How To Store Pu Erh Tea Properly?
In the past, we've published an article before about how to store loose leaf tea in general. However, not all principles of tea storage apply to pu erh tea.
Yet, this is one of the most popular tea types and it's unique due to its great 'aging potential'. With the latter we mean that its taste and aroma can develop over time as a result of gradual fermentation while it's stored away.
However, pu erh tea only ages well in appropriate environments. conditions like temperature and humidity are important factors. Pu erh should also be stored away from strong odours.
All these factors are crucial to the quality of the tea. Luckily, once you're aware of them, they aren't hard to maintain. Below a detailed guide on how to store pu erh properly.
When it comes to fermentation speed, temperature is perhaps the most important factor. Too high temperature will accelerate the fermentation too much and make the tea go sour, while at very low temperatures there will be no fermentation at all. The good thing about pu erh is that it actually likes temperatures similar to humans.
In the best-case scenario, the temperature of the storage is based on the local environment with no deliberately man-made interference, and is maintained at 20-30 degrees Celsius all year round. If that's not the case, air-conditioner/heater should be used to regulate the temperature.
In practice, such a perfect scenario isn't realistic. However, here are a few practical tips:
- If you're living in a hot country, you could perhaps store the pu erh in a room where the air conditioner is often turned on.
- In contrast, if you live in a cold country, then store the pu erh in a room where heating is used. In the latter situation, make sure the tea isn't stored to close to the radiators itself. This is because the actual temperature can be much higher than the overall room temperature. In addition, temperature fluctuations are much more volatile near the heating. Microbial communities on the leaves of pu erh that are responsible for the fermentation of pu erh, and they prefer stable environments.
A suitable humidity for pu erh storage should be between 50-75%. Humidity levels should always be considered together with the temperature. For instance, for temperatures close to 30 degrees Celsius, humidity levels around 50% should be more suitable, while for temperatures close to 20 degrees Celsius you want the humidity level to be up to 75%.
Outdoor humidity can be quite volatile locally and across regions. For example, in the rainy season, the humidity in east China will be higher than 75% because of the warm ocean climate. In South China, the air relative humidity will be as high as 95%.
In highly humid weather, it's not recommended to open the windows for too long, because the humidity will get higher with an open window. Why? Because indoor humidity generally tends to be lower than indoor humidity. You might want to consider the following tips:
- When there's high humidity, the pu erh storage space should be enclosed with some moisture absorbent inside, such as quicklime and charcoal.
- If the dampness is serious, you should use a dehumidifier.
- Avoid storing pu erh tea on the floor. Some people put their pu erh in a carton on the floor. The problem is that floors are often more humid. When the room temperature drops, humidity in the air will turn into condensation on the floor. Therefore, even if you don't store the pu erh tea in a closet, it's better if you can find a way to store the pu erh more evaluated.
In contrast, in the dry seasons, especially the winter, the weather is often too dry. Here's what can help:
- Consider increasing the moisture in the storage area by using a humidifier. Do not position the humidifier too close to the pu erh tea.
- Another option is to put a 1 or 2 glasses of water near where the pu erh is stored to increase the local humidity.
- At last, you can also temporarily store your pu erh in sealed plastic bags before the weather gets too dry. It is an easy and effective way, if the quantity of the tea is small.
Pu erh tea storage should be odour-free. A separate storage environment is ideal to ensure no odour intrusion. In reality, it's hard to decide a full room to just storing pu erh. However, make sure pu erh isn't stored too close to:
- any other area with significant odours from soap, detergents to herbs and dried fruits.
While many loose leaf teas are better of sealed in airtight containers, this isn't the case for pu erh. The microbes that allow tea to ferment need fresh air to breath. By simply opening the windows once a day, fresh air will come in while any potential bad odours move away.
When opening a pu erh, it's always important to remember to preserve the original packaging. Carton boxes and bamboo & paper wrappers are all designed to regulate humidity and protect the tea. If you don't have the original packaging anymore, you can alternatively look for wooden boxes, kraft paper bags or cotton wrappers.
Store Together, but Separate Shou & Sheng
It's a good idea to store pu erh as much as possible together. By doing this the aromas of each piece of pu erh will intensify one another. However, make sure to store shou en sheng pu erhs separated from each other since they've very different aroma characteristics.
Given that you've purchased well processed, good quality pu erh, and given that it's stored with care, pu erh tea should last many years and develop excellent aromas. In fact, there are still vintage pu erhs available on the market from many decades ago that tea enthusiasts would die for.
Keep in mind that some pu erhs might have a strong 'storage flavour' when stored away for very long or improperly. In such a case, you can store it in a Yixing tea caddy to let it air.
Pu erh that ages under correct storage conditions shows its fine characters: the slow but steady fermentation retains the aroma of the tea itself and gives a nice gloss to the tea leaves. The bitterness and the astringency will gradually fade away. The taste of the tea becomes more harmonious. It’s not just the longevity of the tea that counts, but also the vitality!