid is a bit difficult. It doesn’t fit very well and leaves a lot of open gaps in the lid. I can replace it with a wooden lid that is wrapped with cloth insead. But it’s a lot of hassle and takes up a lot of space compared to just cardboard boxes.

For those tea that gone bad… what kind of storage condition were they in?

I am actually keeping my fingers crossed that my storage habbits are ok. If I get through this rainy season without any mold odd smells or dampness, then I think my storage conditions are generally ok.

-darwin
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Postby Jedi » Apr 25th, '09, 14:03

Sounds like pretty good natural conditions you've got there Darwin.

From the two times I've been to the Philippines, it's pretty clear to me it is generally cooler and less 'sticky' than what I'm 'used to' in Malaysia. The sea breezes are amazing in the evening, but that's part and parcel of being part of an archipelago.

I don't see any problems with letting tea air out under the influence of a fan, but I tend to lean towards the gently gently way of doing things. It may be presumptuous of me, but I wouldn't put them directly under a fan. The fan setups I've seen are just small electric units with a diameter of around 4" to simply move air around in an otherwise static environment.

The clay jars I've mentioned are porous, and my friends tend to favour purple clay, but that's probably more for aesthetic reasons than anything. The most important thing is that they shouldn't be glazed, otherwise, they will get too warm and not 'breathe'. But using glazed vessels can be useful for 'speed aging' but that's another topic.

In the environments described however, simple methods are sufficient, even during periods of high humidity and heat, provided there is adequate ventilation and minimal exposure to light. Mold has only occurred when there has been inadequate ventilation combined with high humidity, but most of the tea such afflicted have been remedied by judicious airing and drying.

We are fortunate that the year round temperatures are so conducive to the aging of Pu erh.
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Postby odarwin » Apr 25th, '09, 21:14

hi jedi,

i can really say that its nice weather here compared to malaysia and really less sticky overall.

with the clay jars, we have a factory here that uses a dense clay and they say that its high fired. they also use charcoal to fire the kiln and they sent me a sample for free. its in the office now and i havent used it yet, it has thick very thick walls and i doubt the permeability of the walls to air. i can easily fit 3 tongs and a few more tuos or bricks in it.

ill try to take pictures of the jar on monday and post it here...
would you be ok to post pics of the jars you use too?

-darwin
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Postby Dizzwave » Apr 26th, '09, 13:34

Hey Jedi, thanks for the informative post!
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Postby Jedi » Apr 27th, '09, 09:10

odarwin wrote:hi jedi,

...

ill try to take pictures of the jar on monday and post it here...
would you be ok to post pics of the jars you use too?

-darwin


Darwin, when I get back to KL I'll be sure to stick my beak into my friends' storage jars if I see them. Otherwise, I'll get some photos from the tea shop as I"ll be visiting them to pick up my loong jing.
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Postby odarwin » Apr 27th, '09, 09:23

thanks jedi!

i have a malaysian friend and he said something about pu erh warehouses for rent.
if you have a lot of pu and not much space, there are space for rent in those warehouses that has proper ventilation installed to keep your cakes in the right conditions.

i wonder if you've come across these so called warehouses?

-darwin
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Postby Jedi » Apr 27th, '09, 12:47

Dizzwave wrote:Hey Jedi, thanks for the informative post!


You're quite welcome, but I've also been learning lots from the forum, so thanks to everyone too!!

It's fantastic how people from such diverse backgrounds and cultures have been united under the banner of tea. The grand legacy continues!!

Best,

Lee
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Postby Jedi » Apr 27th, '09, 12:49

odarwin wrote:thanks jedi!

i have a malaysian friend and he said something about pu erh warehouses for rent.
if you have a lot of pu and not much space, there are space for rent in those warehouses that has proper ventilation installed to keep your cakes in the right conditions.

i wonder if you've come across these so called warehouses?

-darwin


Darwin,

I've heard of these, but I've never seen one or know of anyone who's used one. What some vendors do here is sell tea to collectors and then buy back certain allotments after a period of time at a pre-agreed rate of interest.

It's kinda neat!!

Cheers,

Lee
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Postby odarwin » Apr 27th, '09, 22:48

thats neat jedi!

sounds like hedging or what do you call it?
nice!

-darwin
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Postby JAS-eTea Guy » May 5th, '09, 20:37

Nice discussion guys! Thanks for all of the insight.

Steve
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Postby oldmanteapot » May 5th, '09, 21:29

Jedi wrote:
odarwin wrote:hi jedi,

...

ill try to take pictures of the jar on monday and post it here...
would you be ok to post pics of the jars you use too?

-darwin


Darwin, when I get back to KL I'll be sure to stick my beak into my friends' storage jars if I see them. Otherwise, I'll get some photos from the tea shop as I"ll be visiting them to pick up my loong jing.


Hi Jedi,

Looks like I've got my answer to my question in another post asking if you're living in Malaysia.

Great insights to storage methods and very informative too. It would be great if we could meet up as I do travel to KL every now and then :P

Cheers!
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Postby Jedi » May 5th, '09, 21:39

oldmanteapot wrote:Hi Jedi,

Looks like I've got my answer to my question in another post asking if you're living in Malaysia.

Great insights to storage methods and very informative too. It would be great if we could meet up as I do travel to KL every now and then :P

Cheers!


oldman,

meeting up would be great, nothing like a new tea buddy! In fact, I'll be in Penang for a couple of days next week!

Now, please share your storage practices!!

Cheers,

Lee
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