Insects in puerh

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

Aug 19th 15 2:03 pm
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Insects in puerh

by dragoran » Aug 19th 15 2:03 pm

So, for the past several years, I've been storing my puerh in a cabinet that I generally keep closed, pretty much throwing it in a pile and not really doing a whole lot (I know I should probably switch to some kind of pumidor set up, but some of my older stuff seems to be doing all right). However, to my horror this morning, I found a couple of very small beetles (a few millimeters, at most) crawling around in the wrapper of one of my shu bricks. After checking a few of my cakes, I found one or two in crawling around in the wrappers of several of them, including a cake that I've had for no more than a couple of months.

Having done some research, it's currently looking like the most likely culprits are tobacco beetles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lasioderma_serricorne) or drugstore beetles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drugstore_beetle). Has anyone run into this problem before, and if so, how have you dealt with it? I'm very reluctant to toss out all of my tea, but I'm worried I'll be forced to. I've seen it suggested that either baking at > 130 degrees or freezing at 0 or lower for a few days works to kill the pests; does anyone have any thoughts on how likely either of those methods are to kill the tea's flavor? I'd guess baking would be bad, but I really don't know.

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Aug 19th 15 8:40 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by wyardley » Aug 19th 15 8:40 pm

I've had stowaways (I think from Taiwan) before. I think the best way to deal with it is to let the tea dry out a little, but not sure if that will work with the bugs you have too.

Aug 19th 15 9:45 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by shudaizi » Aug 19th 15 9:45 pm

Both wiki pages suggest low temps will kill them. Can you freeze the cakes for a few days? Have no idea what that would do the tea ... but someone here should know I wager.

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Aug 19th 15 10:02 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by PolyhymnianMuse » Aug 19th 15 10:02 pm

Freezing might work but Iwould be worried about condensation concentrating once the tea is taken back out of the freezer.

Aug 19th 15 10:26 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by shudaizi » Aug 19th 15 10:26 pm

I suspect you could avoid condensation if you let it warm up gradually. I often use my film Leicas and lenses in freezing temps outside and then bring them inside. If I just brought plunked them on the table in the warm house, they'd get condensation in a minute -- disaster with some very expensive gear. But, leaving it in the camera bag (i.e., with an air buffer), or putting it in the fridge for a couple of hours, both let the camera come up in temp slow enough to avoid condensation -- never had a problem in many years of shooting. I bet something similar would work for tea too; might be worth testing with a small sample of tea?

The previous owner of our home left us with carpet beetles when we purchased it. They have some similarities -- as pests -- to your candidate beetles, though thankfully they can't bore through plastic -- but the larva are highly mobile and can eat nearly any organic matter, which makes them really tough to control once they get entrenched. In any case, I can empathize with your situation -- pests like these can migrate and become a real headache. My advice: make sure you get them all -- not just for your tea's sake.

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Aug 20th 15 3:49 am
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Re: Insects in puerh

by wyardley » Aug 20th 15 3:49 am

With the ones I knew for sure had bugs, I vacuum sealed them, and might have frozen them briefly.

Aug 20th 15 2:07 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by dragoran » Aug 20th 15 2:07 pm

Thanks for the advice. It does turn out it was one of those two beetles (unsure, as I didn't have a magnifying glass); they infested a number of the dry goods my wife and I had foolishly left outside of canisters. The good (?) news is that they were nowhere near as prevalent in and around my tea, and they were mostly in the broken off excess leaves that I left in the bottom of the wrappers; in addition, none of my unopened teas (e.g., several bricks of White2tea's White Whale, which is nigh impenetrable without tearing it open) had their wrappers eaten into. At a guess, I'm hoping they didn't find the tea as appetizing as they had hoped.

We went ahead and purged the apartment of the aforementioned dry goods and excess leaves. I'm unsure of what I should do with the cakes; I'm fairly nervous about freezing, as I've heard some people suggest that might kill aging potential. I had initially been thinking of taking a "wait and see" approach, but if the larvae do the majority of the damage I might be better off being proactive. Other sources have suggested heating to 130 in an oven for half an hour (from reliable sources), or using CO2 exposure (i.e., sealed container with dry ice) for multiple days (this is less reliable). Might either of these approaches be less harmful than freezing, do you think?

In the worst case, I guess it's an excuse to drink my good stuff now.

