Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hydration before Sealed Storage

(9/26 Addendum - This has got to be one of worst experiments that only led to moldy tea. Please see my post on mold diaster.)

For those living in cooler drier climes, there's a persistent and real threat of poorly aged flat-tasting near-dead puerh.  How far do you want to go to give those young shengs what they need? As far as I can tell, pumidors appear to be a time-bomb for unwanted mold incubation- not to be attempted by someone as absent minded as me. (Last month I hired a cricket chorus as pets then completely forgot to water them one hectic week.  They only last a few months so I couldn't tell if they had come to a natural end or I did them in.  I only console myself that they lived a nicer month in a well-appointed terrarium than if they had gone to feed a hungry reptile. )

I spent all weekend sniffing and sampling a few decade old teas. Results are not terrible but not great either.  The sheng is definitely aging here in Berkeley albeit slowly- but it lacks depth compared to cakes aged in the hot and humid places of the world.  I'm definitely not buying any more new born sheng to age. It was all fun and games to stockpile them when they were ~$10 a beeng eight years ago but the stakes are too high now. Where to next?

Despite the various controversies over sealed storage, I'm coming to the conclusion that sealed storage works better for my particular situation.   After contrasting teas that have been stored in varying degrees of air tightness (mylar bag, plastic bag, tin, looser fitting basswood boxes, ceramic jars and chipped teapots), it doesn't appear that the sealed teas are aging any less than those unprotected inside my enclosed cabinet.  I think the water content of the tea before entering their sealed state is the more critical factor.  The sealed teas definitely retain more of their volatile tea fragrance and liveliness; my nose being the organ most suited to appreciating puerh these days tells me sealing is the way to go.

I had been using a glass cake dome as a conditioning chamber which I dubbed spa sheng therapy.  When Israel generously shared with me his  EoT samples from cold dry Montana, I did not smell anything off these chunks for over a year.  I had tried to revive them two years ago but either it was too cold in October and/or I gave them too brief a stint under the dome.  I recently started re-hydrating them for weeks at a time and sealing them back up in a plastic bag- the fragrance has happily returned and has remained.  Despite the reading on the hygrometer showing 70% relative humidity, it fluctuates under the dome to go even as high as 80%.  I've been able to almost beat the smoke out of the cigarette beeng under this dome.

I had been pondering over what to do about my storage situation when Cwyn of the newly minted deathbytea blog wrote me to say she has had some positive results in Wisconsin with ceramic storage.  I've been curious ever since I saw Petr's lovely unglazed storage jars and Gero's terracotta setup. I've tasted shus improved with such storage but I have not attempted to do so with shengs. ( I squirrel away tea anywhere with a lid including broken teapots.  That's some trad stored pu hiding in the sugar bowl I inherited from a friend's grandmother. I bet her grandma never imagined such smelly gnarly shu would be living in her precious Spode.)

In maintaining a humid environment inside a jar, I would still have to fret and obsess about mold.  Temporary boost in hydration before sealing up the tea is the lazier way to go.  For now I just need more hydration chambers. I ran out today and managed to find two cheap ceramic casserole dishes at a thrift store.  I know what you are thinking. The ugliness of these pots can deter the tea from absorbing moisture properly.  I have no shortage of desiccated tea to experiment with and any hit of humidity is better than nothing. I'm loading up this 2004 golden melon which has been living in a puzzle tin. It actually smells more aged than those stored open on the shelf and the taste while not praiseworthy is aged enough not to give me gullet trouble. That teensy bit of progress actually made me feel hopeful all weekend. 


  1. It's good of you to pamper those puppies with a trip to the spa. That's more love than they have received around here. I hope that it brings some life to them and also that you may someday drink them without messing up your digestion.

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  3. Small correction: Cwyn is a she.

    1. Great! In puerh, I think we are assumed to be men until proven otherwise.

    2. It's a pretty general rule on the internet.