Five Things I Like & Dislike 12. Measuring Pu’erh Conditions, Steaming Iron Cakes, Anonymous Vendors

Five More Things I like & Dislike.

Measuring Pu’erh Conditions (Relative Humidity Generated)

One smart thing that I believe Marco was the first to do was measure the condition/relative humidity generated by cakes (see conditioning experiment). This isn’t difficult and only requires storing the tea for a few days with a mylar and hygrometer. It’s a useful way to think about short-term storage and the condition a cake may be currently at.

One completely perplexing thing that occurs is people asking if their storage is messed up, but having only guesses at the temperature and humidity they’re stored at. When trying to understand what may be wrong with a stored cake, we should be able to come up with a basic level of information. Measuring temperature and humidity is neither difficult nor pricy.

Beyond the temperature and humidity of the storage, the generated humidity of a cake is a good variable to gather and share. This humidity value is particularly interesting when the tea is coming from someone else’s storage. If the tea has an unusually low or high generated relative humidity that can help to explain the current tea’s status without devolving into convoluted guesswork. If the generated humidity is vastly different from the conditions you keep your tea, there’s also a good chance that it’ll change as it settles into your storage environment. My advice? Take a measurement of a tea’s generated relative humidity as soon as you receive it.

I think people should consider doing this more often to try to understand the condition of the cakes or storage. A few scenarios where this is useful:

  • Shelf fatigue. If you are storing a tea on a shelf, it may slowly be drying out and losing humidity. When I compared the storage of a couple Lingya cakes, measuring the generated RH and comparing it with a Lingya stored in a pumidor they were different by around 10RH which helped to explain some of the taste differences.
  • Setting up storage. If you had been storing tea on a shelf and recently taken the leap to a pumidor. Many have detailed a difficult time pumping humidity into a container. Consider measuring the humidity generated by your cakes before putting them in the pumidor. A pumidor typically aims to get humidity up to 65-70. If your cakes are generating a humidity of 55RH your conditioning phase of the pumidor may be much faster than if your cakes are generating just 35RH.
Measuring Generated Humidity.
Measuring Generated Humidity. Mylar + Hygrometer.

Steaming Iron or Heavily Compressed Cakes

Steaming compressed cakes to break them apart for easy drinking has been making the rounds in the past year. There’s supposedly a historical basis to this, but to me that’s not a good enough reason to do this and I think it is a bad idea in most cases. A few reasons I’d advise against it (a) Direct steam can fundamentally change the nature of the tea by impacting the moisture content, especially true if you oversteam it. (b) You’re effectively stopping the aging.

I suppose if the (1) compression is really tight, (2) you know what you are doing, and (3) you intend to drink the entire cake fast you maybeeeeeeee have a justification for this, but I would caution most inexperienced people to avoid this. Just live with some leaf breakage like the rest of us.

Precision Gongfu

Whether we pay attention or not, nutritional labels are a big part of daily life. I’ve always found the daily value % metric interesting when looking at food products. But the actual % daily value is wired into a 2,000 calorie one size-fits all approach. Depending on the person, this could be way too low or way too high..

When we talk about consumption of coffee or tea we can fall into the trap of one size fits all approach. Three cups of coffee might be a lot. Or it might be a little. It depends on the person. One aspect that doesn’t get mentioned as much is the individual. As someone that is 5’6 and 135lbs, the reasonable amount of tea for me is probably different than someone that is much larger, say 6’1 and weighs 250lbs.

My reaction might be to scoff at the indulgent extremes of someone brewing 10 grams per 150ml twice. But if they’re twice my weight that isn’t much different per pound from my own consumption of 6.2 grams per 100ml. Perhaps an additional criteria for picking a teapot is to put our body weight per ml of teapot, say 1 lb:0.75ml (I’m kidding).

This is also an oversimplification as there is a lot more to the amount of tea people can handle than just their weight. I do think in general we should be very open-minded to the idea that different people and bodies means inherently different tea habits and consumption.

Plastic Truthers

Many people choose plastic bins as their first storage choice. They’re inexpensive and readily available. You’ll also run into some discourse that says that all plastic is terrible, unnatural and is going to totally destroy your tea. Fortunately I have yet to be told it will give you cancer, although it wouldn’t surprise me if this was stated at some point..

As with much of storage, I think the answer of plastic being acceptable or not is ambiguous and not necessarily obvious. Pu’erh storage in the west is a wicked problem. We cannot get instant answers for what is working and we should be humble about what we know and don’t. There is a lot in the realm of home storage that is ambiguous.

Personally I think it’s silly to be dismissive of all plastic. There’s a good case to be skeptical of smelly, new, and/or cheap plastic. I fully recommend that you vet your plastic bin and don’t use the first thing you come across at a store. But all plastic isn’t created equal and I believe that not all of it is going to ruin the tea. There is an OK enough track record of people storing tea in bins in the west with modest success. Some plastic truthers will point people towards wood as the superior alternative. And while I wouldn’t dismiss wood outright either, its track record of storing pu’erh in the west is spotty and I’d argue considerably worse than plastic.

While I don’t currently store any tea in plastic bins, I’ve stored a good chunk of my tea in there for several years with nothing off that I can detect. 

Plastic Truthers
Plastic Truthers.

Anonymous Tea, Anonymous Vendor

I’ve observed that occasionally in online circles, where people will avoid naming the vendor or the tea when having an experience that isn’t totally positive. On one hand I get this.. It comes from a place of caution and not wanting to smear a vendor. It’s infinitely better than logging into r/puer and doing the reverse: LOL Bro. Tea Vendor X sucks, I tried seven teas and they’re all trash. You should buy from Y vendor instead

But more information is better and useful. It’s really hard to say much about your experience when its an anonymous vendor and is an anonymous tea. I personally think everyone would be better off if you are very specific in what vendor and tea you’ve tried. Many people buying online in western tea sphere have the same online sources. Depending on what it is, you’ll likely get much better responses from people that know the tea or are more experienced in the tea type or with the vendor. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to write about a mediocre or even bad session with a tea if you are honest about your experience and tea drinking background.

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2 responses to “Five Things I Like & Dislike 12. Measuring Pu’erh Conditions, Steaming Iron Cakes, Anonymous Vendors”

  1. OMG I didn’t even know people were steaming cakes!!
    I can’t think of any good reason to do this unless the last time you tried to break open a bing you ended up instead piercing your radial artery and reproducing a scene from a Tarantino movie.
    Ok I accept some cakes are tougher to get into, patience is always a good approach.There are lots of good techniques to get in but I cant think of any that involves steaming.

  2. > …and we should be humble about what we know and don’t.

    Good advice, but the Dunning-Kruger is strong with puer drinkers. Something about it seems to attract the type.

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