Puerh Storage

Not all Puer Storage is Created Equal. Just as it Should Be.

Puer Storage Questions

Everything in puer tea comes in varying degrees. There is a range of bitterness. A range of quality in processing. Huge differences in quality of material, from very bad to transcendent, with one million variations in between. Puer tea storage is no exception.

When I recently steeped my way through a glut of 10-20 year old dry stored teas, I kept recalling Jakub and his pained Luke Skywalker “Dry Storage” meme. Some of the teas did indeed have “Darth Vader is my real father” level of poor quality storage, while others were dry stored and excellent. So, where does that leave us in the overall storage debate?

D Duckz
I certainly don’t feel this way about dry stored teas, but Mr.Skywalker does.

The online comments on the subject often deal in absolutes that make it difficult to get to the heart of the issue. Comments about how terrible dry storage is or how humid storage will turn your tea into a moldy abomination are ubiquitous on tea forums. Depending on which coterie you belong to you may have gotten involved in some heated discussions on the matter.

Rather than the “DRY GOOD! WET BAD!” arguments, the more nuanced conversation that ought to be taking place is how to improve the storage which you yourself have available.

Humid Storage Star Wars Luke Skywalker Yoda
The Star Wars universe has a lack of ideal storage options. Maybe the Ewok homeworld?

Unless you plan to build a personal puer tea warehouse in the climate that you deem to be perfect storage, you are probably going to use the home that you have. Your family, job, school, and other circumstances are far more likely to dictate where you live than what kind of tea storage you prefer.

Without a doubt there are puer fanatics who go to great lengths to store their tea in the place they most desire, whether it be South China, Taiwan, or Mozambique. But rather than discuss which storage is perfect until we all turn blue in the face, let’s address a question that can help any tea drinker in any location; How can you improve your home tea storage?

Regardless of where you live, the basic puer storage suggestions are:

  • No direct sunlight
  • No heavy aromas
  • Any situation that would cause mold (dripping water) or dry out your cakes (being on top of a heater) will ruin your tea
  • Use common sense

In addition to these puer storage rules, the best advice can be summed up in one sentence:

Take the middle path.

If you live in a dry climate, add a bowl of water to the closet where you store your puer tea. If you live in a very humid climate, make sure their is sufficient air exchange so that dampness doesn’t settle on your cakes. Whatever extreme your storage situation is leaning towards, take measures to bring it back to the middle.

There are high quality teas that have been stored in both dry and humid environments, just as there are teas that have been ruined by their storage on both the wet and dry sides of the fence. If you avoid the extremes, you will also avoid the destructive results that can come out of the bone dry warehouse or the sauna basement.

The changes that occur in any given climate will have different speeds and characteristics, and that is OK! The same ten cakes stored in ten different cities will turn into ten wonderfully unique puer teas, and thank goodness for that; Puer would be so boring if every tea was the same. So, the next time you see tempers flaring like this on a message board about which storage is “the best”, just smile, nod, and follow the middle path. Or rock out on your guitar.

  • Dave Aulph

    My climate is dry in the winter and humid in the spring and summer. I’ve been storing puerh about 6 years now and agree with your findings: “take the middle path.” While I don’t run a humidifier in my storage area in the winter, I certainly keep a fresh glass bowl of water all year round. In the winter the puerh seems to “sleep” as I put it. Some nice smells but overall relatively flat. But in the spring it seems to “wake up”. It doesn’t age as quickly as wet or even traditional dry storage, but it does age and change…for the better. For those brave enough to build “pumidors” I wish you luck. I’d be too worried about mold. Much the same as making sure the glass bowl of water I keep gets changed. I want to avoid algae or any form of bacteria that might contaminate my collection. Thanks for the post. I hope it serves to let your readers know that tea can be stored and aged well in just about any environment provided proper precautions are taken.

    • TwoDog2

      Thank you, Dave for that insightful comment. Some of my puer collection is stored in a similar climate. During winter, the cold air drags the relative humidity down, so we keep water trays in the puer room in order to raise the humidity. During the summer months, it is naturally very humid so we open the doors to allow proper air flow and mitigate the risk of mold. The puers I have stored there for many years are maturing nicely. Somewhere in between the ultra slow changes of a dry climate like and Kunming and super fast changes of wet storage.

      The main point is that everyone will have a different climate and home, where they can fine tune their storage to be optimal for them by taking their storage conditions towards the center. I am glad to hear you have done this with success!

  • ian

    I like the point made about variations in storage being part of the fun. I have only been collecting puer for about 4 years, but a couple of my cakes (some Dayi 7542 and some dirt cheap but pretty awesome Yunnan University commemorative cakes I literally bought with my lunch money while schooling there) were kept for a couple years in the arctic-winter/air-conditioned summer of the upper midwest. Last year I moved them out to where I’ve been living in the Northwest (where it feels like humans are kept in wet storage 9 months of the year). I could really tell they seemed drier compared to my Northwest-stored tea, a little bit sharper and more astringent. But perhaps now, like me, they’ve adjusted to the new climate.
    To open another huge topic of discussion, I also noticed huge differences in flavor in teas I had only experienced drinking with hard, heavily-treated Mississippi River water when I then steeped them with the much softer and more neutral water here, let alone the comparison to the Chinese bottled water I used when I first bought them.
    You could say with puer, the the original terroir of the tea is important, but so is the terroir of the storer and the drinker 🙂

    • TwoDog2

      Excellent points Ian. In addition to storage, there are a lot of factors such as the water and weather (air and relative humidity play a big role in flavors and smells). Not to mention seemingly innocuous things like, “Did I use mouthwash this morning?” or “Was lunch spicy?” The “drinker’s terroir” might be an interesting topic to consider!

      As for the more dry teas, they will tend to be more astringent, but I find that their flavors and fragrances develop in a totally different manner than teas stored in humid conditions. There are pros and cons to both. Your teas will no doubt continue to evolve and change in their new environment.

  • tea

    I bought a cheap hygrometer and my house hovers around 54%RH I added a bowl of water to my puer closet and still wouldn’t break 60%. I decided to buy bulk humidity packs and throw them in vases with my cakes.

    #Question one# does it really matter if I store different region teas in the same container (shoe box, vase, plastic tupperware, plastic bag) lets say a yiwu with a bulang or would age variation matter more, say aged pre 2005 cakes with young cakes?

    #Question two# Will storing individual cakes in plastic bags and a humidty packet be bad? Will the tea taste like plastic after a while? Should i leave an air gap or just ditch this method all together?

    #Question three# If I decide to continue this expensive humidity packet habit, what RH% should I purchase next time? (assume the cake, wrapper, storage vessel might absorb about 1-5% humidity)

    #Question four# Am I over thinking it and just let my cakes sit where they lay at 50-60% RH

    • TwoDog2

      My opinions are as follows:

      1) Not really. Raw with raw won’t matter unless one cake has particularly strong smoke or wet storage

      2) Food safe plastic shouldn’t matter much, I wouldn’t usually allow for some airflow, but depends on your goals. If you would like to limit air flow being sealed is not a problem. Some people advocate zero air flow.

      3) & 4) I don’t think it is particularly necessary. My opinion is that 50%-60% relative humidity should be fine! Unless you are aiming for a particularly humid storage environment, most cakes will do well in this type of median environment