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Aug 20th 15 2:22 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by Tead Off » Aug 20th 15 2:22 pm

Are you sure they are not weevils? In any case, heat or freezing may not be a good idea because of the inherent bacteria in the tea. Maybe a good google search will help, but you probably did that already.

Aug 20th 15 2:29 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by shudaizi » Aug 20th 15 2:29 pm

I'm no expert on either bugs or what will hurt the tea. So I can't say what method to use. Sorry! But, what I can say is don't be TOO hasty. Unless you have a massive infestation, they aren't gonna do lots of damage in a week or two. So, I'd watch the tea closely for a bit. Check it all a couple times a day for a week or two and see if you have any larva signs in that time. If not, there may not be any need to do anything at all. Though I would keep a closer eye, generally, now that you've had these beetles once. They may be quite prevalent in the environment around you (other apartments, the outdoors), so you may find them back periodically. Both the drugstore and tobacco beetles can bore through things like plastic bags to get at good food sources for their eggs, so keep an eye out going forward. This is basically our situation with the carpet beetles too: they're gone from the house now, but for about 4 weeks this June, they were all over flowers in the backyard. So they are "out there" and trying to get in -- which means we have to be vigilant. You may find the same thing.

Aug 20th 15 2:34 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by dragoran » Aug 20th 15 2:34 pm

Are you sure they are not weevils? In any case, heat or freezing may not be a good idea because of the inherent bacteria in the tea. Maybe a good google search will help, but you probably did that already.
Pretty certain, as they were smaller than the 3-5 mm for grain weevils (the largest that I saw was right around 3 mm) and lacked the elongated snout. And, yeah, the bacterial environment is largely what I'm worried about. Unfortunately, I'm thinking any solution is likely to kill that off; I can't imagine CO2 would also not prove lethal to most bacteria (I'm assuming they're aerobic), though I could easily be wrong.

If I go the freezing route, I'll probably try to vacuum seal everything and drink it ASAP when unsealed.

Shudaizi, sounds reasonable. Might be the best approach, since I'm not sure they'll be able to have much success with ingesting the tea; there's been some research out there that shows tobacco beetles, at least, do not successfully lay eggs in tea.

Aug 20th 15 2:39 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by shudaizi » Aug 20th 15 2:39 pm

dragoran wrote: Shudaizi, sounds reasonable. Might be the best approach, since I'm not sure they'll be able to have much success with ingesting the tea; there's been some research out there that shows tobacco beetles, at least, do not successfully lay eggs in tea.
That's good to know (for myself too). If the problem persists more generally in your apartment and you feel you need to try more serious "pest control" methods, feel free to PM me. My wife and I did our carpet beetle treatments ourselves and saved a TON of money (thousands of dollars) over what companies would have charged.

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Aug 21st 15 6:23 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by wyardley » Aug 21st 15 6:23 pm

If you're keeping your tea in or near the kitchen, you may also want to move it away, not only to avoid problems with grain moths and other kitchen pests, but also to avoid smells / grease / etc.

I believe it was Cloud who was said to refer to Western tea drinkers as 'kitchen-keepers' (I don't think it was intended as a compliment).

Aug 25th 15 2:03 pm
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Re: Insects in puerh

by dragoran » Aug 25th 15 2:03 pm

Wyardley, that's fair. Unfortunately, I'm in a semi-open plan apartment without a whole lot of storage space, so my options are a bit circumscribed. I'll look into it, though.

In good news, there's been very little activity over the past several days. There were no bugs on any of my cakes as of yesterday and prior to that, I saw at most one or two bugs per day before then, generally on wrappers or on the shelf. Despite the overall absence of dry goods, they seem not to have started swarming around my cakes, yet. I'm not going to breathe easy for a few more weeks, though, since apparently the larvae are what really cause the damage.

Amusingly (?), my mom got a minor infestation of drugstore beetles in close proximity to her tea right around the same time; according to her, though, they ignored her tea completely.

Aug 27th 15 2:42 am
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Re: Insects in puerh

by bellmont » Aug 27th 15 2:42 am

mmm protein.

Sep 1st 15 6:15 am
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Re: Insects in puerh

by Ivory83 » Sep 1st 15 6:15 am

In my opinion you shouldn’t use that if it has been infected by the insects. Also, to keep your home safe from termites and pests I suggest you to hire a pest control and Termite inspection Port Macquarie firm.