Fishy sheng...preventing possible infection

Hello all. New to the discussion board. Don’t usually blog about tea or anything really but I have a concern. Although I’ve been into black tea forever I’ve just gotten into shengs this winter and have been working on building a collection and have bought several samples and bings from reputable suppliers and storing them in a paper bag in a hall closet w about 40% humidity. I plan to build a pumidor.

From a certain unnamed vendor I’ve bought 2 cakes and multiple samples. A few of the samples tasted like fish entrails from upon arrival. I opened them and a few improved in a month or so. A few did not. Of greater concern, 1 of the cakes was good upon arrival but now is fishy. I stored this cake with about a dozen others for a few months. The other cakes are good.

I’ve read that fishy tastes in sheng are the result of storage issues and being a homebrewer I worry about some type of bacterial infection taking over my other cakes. I’ve isolated the fishy cake today and have 2 questions.

1. What is the likelihood of infecting other teas and making them fishy and what can I do to prevent this?
2. What can I do to salvage the cake that is increasing in fishiness?


14 Replies
AllanK said

This is very unusual. Usually it is shou that tastes fishy. Did you store it next to anything with an odor? Seems unlikely that it would pick up much in the way of bacteria after processing. Puerh is believed to have live bacteria in it but I have never heard of fishy sheng. You can always try airing out the fishy cakes for a few months they may improve. This is very strange to me as I have never tasted or considered a fishy sheng. Fishy shou is very common in bad fermentation process.

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Ken said

Storing it next to shou can give scents to sheng puerh. Tea absorbs scents even from other tea. Thats why you want to keep your Earl Grey and Jasmine scented teas away from other tea.

How old is the tea, and where was it originally stored, dank flavors in a HK,Taiwan or Bana stored tea might be normal, in a Kumming stored tea its NOT!

That being said, dry dry dry dry storage! Dry store it with good airflow, it will greatly diminish the flavors of the tea, then reintroduce it to a mid humidity climate to restore it.

I got the dank puerh from BTTC and dried it out here in vegas for a few weeks…. then I brewed it a second time, quite a bit nicer and less dank. I have no problem mentioning this seller by name as they clearly advertise this tea as dank, as some people might want to experience what storage does to puerh.

PS… if you ordered from dealers who do carry dank teas, this might explain things, this doesnt always mean you got a bad tea. Yes a few of the very well known and respectable dealers here do carry some pretty dank wet stored tea.

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My shou is on a different shelf and not fishy. This sheng was not fishy when I got it in feb. it’s us aged. A few samples in the batch were fishy. I put the cake in a paper bag with my other cakes and they’re all good except this one. Weird indeed. I just want to keep my other cakes safe. I’m in Pennsylvania and have central air…so it doesn’t get too swampy or try here

Ken said

Just get them isolated and dry as all heck, and then try them in a few more weeks.

mrmopar said

Sheng and Shou should be stored in entirely different areas. Far apart.

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andresito said

1. you’re assuming fishy taste is caused by the same thing for all the teas. If the teas that were fishy upon arrival are now are not as fishy, then perhaps it was the storage of the vendor that has since aired out.

2. the new fishy smelling/tasting tea, does it smell fishy when its dry? Or just taste fishy when you brew it? If its just tasting fishy you brew with it, perhaps its your water or tea vessel. The teas that are improving, keep doing what you’re doing…resting them and give them time. For the newly tasting fishy tea, try a different water…soft water, a different vessel, and have someone else taste it too and verify its not just your palate.

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AllanK said

I have drank my share of wet stored teas and they have never been fishy smelling or tasting to me. I would say it was bad storage on the part of the vendor if you hadn’t said one of them acquired the small after you got it. By bad storage this does not mean traditional wet storage where the tea is not so wet as to get moldy. If the tea storage is moldy that is bad storage not wet storage. I don’t for the life of me know how the tea would acquire a fishy smell in your storage.

TeaLife.HK said

The fishy smell is from a fermentation gone a little awry. Sometimes that will dissipate entirely. Depends on your storage after and just how fishy it is I guess!

As a general rule, the only fishy, swampy stuff I’ve encountered has been low grade stuff for export to supermarkets

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Perhaps I didn’t notice the mild fishiness of the 1 tea I got a cake of at first. It is quite subtle. I gave some to my buddy today and he tasted it in the first 2 steeps and it dissipated. I’m using local spring water that’s sold nationwide thru a jianshui pot. Other teas taste great thru it. The other fishy teas were foil sealed samples that iirc 2 improved and 2 got worse with some airing out. I long ago got a bag of Ceylon black that tasted fishy.

andresito said

what year/vintage is this newly fishy tea?

it could be developing or revealing umami flavors after you gave it some time to rest from shipping. or you are tasting the chen wei 陈味 (aged taste) flavor if its older puerh, and this aged taste is not something you’re accustomed to, and you interpret it as fishy. If its drinkable, and rinses off in the first few steeps, I’m guessing its umami or chen wei. if it was truly fishy, like poorly processed shu-puerh, then its nearly undrinkable (IMO), which leads me to believe its more your palate, and not a defect with the tea.

chen wei and other flavors tend to fade during shipping, which is one reason why people suggest letting teas rest after shipping. this could explain why this one tea was not ‘fishy’ when you got it, but developed this fishy taste (as you’ve interpreted it) after it has rested. Perhaps the taste was there all along but just muted from the shipping when you first tried it.

But I don’t know the tea, or its age…just throwing out possibilities here.

Its a mystery :)

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onjinone said

Aside from storage issues, it may have be the leaves or something that happened during processing.

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All the teas smell ok dry. It’s the soup that’s nasty. The newly fishy tea is 2014, an 01 vintage started fishy and aired out and an 06&13 remain nasty…not a nice brothy umami like an aged naka but the way my hands smell after cleaning a trout. I’ve banished the offenders to another room. So do y’all think my other cakes that were in the same bag for a few months are safe from developing this nastiness?

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Cwyn said

People didn’t believe me when I found a fishy flavor in a sheng once. It does happen. For newer sheng, I think it is the result of oversteaming when the cake is pressed. It is not an entire production run, it’s a matter of someone’s attention lapsing when the steam can is on the heat. They don’t pull it off in time and the tea is cooking too long. I don’t think it happens to all puerh leaves, either. Highly bitter and strong leaves aren’t as susceptible and they survive it better without off tastes.

In older sheng, might be a bit too much humidity at one point and should correct itself.

All you can do is hold the tea for now and see if it overcomes the issue when fermentation enzymes do their job.

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Well…after breaking all the samples up and keeping them in open jars a few weeks I’m glad to report the fishiness is gone. I’ve isolated the cake that was developing these notes and let it in open air and it seems to be improving…two rinses removes all fish notes. From there it’s all tropical fruits and spice. The other cakes I stored in the paper bag with the fishy cake still taste great. Thanks for the replies.

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