How should raw Pu’er tea be stored?
There are so many factors can affect the aging of Pu’er tea. The climate/location: temperature, humidity, variations in the season, the place where the tea is kept, the amount of tea, how tightly the tea was pressed, how frequently the tea is contacted, the shape of the compressed Pu’er, will all affect the aging process. Without being too difficult, allow a list of some more vague generalizations that may be helpful:
1) The tea should ideally be stored in a reasonably high humidity, around 60-80%, but more importantly it should be a constant humidity. A high humidity is also risky to your tea, especially where there is not sufficient airflow. In the nicer tea shops of China and with many collectors of high-valued teas it is not uncommon to see humidifiers much like collectors of cigars.
2) It should be stored at a reasonably high temperature – 70-80 degrees F is suitable and stability is important here as well. With both temperature and humidity, be conscious of anything you may have in your house that will affect the stability of either(i.e. Air conditioning or dehumidifiers).
3) It should be stored where there is a circulation of air, so of course a sealed box/container is not suitable nor is a place that is in direct sunlight. If you do keep it in a container of some kind, make sure it has good air circulation or is not sealed shut.
4) It should be kept away from strong smells – INCLUDING SHOU CHAA AGED/COOKED PU’ER. The kitchen is not a suitable place to age/store ANY tea, as the aromas of other spices and your own cooking will greatly affect the taste and aroma of your delicate teas.
5) Before going too much further in your aging of tea, consider also how much tea you will be aging and how often you plan to taste/use the teas. The more tea there is together, the better it will age. Just like with brewing a cup of tea, the smaller the container/box/pot the better. If you are only aging one Bing, best not to leave it in an open room on its’ own. For smaller amounts of tea, perhaps consider an earthenware jar, or perhaps a wooden box or cupboard. Consider the aromas of the woods/containers you store your teas in as well.
If you intend to drink a cake of tea in the near future, it may be useful to break it into smaller pieces that can fit into pots a bit easier that way more is exposed to the elements as it will age a bit more rapidly. Complete tongs in their bamboo wrappers(7 at a time), should not be opened until you wish to start consuming the tea. After its opened, it is still smart to reseal the tong as best you can.
6) If the amount of tea you are storing is really considerable, be sure to rotate the tea every few months or so. Bring the teas on the “bottom” to the top, and the ones that are closer to the wood or air, move them to a different area in the container, ect. Rotate, repeat.
Many people have their own methods of aging their teas, but there are certainly things they avoid in that process. If you have a few pieces of the same tea, perhaps try a few slight variations and see what you like. Access your teas often to see how they are doing, and be patient. Remember, before you start any of this, to have a good raw product(Sheng Chaa) that is going to be enjoyable today, or decades to come. Look to the Six Ancient Tea Mountains to find quality Sheng Chaa. Many prefer Yiwu, which is where our Sheng Chaa is from.
There is much more to be said about this; including WHEN to start enjoying your teas as well as HOW to pick a quality tea to begin with. We wrote about these two topics on our site :) Hope you enjoy and this answers some of your questions.