Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Case Against Puerh Storage








Happy New Year 2020.

Are you a serious pu erh drinker?   I would consider you a serious pu erh drinker if you drink pu erh twice a week and own more than 5kg of pu erh (that’s about 14 regular cakes).  You would also had searched the internet, looking at the various tea vendors’ stores, reading forums and discussions (not necessarily participating), blogs and staring Instagram tea pictures late into the night.  

There are many recent articles on storing pu erh.  You will agree that the reasons for storing puerh on a long term are quite compelling.  Old pu erh has a complexity, in both taste and aroma, that can only be from a result of long term storage.  This is due to the tea leaves fermenting over time.  Moreover, old pu erh are expensive and aging your own tea does make economic sense.  Recent internet discussions do provide a guide on storing your pu erh especially when you are staying in temperate countries.  

I would like to put up a case against pu erh storage.  No, I am not suggesting you should age or not age your tea.  I would like to let you consider all perspectives of pu erh storage and at the same time share some of my experiences on storing pu erh.  

1.  Time and Space.  
Storing your tea takes up time and literally space in your house or apartment.  For me, I tend to drink my tea a little old.  I prefer my pu erh to be at least 10 years old.  Pu erh tea at this age would have developed a complexity in taste and aroma that is only from the result of long term storage.  Storing pu erh for 10 years or more takes up time, a lot of time.  
Many things can change in this 10 year period. Your taste preference may change.  Your lifestyle would have evolved.  Your work may not allow you time to monitor the progress of your tea storage, especially in countries where you need to keep the humidity and temperature suitable for pu erh storage. 
Waiting for 10 years or more for your pu erh to age is one of the most challenging aspects in pu erh storage.  It is not only tedious and it can test your patience as well.  I noticed, based on my experience (and some feedback from a few collectors), there may be no change in your tea especially in the 1st 6 years of storage.  The taste and aroma may not have changed significantly to discern any aged taste.  I also noticed, even though my collection is stored in hot and humid Singapore, some pu erh cakes only start to age after year 10-12.   

2.  Storage results
Old puerh has a wide spectrum of taste.  In my tea drinking experience, old raw puerh may taste like a ripe or Shou tea, be more herbal, or more floral (there was a tea that has a rose petal scent) or be more medicinal.  You may be surprised, happy or disappointed with the results of aging your tea.  
The recent pu erh tea in the market where some new pu erh are now processed differently, had made many seasoned tea drinkers question whether such tea can age well over time.  When I started my pu erh adventures many years ago, teashops would tell me that if I buy new pu erh, I had to store them away for some time as the tea is new and astringent.  Now, the teashops promote their new tea as 'ready to drink'.  Only time will tell whether such tea can age well.

There are some shortcuts to age your tea.  A simple time saving exercise would be to buy 5 to 8 year old tea to store.  This would save you considerable time in your storage adventure. 

Storing pu erh tea is a long game.  You need passion and discipline when you intend to store your tea for 10 years.  If you love tea, this adventure will be worth your while.