Low Barrier Pu’erh Storage Solutions for Casual Pu’erh Drinkers

To the casuals, pumidors are intimidating.. They’re not something anyone really wants to jump into quickly. For seasoned pu’erh folk, one feature of using a pumidor to store tea is that it tends to scale fairly well if you can get the right size container for your stash. The maintenance and monitoring can be appealing.. But for most normie tea people all the hoops they see people jumping through in pu’erh storage create a significant barrier to entry. But there’s no reason to go pumidor or bust. I’d argue having a low-maintenance pu’erh solution is pretty important for anyone that intends to hold onto a pu’erh cake for even a year or two.

Pu’erh Maintenance is Important (even for sporadic Pu’erh drinkers)

When I started out in tea I really had no idea how to store pu’erh. It was simply part of my tea exploration and I didn’t intend to age it so I just put it into my tea shelf. Thinking it needed ventilation and airflow I removed the ziplocs and stored it this way for a year.. Even though I had no intention of aging the tea this was not a good idea and the tea got worse.

I’ve talked recently about why I don’t think storing pu’erh on a shelf is a great idea. You may not be intent on aging pu’erh for decades but if you plan on holding onto it for even a few months before finishing it off thinking about maintaining pu’erh and not letting it decline (like I did) is important. Storing tea in just its wrapper on a shelf is a quick ticket towards drying it out. The speed at which this occurs will depend on the ambient conditions you live in. I lived for years in a couple different apartments where the humidity level rarely reached 50 and was regularly between 35-40. This is suboptimal for storing pu’erh in the ambient environment and even if you drink the cake in a year, in my opinion, month 12 will likely produce a significantly inferior experience to months 1 or 2.

A Larger Scale Solution is a Big Commitment and Only Necessary in Some Cases

A pumidor is not a good solution for the majority of people that have bought a tea cake. People who have bought pu’erh vary significantly. Most aren’t rocking tongs of cakes that they intend to give to their grandchildren. Many just have a few cakes they intend to try and casually drink over a few years…

Solution #1: Storing Pu’erh in Well-Sealed Ziplocs

Sealing the ziplocs tightly is important and will help to protect the tea. This is a much better idea than storing the tea unprotected on the shelf like I did. Light is not good for tea, so make sure your tea isn’t exposed to any regular light.

I still consider ziplocs to be a suboptimal solution. Most don’t seal as well as you’d like and the tea will still dry out slowly. They are also inferior to mylar and I frankly would only use these to store a few cakes and even then buying some mylar (solution #2!) is probably better.

Good for: Under 10 cakes.

Solution #2: Storing Pu’erh in Mylar

In just about every way I see this as a superior solution to ziploc. It is also a decent long-term storage method. While there are some good-quality ziplocs with good seals, the average mylar should do a better job of maintaining the level of the tea. While taking it in and out of the mylar bag to drink it will undoubtedly have some impact it should maintain the generated humidity significantly better than most ziplocs.

Mylars also scale pretty well into having a more moderate amount of tea. Importantly, you don’t need to do one mylar per cake and can store multiple cakes together. There are also some massive mylar bags that you can store a couple tongs in. Just like ziplocs make sure you are sealing the tea away tightly. Don’t half-ass it.

Good for: As many as you like cakes.


Storage #3: Crock Storage

Cwyn popularized crock storage and I recommend those interested check her posts out if this appeals to you. I think doing next level stuff like adding humidity is more important when using crocks as it’ll be a dry-out risk without it. This makes it a little less beginner friendly but it is an easy way to start experimenting with that and appealing to people who believe airflow is necessary and prefer the aesthetics.

Best for: 5-50 cakes.

Level 2 (NOT REQUIRED): Lightly Adding Humidity

This is not required for novices or those that don’t want to take the extra step. Doing step 1 will help on its own. Simply storing tea in a mylar will be a significant improvement over unpotected shelf storage.

Level 2 is basically getting something to add humidity. There are a wide range of options here. I’ve seen broken terracotta, humidity beads, Boveda packs (humidity packs used for cigar aging), homemade salt packs, small cups of water (not great for ziplocs), or even steaming the bags lightly.

In my opinion, the easiest way is to buy Boveda 72RH packs but I understand why people may balk at the cost. You’ll also want a hygrometer to monitor it. Adding these should work with mylar or crocks.

What humidity should you shoot for? Generally speaking, anything in the 60s is going to be considered a moderate amount of humidity.

What you need: 

  • Hygrometer. I’ve had good success with $10 amazon hygrometers.
  • Way to add humidity.

While it is easy to end up in a head-scratching place reading about people’s pu’erh storage the conversation is often dominated by the hardcore with large stashes of tea.. Pu’erh storage doesn’t need to be complicated for those just starting out. I’d be curious to hear from anyone in the comments about how you are storing your pu’erh and how many cakes you own!

