“At least it’s not Kunming storage.”
“Stored in Kunming….. Maybe it’ll be ready in 50 years.”
-Anonymous Pu’erh Heads
Kunming has developed a reputation as the whipping boy of storage locations. Anyone who’s sampled a tea aged in Kunming knows it’s way different and tea is much slower to change than something like dry Hong Kong storage. There’s a sizable group of pu’erh people who consider Kunming a pu’erh purgatory where tea neither ages nor dries out.. So let’s avoid Kunming and store all our pu’erh in Guangdong or Malaysia. Not so fast.. Yunnan itself certainly isn’t a desert, with places that are known to have decently hot and humid environments, such as Menghai County or Jinghong. Kunming is even described in the climate section of wikipedia as having a “mild climate”. So how dry is Kunming storage really?
How Dry is Kunming? And the Importance of Temperature
|Avg. Temp 1Q
|Avg. RH 1Q
|Avg. Temp 2Q
|Avg. RH 2Q
|Avg. Temp 3Q
|Avg. RH 3Q
|Avg. Temp 4Q
|Avg. RH 4Q
While Kunming is drier than the other places in Asia, it’s really not an exceedingly dry place.. Its humidity shifts seasonally, but peaks at 82.3RH in July-September and averages 72.48RH throughout the year. Simply put, that’s really not that dry compared with western conditions.. Kunming is on average more humid than Seattle, NYC, and Las Vegas and just barely less humid than Miami (73.18). This contradicts the popular thought of Kunming as the driest possible storage. For instance, Jinghong and Hong Kong stand at just 75RH and 78.1RH on average, a significant, but smaller than the standard belief.
This also highlights the importance of temperature. While Kunming is surprisingly humid it is considerably cooler (58.8F) than all of the areas in Asia. While most of us puheads know temperature is important to storage, the terms “wet” and “dry” and our own manipulation in pumidors have more implications towards humidity rather than temperature.
- Seasonal changes are also an important factor and some argue that a key characteristic of Malaysian storage is the lack of a seasonal change.
- Hot and dry is probably worst as it should dry out the cakes faster than cold and dry.
There can be a large amount of results from one place depending on how the storage is executed. Consider…
- One of the landmark cakes for dry-stored tea (88QB) was dry-stored in the signature place for traditional storage (Hong Kong). Even though Hong Kong is a single location that is hot and humid, there’s huge storage differences between definitions of HK Traditional and HK Dry.
- Wet and dry are relative terms. What HK dry means to one person, may mean something entirely different to someone else.
- Malaysia is the most consistently hot and humid locations for pu’erh storage listed above, and many of the teas that come out of there do reflect that. Yet I’ve also had pu’erh stored in Malaysia that taste both drier and cleaner than “dry stored teas” from Taipei or Hong Kong.
So if a place can vary that much, where are these Kunming wet or intentionally more humid teas? I suspect part of this is the human element and the need for time. Beengs don’t age in test tubes overnight and it takes time to get results and alter setups. Kunming did not have much of a history of storing tea or even drinking pu’erh until fairly recently. A lot of the original thoughts in Kunming storage seem to have been geared towards keeping the dry, clean, and well ventilated. As most pu’erh people that have tasted multiple storages know, the results for this sort of approach differ dramatically from the HK/Taiwan equivalent.
Are Us Westerners Doomed for Tea Storage Purgatory?
The west is a big and diverse place, making it difficult to put the entire western world’s storage into a single bucket.. Generally speaking most people live in colder and drier conditions than eastern storage conditions. Even with our pumidors, are most of us best doomed for Kunming-like dry storage as a best case scenario? Given the short and sparse track records of westerners drinking and storing pu’erh in the west, it’s not really possible to answer that question.
A place like Seattle is both colder and drier on average than Kunming. If you setup a warehouse identical to Kunming warehouses, we wouldn’t really expect the tea to age much faster. That being said, I don’t know any hobbyist that has a tea warehouse in the west. The idea behind pumidors and other western storage methods is to be able to control the humidity and temperature in a more enclosed environment. Will the sealed nature of pumidors help to keep the temperature and humidity high enough for more consistent aging than our image of Kunming dry? Time will tell..
- Pumidors will be affected by seasonal changes in a different fashion than a warehouse.