A Tea Addict's Journal

Don’t be hasty

March 13, 2012 · 3 Comments

There’s been quite a few responses on my last post, some focusing on the problem of “too dry storage” and how to fix it. I think it is important to keep in mind that although I said you can’t quite make “traditional storage” at home, you can easily grow mold at home, if you have the right conditions and aren’t paying attention. For example, look at this experiment that went horribly wrong.

There are lots of variable that go into aging and proper levels of moisture, etc, that makes it difficult to pinpoint what is a good condition and what is not. In that post, Tuochatea mentioned that the Jingyehao teas were not molded. That’s interesting, but may also be explained by the fact that the cakes were more compressed than the other ones. He also put some Xizihao in there, which tend to be loosely compressed, hairy teas, which are much more likely to attract and retain moisture than your run of the mill cakes. Put some Xiaguan iron cakes in there, and it’s quite likely that the mold damage would have been very light, or none at all.

If you go about changing your storage condition, especially if you try to accelerate aging by adding moisture artificially, or putting the tea in a place with naturally high moisture, it is quite important to be able to check on the tea every so often to make sure it’s going ok. If it’s an environment where human beings normally move about comfortably, then there probably won’t be much of a problem. On the other hand, if it’s in a shed or some such, or, as I’ve read once on a Chinese blog somewhere, moved outdoors onto someone’s balcony, then you’re playing with fire and can very easily ruin a whole bunch of tea in very little time, especially if you don’t catch the mold growing on a few leaves. Also, the natural rhythm of the seasons is said to be beneficial for tea aging – that the tea will “breath” moisture in and out as the climate changes. A constantly high humidity environment doesn’t allow the tea to do that.

So just because I told you to learn to stop worrying and love the moisture, I am most definitely not telling anyone to just buy two humidifiers and start pumping water into your room 24 hours a day. If you do that in, say, Phoenix Arizona, that’s probably fine, since it’s so dry there. If you try that in coastal Maine, it might not be such a bright idea and may very well end in tears.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • Walt // March 13, 2012 at 10:08 am | Reply

    The phenominon of mold/fungus makes me really wonder about cakes.

    The thing that makes me wonder is the original experiments by Pasteur and his discovery of “germs”. It was once thought that spoilage happened because of bad air, but he proved that it is not sufficient to simply have something to grow on. He proved this by boiling some broth, putting it in a bottle, and then using floss so that air could get in, and it did not spoil.

    The thing is, beengs are kill greened, and then steamed to get them pressed into the cake. Then they are wrapped in tissue, so to some extent they are sterilized, and then wrapped in a filter.

    I’m not saying it’s air tight in there, but on examination of some cakes that molded, the mold starts at the face, or edges, but wrappers open at the bottom. If mold was getting in from the outside, you would think that it would start growing nearest the opening.

    So, what that suggests to me, is that there is mold already on the cakes before you even store them. The packaging methodology isn’t exactly sanitary right?

    I guess what I’m getting at, is that I think some cakes are pre-dispositioned to mold because some cakes are packaged dirtier than others. Like sometimes only one cake in a stack molds, even though the whole stack is in mostly the same humidity. A tree will not grow if there is no seed, and mold will not grow if there are no spores.

    Then there’s the concept of competition growth. Under certain conditions, certain things grow better, and by providing those conditions, you can inhibit the growth of things you don’t want. Once something is growing somewhere, another thing can’t grow in that same place.

    Two examples are square foot gardening, and sour dough cultures.

    In square foot gardening, you plant the number of plants in an area based on their size. By spacing them so that they take the whole space, it prevents weeds from growing because the weeds don’t get light.

    In sour dough, to get a wild yeast, you leave out plain flour, and let it basically rot. There’s alot more bad stuff in the air than yeast. But yeast grows faster. So once you have stuff growing in your culture, you replace 1/2 the stuff daily, and eventually the yeast will out grow anything in there making it safe to use for bread.

    I am thinking something similar is going on with the bioactivity in beengs, except people are just winging it really, and hoping the right stuff grows because we don’t really know how to control the growth of the fungi/mold/bacteria or whatever it is that makes puerh so tasty.

    • TeaEdge // March 14, 2012 at 6:08 am | Reply

      Well I am by no means an expert, but from what I’ve read et.c. I’d say it is more a balance between stimulating good bacteria? vs. bad by having the right conditions.

      In your example of sourdough, you’re not letting it rot. You want to create acidity so that the good yeasts can survive in the environment where the ‘bad’ bacteria can not. My scientific explanation 🙂

      I’ll let someone with more knowledge go in-depth.

      • Patrick // March 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Reply

        Great post and nice discussion by walt.
        Teaedge is correct in stating that you want to create acidity to select for specific strains of yeast. In general with sourdough you introduce a stater culture which produces alcohols among other byproducts. The pH drops with increasing hydrogen ion concentration. optimally, yeasts grow in organic matter with a pH range of 4-4.5. most bacteria will not grow below a pH of 4.6 and thus you are using intrinsic factors of the product to select for specific microbes. Water activity is also important in this process, as well as with pu’er storage.
        During storage we are performing a microbial selection process as in the example above (but with totally different chemistry, intrinsic/extrinsic factors, microbes).
        Walt I believe you meant to reference Pasteur’s famous swan neck flask experiment (which is slightly different from what you wrote, in this experiment he was disproving spontaneous generation. Also, Koch is credited with the germ theory of disease not Pasteur ). Keep in mind it is not the air itself that causes microbial growth but its “vital principle,” as stated by Pasteur, which refers to the microbes it can possibly carry.
        Also there is no “extent” to sterilization, sterilization is the absence of all life. I assure you a beeng is never sterilized.
        So yes, there is microbes in your cake before it is packaged. Some cakes may contain more microbial colonies than others (by a few powers of 10), which I think is what you were getting at when you stated “some cakes are packaged dirtier than others.” So some cakes may be pre-dispositioned to a higher incidence of mold (or other microbial growth) based on its viable cell count post packaging and its storage. Storage will affect which microbes are dominant, as you were stating in your bit about competitive growth. This in combination with its sourcing, processing, etc. will have an impact on the flavor profile.
        A side note mold will growth without spores by binary fission, budding, and fragmentation.

        I hope that this was helpful to you! 🙂


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