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27 responses to “Low Barrier Pu’erh Storage Solutions for Casual Pu’erh Drinkers”

  1. Great post! I currently have around two dozen cakes and I’m using a mixture of mylar and ziploc bags. I have been wanting to try something similar to Marco’s hotbox for *some* of my cakes, I’m just waiting for the cakes to get conditioned properly before beginning (following Marco’s instructions for this, using mylar and boveda packs). But in my limited experience I agree that mylar is the way to go, even if you don’t add humidity or try something like the hotbox. They are more expensive than ziploc but are far superior.

    Something I’m curious about your opinion on: a lot of vendors and drinkers recommend airing cakes out for a bit when you get them, especially if they’ve been shipped long distances. I tried this early on, but I’m not sure I can tell if it accomplishes anything. I also fear that I may have aired some out too long, and the cake lost some of its natural humidity and dried out some. What are your thoughts on this? Again, great post!

  2. I like this post because it contains an easy and simple method to combat the misinformation that puerh should be left on the shelf to air out in dry climates. Mylar bags are cheap and work great at preserving tea. Sure there are extra fancy experimental storage options liked heated boxes, but it really can be as simple as putting your tea in a mylar bag.

  3. I’ll third the mylar recommendation. While I’m storing most of my tea in a big heated setup, I still keep a few teas that I don’t want heated just sealed up in mylar in boxes on a shelf. Another big benefit of mylar if you don’t have a lot of room (like if you live in an apartment) is that not only does it keep humidity in, but it keeps other smells out. If you seal cakes up in mylar then it should be fine to store them in a pantry or wherever you keep your pasta/rice/dry foods, which for many people will be the most convenient spot.

  4. Awesome James! Thanks for this update about basic storage. I do mostly any combination of plastic bags, ziploc, and the a few mylar. The cheaper cakes of 20-50 dollars often don’t extra storage. So they need upgrade to bags.

    I have around 8-12 cakes, bricks, tuos in open rotation so I should probably slim it up a bit to 4-8 in open rotation instead so that no cake last longer than 2-4 weeks as I move through them. I do notice that I’ll be doing close to 30 gram pots towards the end of a large cake or brick because of the airing-out factor. Really I should just have patience and have a ripe and a raw cake open at one time and kill them both off every 7-14 days, but I find I drink less without variety of cakes to choose depending on my temperament. Do I need a fresh green cake, or a deep ripe cake, perhaps quick-killed off lighter ripe pots, a bitter ripe for all the eggs I ate, maybe a purple tippy to get some extra bitter detox, or a couple year white for a strong antioxidant hit to clear the head, or just an older raw softer tea? That’s why I do open rotation of several. I am picky on the kind I want to drink, but not on quality as much.

    I have a couple non-smelly wooden boxes of 50 or so closed up waiting to be chosen, which won’t extend beyond 12-16 months. Unfortunately I am dumb and just leave my a tong or two in the original box, but that’s usually cheaper tea anyway, since I am spoiled and do the open rotation thing.

    I know many pu-erh drinkers like the old tea of 20 years. I prefer most of ripe and raw from current year to no later than 10 years out. Sometimes a 13-15 year will be okay, but I am often disappointed since it is not young enough. Perhaps leaving a year or two old cake laying around for 6-12 months is okay to some degree, especially when it is a 30-50 dollar cake or brick. But, generally if a special treat of a 200-350 dollar cake arrives from China, I drink it up right away oftentimes getting priority in rotation.

    So conclusion, ziplocs should be okay for most of what I drink, which is general mid-flavor profile, gotta-drink-pu-erh-or-die-grade-while-working affordable tea. But I’ll use the mylar to keep my few pricy special cakes that are extra aromatic for the time of day that requires better tea and weekend/non-work day tea. Best tea goes with a big bowl of salted buttered popcorn time and several 500ml pots of 25 grams!

    That’s probably good enough for me. Thanks!

    • Ah, I just came back and realized you are storing your pu-erh airtight when storing without humidity. I think it still has to breathe in this case? Maybe I’ll put a small hole in the mylar bags to still let oxygen into the bag. All the other cakes get plastic bags with twist-tie, which should still breathe. I wonder if this really matters.

          • Okay with what James and Martin said, I’ll do this, even after I break them open. I used to smoke cigars a long time ago and have used these humid-packs before. Pretty dumb I haven’t been doing this. That way I could do my whole collection. Most of my cakes are the 25-40 dollar variety anyway. I am mostly an industrial grade drinker.

        • So, yeah, I did the in the bag thing with no holes and no humidifier. Upon arrival from Kunming they were bagged tight and sat for a few months in my collection. After opening I noticed a cool feel off the 15 year old Menghai green leaves. Several 25g pots, more aromatic than hole poked bags, easy to identify Menghai taste. So, I’ll keep it sealed between stabbings, but I probably should put a humidifier in the bag now. I am learning.

