Looking to learn how to store pu-erh tea?
Whether you haven’t purchased a single tea cake and know nothing about how best to store pu-erh tea OR you already have some tea cakes for the experiment but they have been sitting in your wardrobe without any special care...
I have exciting news for you.
This week, I will be doing a deep dive on one of the most popular questions I get all the time: how do you properly store and age pu-erh tea?
And it’s such an important one.
Imagine buying a few tea cakes to be aged and consumed over years to come.
You put them in a special place at home.
You check on them occasionally.
One day, you try your tea only to find out that it has lost most of its original flavor.
Wouldn’t it break your heart?
I would break mine for sure.
So to prevent such a tragic experience from happening, let’s dive into how to perfectly store your aged tea.
I will cover the conditions your tea needs to age well, including the humidity and temperature levels and the amount of aeration.
How to Store Pu-Erh Tea: 4 Key Elements
When looking for an appropriate space for tea storage, you want to be mindful of the following four elements:
Notice how humidity, often discussed in the context of "pumidor" (a play on a humidor for pu-erh), is just one of the four conditions I will be talking about today!
And there's a reason that it's the third element on the list, so stay tuned.
Before I explain each of these elements, I also want to clarify that there's no one ideal number or setting for all four because of the interdependency of elements and personal preferences.
So bear with me as I explain all four elements in detail.
Let's start with the easiest one on the list: light.
Ideal Amount of Light for Pu-Erh Tea Storage
Why is the light setting important in storing or aging tea?
It’s because direct sunlight can accelerate the oxidation of certain compounds in tea that can change the quality of your tea.
And unfortunately, this change is NOT for the better.
So the rule of thumb is to store your tea in a low-light setting.
Yes, it's time to take a sigh of relief!
Likely, you are already storing your tea in a low-light setting as most items in storage are placed in a low-light environment.
Think closed-door cabinets, closets, under the bed.
After all, we typically reserve sunny rooms for living space, not storage space.
But there is a likely scenario that does not satisfy this "low light" criteria.
For example, you might be storing or displaying tea on open shelves in a southern-facing living room with lots of light.
So make sure that if you display your tea on open shelves or in areas with too much light, you relocate the tea to a new spot away from the light source.
Ideal Temperature Setting for Pu-Erh Tea Storage
So now that you found a few possible locations that satisfy the ideal light setting, let's talk about the next element on the list: temperature.
To break this down, let's try a quick exercise.
Imagine the perfect location you want to live in.
Before you dream of your hometown or an island, let’s introduce a few caveats.
Let's say that you don't get to bring a change of clothes.
So the only clothes you can "bring" are the ones you have on right now.
For example, you can't fetch your Canada Goose jacket when the temperature is below freezing.
Nor can you change into shorts when it gets hot (unless you are wearing them already).
Now, pick your ideal place to live for the next five years.
What's the temperature of that place?
How much does the temperature fluctuate throughout the year?
If you are thinking Hawaii, California, or other places with mild temperatures and small temperature swings, you are on the same page as your favorite tea.
This is precisely how tea leaves feel!
Tea leaves don't get to change their outfits to adapt to different temperatures.
So the ideal environment for aged tea has moderate and consistent temperatures.
And that is good news!
Your home should be already very comfortable to live in for you, so likely your tea is happy to be there as well.
In the summer, you use air conditioning to keep your house cool.
In the winter, you use heaters to keep your house warm.
So as long as you pick somewhere indoors where you can comfortably live, you are all set.
Just don't pick a place that's not temperature-controlled, like a garage, to store your tea.
If you are looking for a specific number, around 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit would be appropriate for aging tea.
Do make sure that your tea is not sitting right in front of the AC vent.
You can use air conditioning to regulate the overall temperature of the storage.
However, if your tea is facing a rush of cold air from the vent every few hours, the "local temperature" of the storage would be fluctuating too frequently.
Instead, relocate your tea to a location where the temperature is more stable throughout the day.
Ideal Level of Humidity for Pu-Erh Tea Storage
Now, we covered two out of four elements of ideal tea storage conditions.
So let’s talk about humidity next.
Humidity is at the top of mind for pu-erh tea and aged tea drinkers.
But be careful not to make it the ONLY important element as there’s a close link between humidity and temperature.
