Pu'er storage and fermentation
I’m sure there is lots on this in lots of threads here, one of those classic subjects, but I got around to writing about it myself, so I’ll mention that here. I’ll also summarize what I said so you don’t have to go to the post, but of course it would take cutting and pasting to include it all. That link:
To begin, one of the source references is one of the favorite contributors here (no, not that Liquid Proust guy). My own opinions aren’t part of the write-up because I’ve not experimented with aging pu’er (not enough to contribute, at least). I’m mostly passing on some starting points from a Tea Chat discussion, moving on to research input, then to some direct input from others. Lets say is was “expert” input, but I don’t love that term much more than saying “tea master;” no offense intended if you are a tea master or follow one.
It starts with the consideration of whether to seal cakes or not, to wrap them in something that isolates air contact. Ordinarily just no, right? It turns out it’s not quite that simple, aside from one vendor just being on a different page (Hojo). In the most humid environments, where it could be too wet, it might make more sense (my interpretation; the ideas play out as a related set from different inputs I cite directly). In the US or Europe the main concern is dry weather, so maybe in those places the sealing issue just wouldn’t come up. But that extends things a bit, just what I tried not to do in the post, force the ideas from good sources to rely a lot on my own interpretation.
I mention some ideas on what fermentation actually is, again from sources, but don’t get far with that. One unusual reference names names among microbes, the kind of thing you just never see (fungus and bacteria, specific ones it was, but bear in mind lots of microbes are really our friends, and some are needed to make our own digestive system work). It all falls short of going far in any one direction, like not describing ideal storage conditions (just some general input from one source on that), or ideal wrapping, or how much oxygen those microbes need to do what they do. The last point is fascinating to me but getting good input just doesn’t come up, so the very little mentioned on that is indirect. The main running theme relates to humidity, of course, with temperature not really coming up much, in related sources I used.
I find I have to store my puerh in cardboard boxes. I just have to much for crock storage or something like that. The cardboard boxes I can stack on top of each other. I have had decent results with dry storage of shou in New York. Haven’t really checked on my sheng.
I ran across a reference to a friend here (Bangkok) saying his tea stored in cardboard boxes had picked up a cardboard flavor. I think whether or not that would happen could depend on environment. It’s quite hot and humid here, good for rapid-aging teas (90+ degrees F a lot of the time, 75-80% RH), but that’s also going to speed up volatile components coming off stored teas, and to some extent from cardboard. All this is just a guess on my part though; I’m no pu’er expert, quite the opposite, so that post was based on other related references. It’s interesting how something relatively inactive like books stored in environments like this age really quickly; we have lots in uncontrolled storage (long story) and they brown very quickly. That’s another interesting sub-theme that I of course couldn’t completely settle in that post, the effects of fermentation versus that of oxidation, really two different things (but the distinction was introduced there).
I’ve heard people say this but it has not yet happened to me. And besides it is really my only option.