  5. Hi James,

    I’m guessing you or Marco have already covered this but I can’t seem to find it:

    I’m curious about specific mylar recommendations, thickness, material, what to use to heat seal…

    A quick peek on the discount mylar site shows there are an overwhelming number of options/variations.

    I’m about to be moving out of the gloriously hot & humid south and into the land of the storage nerds and would like to start preparing myself for the journey.

  6. I’ve also had no issues with the ones from amazon. Note that 1 gallon can only just squeeze in a single 1kg tong (of new-standard 200g bings). 2 gallon ones will fit two 1kg tongs easily.

    For sealing I’ve just been using a regular clothes iron and have had no problems

  7. Thanks a lot for this!

    I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions for where to buy large mylar bags? I’ve been searching for a bit now but can only find small bags or the requirement to purchase 100+ bags of a size that can fit more than a single cake.

  8. I live in Hong Kong, and store my cakes and bricks in ziplock bags, which are then stored in cloth bags. The room is occasionally airconditioned to 21-22 C, but otherwise is mostly at ambient. I wonder if I should remove my tea from the ziplocks and just store them in cloth bags in a dark area of the room?

  9. Thanks for this! Your blog/YT channel have been great for me as a beginner getting into puerh. I have a handful of cakes on the way and wondered if you’ve you tried using a cooler with bovedas, or heard of anyone trying that? To my mind it would be a smaller version of a mini fridge, but I can’t find anyone talking about trying that so I’m wondering if there are good reason NOT to do it.

    • I’ve heard of people using a cooler. I suspect it would be OK, but don’t have personal experience using one.

    • Coolers aren’t airtight, so it will leak humidity constantly, drying out any boveda quickly if you’re using it. People, myself included, use the mini-fridges because of the seal on the door.

  10. Great post I think I’m going to get some Mylar bags. Do you think there is any advantage to grouping putting certain teas together in the bag? Does it make sense to put together cakes from a certain factory? Similar taste profile? Different taste profiles? Region specific grouping? Anything like that.

  11. James or anyone else, have you ever encountered boveda packs that generate a sort of plastic-y smell? I tried a plastic box and a 72% boveda pack, it increased the humidity fine, but once i opened it I got a distinct plastic smell. Aired out and cleaned the box with baking soda, put a lemon in it for a day or two and rinsed it. It didn’t smell but when the lid had been on for a day or so it had started to smell again. I tried putting the pack in a metal box and got a faint whiff of the same smell now. Oh yeah I tried different boveda packs to. Driving me nuts!

    • I think it might’ve been the hygrometer. It’s the only thing that carries that smell. I guess I’ll have to do without for a while.

  12. I live in Great Britain which is in the temperate climate zone where average humidity is higher and there is a large range of temperature and rainfall throughout the year. One of my suppliers suggests storing the cakes in the supplied ziplock bags, but with the zip not fully closed to allow a little air circulation. Any thoughts on this? Maybe those who live in the more northwestern states have come up with a solution.

  13. Do thicker mylars last longer?

    Most of the quite thin mylar that vendors send cakes in seem to have holes in them by the time they get to you. I’ve only used 5mil from discountmylar which seem to work OK except the ziploc seals haven’t ever sealed airtight for me. I know Marco once said that ziploc seals usually work for him a year or two. Would be nice to know if there is a superior option for mylar!

    Need to restock and am considering the 7.5 mil but not sure if I’ll go for the ziploc ones.

    P.S. Sad to see the blog (the part of Teadb I enjoyed most) has fallen wayside to youtube; for nerdy [aka informational] discussions (e.g. James only episodes) why do we need video? blog also seemed to generate useful, sometimes lengthy, discussions in the comments unlike youtube. kids these days.

  14. I use a piece of citrus skin to humidify my puerh for its mold resistance. Apples, potatoes, cabbage/choi family etc. are also effective, free and neutral to tea. How big a piece to use depends on the weight of puerh and how humid it is. For 1 oz/28g it’s very safe to start with a 1/4”x1/4” piece and work up from there. You’ll learn how to adjust quickly.

    The realities of conditioned air are terrible for puerh.

    Get a hydrometer. Check for hydrometer accuracy by placing it outside and look at a weather channel to know what your hydrometer should read.

    Stoneware is a closed pore material. Therefore it is quite air proof and essentially holds in all humidity. It works fine. I prefer unglazed earthenware, like some oven pots, for its natural breathability and filtration and it’s gentle coolness from slow evaporation. Puerh matures nicely in earthenware.

    If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of food-based humidity, you certainly could use a clean broken piece of terracotta pot soaked in water, hydrocorn or many other materials. Tea is organic and will mold, so food based moisture doesn’t concern me as long as I keep an eye on it. It keeps me in touch with my tea, and I like this relationship.

    If you store puerh in non-breathable containers, I would keep the container somewhat open to let the tea breathe a little.

    I like the idea of mylar for summer storage when I don’t drink puerh.

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