Fortunately, by now, you have already picked your optimal tea storage area with ideal light and temperature settings.
So all you need to do is find the optimal humidity level for that storage.
But let’s start with understanding the relationship between humidity and temperature.
Here’s a question for you.
Would you rather live in a high or low humidity environment?
You probably would want to live in a drier climate that is nice and cool.
But here's what's slightly different about you and your tea.
Your tea prefers a more humid environment than you.
It's because the microbes in your tea need more humidity to continue to age your tea.
Here's a similar but a different question.
Would you rather live in a high temperature but low humidity environment or a low temperature but high humidity environment?
[Feel free to read that two more times.]
I bet the first question was a lot easier to answer than the second one.
That's because humidity and temperature both impact how you perceive how cold or warm the environment is.
And this is why you cannot talk about humidity without talking about temperature first.
So let’s bring back the recommended range of temperature I mentioned above (i.e., 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit).
Here’s an important point to understand.
Depending on your exact temperature setting, you need a different level of humidity in your storage.
Here are two different examples to portray this:
- If your storage environment is 85 degrees Fahrenheit, set to lower humidity, about 50%.
- If your storage environment is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, set to higher humidity, about 70%.
In addition, if you are a more advanced tea drinker, you'd also want to reflect your preference for a dry or wet storage environment and expose aged tea to seasonal fluctuations as needed.
So take some time to adjust the humidity of your storage environment based on your temperature setting and preferences, and let’s talk about the last element on the list: airflow.
Ideal Amount of Airflow for Pu-Erh Tea Storage
You most likely have already heard about “airing out” your tea.
But how do you know how often to “air out” your tea?
The answer is it depends.
Because airflow goes hand in hand with humidity, you cannot think of airflow in isolation.
So let’s start exploring the relationship between airflow and humidity in a more intuitive way.
Close your eyes again. This time, think of your favorite tropical island.
It’s a summer day of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thankfully, it’s not too humid though you can still feel some humidity in the air as usual on an island like this.
You are wearing your favorite cologne, perfume, or even some natural body oil.
And you walk into a small enclosed cottage, just big enough to fit yourself, and close the door behind you.
A few hours pass. You begin to feel claustrophobic and need some fresh air.
So you step out to get a breather and come back inside.
And each time you come back inside, you smell less of your favorite scent on your clothes.
Now, let’s think of a slightly different scenario.
You are still on the same island, and it’s the same temperature as before.
But this time, the humidity level is 50% higher.
You step inside the same small cottage, except this time, within 30 minutes, you feel the need for some fresh air.
So over the day, you make more trips back and forth compared to the first scenario.
By the end of the day, your favorite scent on your clothes has disappeared significantly.
Just as you do, your tea, or specifically the microbes on your tea, also needs some fresh air.
And the amount of airflow needed depends on the level of humidity in the environment.
In general, the more humid the environment, the more airflow you need for your tea.
However, there’s a caveat.
The more airflow your tea is exposed to, the higher chance your tea aroma escapes, similar to your favorite scent on your clothes.
So if you would like to keep your tea as aromatic as possible, keep your tea in a drier storage environment.
On the other hand, if you like more fermented tea, keep your tea in a wet or humid environment.
And remember, the relative humidity in the environment is also affected by the temperature.
One last important note about airflow is that tea is highly absorbent.
So do not store it in an area with frequent exposure to strong smells.
Do not place your tea in areas such as
- Your kitchen cabinet
- Near a BBQ grill
- Near a vanity where you frequently put on perfume or cologne
- Near household cleaning products with a pungent smell
or any other sites that could risk your tea from adopting a new scent.
Also, if you have both raw and ripe pu-erh, have a separate storage area for each type of tea to avoid cross-contamination.
And this rule applies to non-pu-erh teas as well.
If you have a large quantity of tea, you can begin to separate your tea by terroir to avoid any cross-contamination of terroir-specific aromas.
Furthermore, you can vary the temperature, humidity, and aeration level of each storage area separately.
Find the Perfect Storage Location for Your Aged Tea
Now that you understand how to store pu-erh tea properly, it’s time for you to find the perfect pu-erh tea storage for your tea.
Don’t have aged tea to age?