Pu-erh tea, which is typically made from either raw green or ‘cooked’ large leaf tea, is only tea type whose processing and storing involves maturation or aging. Even though most Pu-erh teas are made from green tea, Pu-erh is typically classified as a black tea or in a category all its own due to the color and the fact that it has more oxidation time than most green teas.
Pu-erh tea leaves are many times pressed into ‘cakes’ and wrapped in paper to help with storage and aging. Akin to fine wine, pu-erh cakes can be aged for many years. Although Pu-erh is good when it is freshly produced, it can achieve amazing flavors and character as it ages. Some tea connoisseurs will pay top dollar to have the finest, aged Pu-erh.
Puerh tea is fermented tea made from the Big Leaf (Da Ye) cultivar of tea tree grown and picked in Yunnan province of China, where the authentic leaves are best picked from ancient wild trees, not cultivated like the rest of the tea world. It is named after the Pu’erh city which operated as a trading center for the tea, with one of the first major markets rooted in Tibet.
There are two types of Pu-erh tea: naturally fermented (raw Pu-erh) and purposely ripened (‘cooked’ Pu-erh). The ripened Pu-erh is not actually cooked. The leaves go through a further oxidation and maturing in an open air, slightly moist environment which has to be closely monitored to keep from spoiling the tea leaves. Both types of Pu-erh require attention to particular storage conditions for proper aging.
Aging your own Pu-erh cakes is possible, and is similar to aging cigars in a humidor. Here are some tips for storing and aging your own Pu-erh cakes:
1. Store your Pu-erh tea in an odor-free environment. Place an open box of baking soda in the storage area to help absorb odors. Even the material of the storage will influence the mature flavor of the tea. Consider a steel container if you prefer to have the natural tea aromas enhanced without peer pressure!
2. Maintain the relative humidity between 60% and 70%. Most cigar shops will sell inexpensive hygrometers that will help you monitor the humidity. The actual cigar humidors should be avoided though as the cedar walls will overpower the teas flavors.
3. Avoid extreme variations in climate and temperature.
4. Allow a constant flow of fresh air to go through the storage place.
5. Keep the storage area dark. Sunlight and moisture can either stop or spoil the aging process.
6. Keep the tea covered with a breathable material (fabric, or the original paper wrappers work fine) free from dust.
7. If storing a large quantity, rotate the tea once every six months to even out the exposure to fresh air.
8. Test the area you plan to store your tea in with a small amount of tea to avoid ruining a large amount of Pu-erh.
9. Check the progress of your tea often. Pu-erh tea should never taste musty or wet.
10. Have fun and keep us all informed of the progress and any specific questions you may have along the way. Post your thoughts and stories as comments on this blog or in our forum under the Pu-erh Storage and Aging category.