A Tea Addict's Journal

Storage issues

June 23, 2008 · 5 Comments

Moving with a lot of tea to a new place means having to worry about where to store them. Oolongs are simple — you just keep them out of light and air tight, and it’s good. All you need are shelves (which I need to acquire). Puerh, on the other hand, is a trickier matter — right now I have all of them in a cardboard box, the same way they came during the move. I have not moved them at all.

The question is whether or not to take them out at all, or if I should store all of them as is. When it comes to storing tea, everybody has a different take on how puerh should be stored. The various theories I’ve heard range from absolutely closed environment, where little air is exchanged and teas should be “kept” so that they retain much of their qi (so the theory goes), to leaving them out in open air and let them air out. The most extreme, as I’ve related on this blog a long time ago, was a lady who bought a whole bunch of cakes from Hong Kong (all suitably wet stored, of course), took them to the desert weather in Xinjiang, put them in a big warehouse with all the doors/windows open and letting the desert wind blow through the cakes in an attempt to “tuicang”, literally “let the storage (flavour) fade”. I was unlucky enough to get to try the end result of this attempt, and it was, well, nasty. It seems like in addition to getting rid of the “storage” smell, much of the tea’s flavours and especially the smoothness also went out the window, carried out, no doubt, by the desert wind.

Ever since having tried that tea I’ve been more inclined to store my teas in relatively closed environments, or at least in places where they don’t see much air circulation. My teas in Hong Kong are stashed on the top shelves of a bookcase, in a corner where little air is exchanged while still being open to the room. In humid environments like Hong Kong or Taiwan, it’s probably best to leave the teas off the floor or even anywhere close to the floor, because moisture seems to be higher there — a cake of mine that I left in the open air in Taiwan on a low coffee table started growing stuff on it after a week of rain…. and I was living on the 8th floor.

What I haven’t decided is whether or not to keep the cakes in the box. I used to think that cardboard boxes probably give off a bit of a cardboard smell, which is no good, but then, most tea merchants keep their teas in cardboard boxes… so does it really matter? Will we notice? I think it’s probably more noticeable in a dry stored tea, because off notes will be more obvious here. Wet stored teas are so dominated by the storage taste that subtle aromatics like cardboard smell probably won’t be very obvious — or who knows, maybe even add to the enjoyment of the tea.

When I was in Ohio I had no need whatsoever of adding moisture — living basically in the woods, I found the soil and flora nearby kept the apartment suitably humid without excessive moisture. After rains it would get wet for a few days, but will slowly dry out. I think the soil, grass, and tress around acted as a sort of buffer that kept humidity more constant within the house. In a more city-like environment though, I think the dynamics are a little different, especially since I now live on the second floor. It’s been raining a lot, but I think in the winter it won’t be too humid, at least not with the heater on all the time. That’s something I have to consider.

I have, however, been able to smell the tea recently just sitting at my desk. Smell, I’ve found, is probably a decent indicator of whether or not a cake is too dry. When I bought new cakes in Beijing they were almost all invariably odorless — you can hardly smell anything. After a few days in my tea closet in Beijing, they would start giving off some aroma. The difference was obvious, and since in places like Hong Kong a puerh cake is readily detectable by a human nose, I take that as a good sign.

So, lots of unknowns…. but I think I am going to stick my cakes on the top shelf in the closet, and possibly leave them in the cardboard box this time to see if anything happens.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • Phyllo // June 23, 2008 at 4:05 am | Reply

    “I used to think that cardboard boxes probably give off a bit of a cardboard smell, which is no good, but then, most tea merchants keep their teas in cardboard boxes… so does it really matter? Will we notice?”

    IF cardboard boxes do impart any smell to the tea stored in it…then you will have a “corked” tea.  I’d rather be on the safe side.  Do tea merchants keep the teas in the cardboard boxes long-term?  Or is it only those teas that they plan to move in the short-term period?

  • Anonymous // June 23, 2008 at 4:35 am | Reply

    I keep my tea at closet in lobby. Often when I enter my flat nice smell of pu-erh welcomes me. When I follow your thoughts that means, that the tea is in good conditions.

  • MANDARINstea // June 23, 2008 at 11:16 am | Reply

    Maybe leaving them out for now to get them “adjust” to the East Coast weather and air is a good idea, since humidity is high and plants are blossoming? Because later in the fall, they will not see any humidity and green friend for a long while : ( … Just a thoughts – Toki

  • MarshalN // June 24, 2008 at 12:19 am | Reply

    I think cardboard boxes are used for long term storage, Phyll — and sometimes in environments that are fairly wet.

    Tomas — that’s not a bad idea 😉

    Toki — yeah, I think I’m just going to let it sit around in this box for a while. Besides, I have too much other crap to take care of first….

  • Anonymous // July 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Reply

    Interesting anecdotes about pu erh storage. I moved from Taiwan several years ago, and have been storing my pu erh mostly in a cardboard box. Contrary to what you might believe, it is the box that has taken on the pu erh smell and not the other way around. Whenever I open the box I am greeted by a warm earthy aroma. The teas aged well in Victoria, BC in their cardboard box and some that were a bit green yet while in Taiwan actually matured nicely and are smoother, richer and sweeter than they were when I originally purchased them. This was especially true of a loose leaf pu erh tea I wasn’t very fond of at first. I’m not so sure the same technique will work as well in Eastern Ontario where I live now because it is so dry in the house in the winter, but time will tell…

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