Pu Erh Tea: Wet-Storage Versus Dry-Storage
Pu erh originates from Yunnan province (in China) with a characteristic dry climate. Therefore, traditionally pu erh teas have been stored in a dry environment. As pu erh gained massive popularity in the Guangdong in the past, a lot of locals started to invest and store pu erh tea. Soon it became clear that storing pu erh in a more humid climate of Guangdong resulted in a completely different flavours and aromas over time.
As there's a lot of trading of pu erh cakes going on among tea lovers, it's obvious that the buyer wants to know whether it's a 'wet- or dry-storage' cake. This is how these terms became part of the basic pu erh vocabulary.
Pu erh tea taste: Wet- versus Dry Storage
Generally speaking pu erh tea stored in a more humid environment will age faster. This is due to a higher amount of microbial activity as a result of humidity. In wet storage, the color of the raw pu erh leaves will turn darker faster and sometimes obtain a slightly brownish color similar to a ripe pu erh. As humidity knocks out the astringency, the tea liquor becomes thicker, smoother and sweeter. However, there's a risk: if the cake is stored in wet environments with bad ventilation, there's a risk mold starting to appear and the cakes will become inconsumable.
On the other hand, dry storage cakes of the same age, the tea liquor will be somewhat thinner and more astringent. The taste is more complex and you'll notice stronger aroma.
One should note that the fact that a cake is stored in a location with a humid climate, doesn't necessarily mean that the tea is wet-stored. For instance, in China many tea shops are in large malls with 24/7 air conditioning. Thus, though the outside climate is wet, the indoor climate is very dry.
Wet or Dry Storage: What's Better?
As you can read above the different ways of storage can affect the aging of tea. There's therefore no right or wrong storage method. It really depends on the flavour you prefer. You can almost regard it as two separate categories.
Generally speaking, we recommend dry storage, especially if you've the patience. The other benefit is that there's virtually no risk for molds to appear. While the starting tea drinker may enjoy wet-storage more at first, the more seasoned tea enthusiast will eventually love dry-storaged cakes for the complex flavor and aromas. When you decide to invest in cakes for long-term storage, dry-storaged cakes generally have more potential to appreciate in price over time. In contrast, if you want wet-storage, we recommend you to purchase for immediate consumption.
The Difference Between Ripe Pu Erh and Wet-Storage Raw Pu Erh
Due to the scarcity of properly aged raw pu erh, a new method called 'wet piling' was developed in the 70s. This method can be seen as an extreme version of wet storage. Raw pu erh tea leaves (mao cha) were piled up, dampened with water and covered with a linen cloth in a room with high, but controlled humidity and temperature. This resulted in extreme fast aging, creating a new category of tea known as ripe (shou/shu) pu erh tea. A ripe pu erh should therefore not be confused with a wet-storaged raw pu erh, though they can be seen as great alternatives.