A Tea Addict's Journal

Conspiracy theory

September 22, 2007 · 5 Comments

I went tea shopping today. The shopping itself wasn’t the most fascinating, although I did buy some stuff for Action Jackson, who wanted some of the tuos we had last time we went to this store.

What was interesting was the conversation I had with the owner of the store today. It wasn’t the first time I heard this theory, and it won’t be the last. It probably also isn’t the last time either that I’ll hear this.

Basically, the theory is that pure dry storage is a sham, cooked up by self-interested merchants who basically got lucky.

It goes something like this — prior to the concept of “dry storage”, everything was wet stored. There were the accidental dry stored puerhs, but those are rare. For the most part, a proper puerh would’ve gone through the traditional HK storage. How much is appropriate was always up for debate, but it always went through SOME such storage.

However, in the late 80s/early 90s, there were people who wanted to get in, but who didn’t have years of old tea to supply themselves — all they had were newish cakes.

What do you do?

You claim that everybody can store it in their house and that it is, in fact, better to home store them. Dry storage, as a concept, was born. And from there… we got to where we are now. New teas are expensive, sometimes way more expensive than old teas, and many of them are still not drinkable years from now. In places like mainland China, even 5 years old tea can sometimes be considered “old”, whereas traditionally that would’ve merely been a “young” cake.

She does have a point, and I’ve often wondered the same thing. Teas that have gone through some HK storage, I think, can often taste better, change faster, and ultimately achieve better results. Pure dry storage has its merit, but is it enough?

To put it in perspective — the same person who was telling me this stuff also sells a bunch of newish cakes, many of which haven’t gone through HK storage, so it is not really the concept of dry storage that she has a problem with — it’s the results. I think what she really had issue with was 1) the idea that the drier the better, when in fact, you need certain humidity to achieve optimal aging conditions. 2) The idea that a cake that is under some number (say, 10) can be considered properly “puerh”.

I think I can agree with those points, for the most part. I don’t think cakes will age well in any climate. There’s a reaosn I am sticking all my teas, save a few things, in Hong Kong. I think I have seen enough cakes that are “drier” stored in places like Hong Kong or Taiwan that are quite good though, so I think it is not impossible to home store good tea. It is merely that it should not be taken to the extreme.

So perhaps the term “dry storage” (or gancang in Chinese) should really be tempered — it should just be “drier storage” instead, or better yet, “non traditional storage” or some such.

There’s definitely some financial interests involved here as well — “dry storage” has made a lot of people a good bit of money. But as tea drinkers, it is perhaps important to remember that ultimately — we are going to drink our teas.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • wisdom_sun // September 22, 2007 at 7:55 pm | Reply

    Oh, man, don’t even get me started…

    When are we gonna read about the other Fushen cake, the Youle one?

  • skippp111 // September 23, 2007 at 5:08 am | Reply

    After tasting lots of samples of “dry storage” and “traditional storage” I can only agree with the points mentioned. (I searched for good dry storage cakes for a while)

    Usually I find a deeper taste and more infusions in the traditional storage ones…and more “layers” of flavour for the dry storage cakes, combined with a more harsh taste. I really dont like the harsh taste and I suspect that this will not mellow out enough to get that incredible taste of the really old cakes.
    (time will tell anyway, because the dry storage hype hasnt been around long enough to see what happens when these cakes go past 20 years of storage)

    I keep my Puerh alternating around 65% in the winter and 80-85% in the summer, would like to know what other people think about “not dry storage”

  • MarshalN // September 23, 2007 at 9:03 am | Reply

    Hi skippp,

    I don’t know if between 65% and 80-85% is optimal, but that sounds like the kind of humidity one gets with a “normal living environment” in places like southern China.  Where do you live?  How do you control your humidity?

  • Dogma_l // September 23, 2007 at 11:48 am | Reply

    Perhaps, in this case, self-interest is supported by the miasma of confusion, misinformation and simple ignorance surrounding the whole Pu-erh aging proposition. I suspect that it will be at least 20 years before any serious science is published; meanwhile, separating noise from signal will be very difficult. Although anecdotal evidence from diverse sources running uncontrolled experiments has to be suspect, the various Internet communities of Pu-erh drinkers/collectors ought to be providing some kind of conclusions within a few years. The fact that so many of us will have stored the same cakes (from the relatively few reputable, accessible on-line vendors from the first decade or so of Web commerce) ought to help.


  • skippp111 // September 23, 2007 at 5:33 pm | Reply

    Living in Europe(Netherlands),roughly the same climate as the UK.
    I am using trays filled with filtered water which keeps the humidity around 65%, if I want it higher I use paper towels hanging in the trays, that brings the humidity up to roughly 80%. If I dont open the doors of the storage cabinets for a few days it will stabilize around 85%.
    I found out that I have to change the towels every 2 weeks to prevent mold taking hold on them.

    It would be very interesting if someone who has the “inside” knowledge of HK storage could comment on the way it is done, and what the optimal storage conditions for younger and older cakes are…

    (Since I dont speak chinese I cannot verify but is there any reliable information about this on the various chinese Puerh forums for example? )

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