Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New storage experiment

So... my pumidor experiment has lost its luster. Earlier this year I started to notice the teas were losing strength in aroma and complexity. It was as if they were falling asleep and fading away. I have a couple of theories as to why that might have happened. Despite my cabinet being stuffed so full of tea cakes it's sometimes dangerous to even open the door, I think there was still too much air circulating. The added fans, while they were very helpful in bringing all corners of the cabinet to consistent temperature and RH, may have been part of the problem. But after talking with some folks I started to wonder if the other issue might be the fact that most of my cakes are "un-tonged." They're simply stacked, one on top of the other, with only the thin paper wrapper between the tea and the air. So starting around May or June, I began a new experiment.

I plopped down a bit of money (not much) for an impulse sealer and started sealing up some of my cakes, just like you see in tea shops in many parts of China. The results have been encouraging. The aroma becomes concentrated again and it seems that all the wonderful nuance and complexity I love so much about these teas becomes redirected back into the tea again, instead of dissipating into the air. Over the months as I would taste-compare sealed teas to unsealed ones, I eventually became a convert and now nearly all of my teas are sealed up. The only exceptions are those which I purchased originally in tongs (which I think is the most ideal way to store teas), and those few cakes I'm still leaving unsealed to continue with the comparisons.

Another good option (even better) would be to store one's tea cakes in those large yixing jars. Like the tong wrappers, the clay does a good job of keeping the tea protected, limiting the amount of air that can circulate, while still allowing penetration of humidity. Admittedly, the plastic wrap does not do that. But I don't have the funds to purchase a bunch of large yixing jars, and even if I did I have so many tea cakes it would probably require an addition to the house to store them all. So for now, until I come up with a better option, it's the shrink-wrap route for me.

But the pumidor is still useful. It's great for "conditioning" a tea cake, either right after purchasing or after removing it from the shrink wrap. When a tea cake that has been dried out somewhat is placed into that warm humid environment for a short time, it does incredible things to the taste and aroma of the tea.


  1. For me, it's generally an ebb and flow sort of thing, and I don't really keep tea in tongs, just in cardboard boxes in the shadiest part of the sunroom(least impacted by either conditioning (upstairs) or mold (downstairs). The Tai Lian has gotten quieter, for example. So has, say, EoT's Bulangs from 2010 and 2011. In general, the 2007 XZH have gotten a pretty big burst up, like the 7542, 8582, and Yiwu Chawang. So has EoT's Manmai, Mansai. It doesn't seem like you can generalize across all teas. One thing that does strike me as likely is that moisture has a tendency to carry away volatiles, hence the aroma when you open a closet or pumidor. Thus, there's a balance between getting an aged taste and keeping liveliness. Further along these lines, I think it's natural to conclude that tea really needs dry rest sessions between periods of higher humidity.

  2. Thanks for sharing! My own pumidor experiment is still bright new (tea is there for month or so..). When I have realized that I still dont have enough tea to stock is tight I put my the tea there in porouse ceramic jars. Teas is jars looks more live then those outside. Fortunatelly, ceramic jars are not so expensive for me:)

    Now, with upcoming winter, I have to deside the heating/not-heating dilemma. Our room temperature rarely goes up 17°C...

    Happy day Bev!


  3. Have you tried your pumidor without any fans? You should never train fans on your cakes unless they were seriously wet at some point in their lives.

  4. shah8 -- good advice, as always. Thank you :)

    Petr -- Yes, not only do you get the have lots of ceramic jars, but they're full of beauty, as well!

    MarshalN -- Please see previous posts about the fan issue. I don't have them aimed at any of the tea, but rather placed in line with the hollow chimney above the humidifier units, They pull from directly above the units and aim directly at the ceiling of the cabinet. In fact, the humidifier units are also equipped with fans built into them. These are all run at extremely low levels to the point where you have to hold your hand over them for some time to realize they're even moving air.

  5. Bev - what type of sealer are you using? It looks like a heat shrink or vacuum sealer of some type as opposed to an impulse sealer for bags.

  6. Hi TokyoB -- I'm using a hand impulse sealer similar to this one here -- (but the one I bought cost less than this). For the bags I'm using a polyolefin food grade heat-shrink film.

  7. Obviously the storage of teas is not as simple as it should be and there are all kinds of things to take into consideration. I tend to keep my tea either in ceramic jars or in tins, which means the flavours are enclosed and can’t escape or fade away as quickly.

  8. i've personally tasted a good amount of sealed-aged puerh locally and it made me glad that i had sealed up most of my stuff airtight since '03. it slows the aging definitely, but the volatiles are kept in. the tea evolves in aging and presents itself in multi-layers as opposed to an "exposed" aged tea

    when i find some time i'll send you some ruined guangdong bing. the shop had it stored exposed for a couple of decades.


  9. kyarazen -- thank you for paying a visit and for your comment. I'm honored :) You echo the same wisdom of experience I've heard mentioned by others I respect, as well. I can only imagine what decades of exposed storage would result in!

  10. I have to admit shrink wrap annoys me but the problem of storage isn't easily resolved unless you have the funds to invest in yixing clay pots. I decided not to be too rigid about it as ploughing through all the blogs and forums I dont think anyone has found the answer and everyone's environment is different. I'm guessing even if I stored the same bing of the same production in the same way as yourself there would be differences between the two just down to the variables of locality. I think whatever you choose is right for you and as long as you continue to learn,respect and listen to the leaves you can get the knowledge and rewards.
    I've resulted to open shelf storage but this is down to the both the locality and the arrangement of my storage. The only variables I do try and control is humidity and temperature (and the occasional dew point calculations). I keep it old school in controlling these and remain mindful in my care for the tea.