If you stick around the western pu’erh scene long enough, you’ll hear about people setting up a variety of different storage setups. Unfortunately there is only a light track record for us to draw on. A handful of 10-15 year old western stored pu’erh has been lightly circulated but this isn’t exactly a quick feedback loop. While some folks flirt with fairly complex systems of storage, most people end up settling on something relatively simple. Why is that?
Pu’erh Transformation is a Very Long Game in the West
This has been well-covered by myself and others. Pu’erh storage takes a very long time. You could very reasonably argue that you should buy the teas you want to drink. But if you are doing anything significant storage-wise or even just overbuying tea, you’ll presumably be somewhat interested in aging tea.
The Dream of Aged Pu’erh & Life Cycles of Pu’erh
This is a deliberately reductionist example. But let’s say you dream about aged pu’erh and want to buy young pu’erh and drink it when its 25 years. Given that most western storage easily falls into dry storage, significant pu’erh transformation likely needs a very long time in the west. Even if you are only 25 years old, you can buy a bunch of fresh tea and by the time it is 25 years old you are 50! How much does a 25 year old know about their 50 year old self?
It’s possible to then do a new round of buying young tea but by the time your tea is sufficiently aged you’ll be 75.
Pu’erh aging is a slow game and if your storage is a setup that requires frequent checking and/or significant maintenance you’re looking at adding a significant chore for many years of your life. This to me helps make the case for a simpler setup. Personally I don’t want to test how my MIF (marriage interference factor) will hold up when I have 200 cakes laid out across your carpet for their quarterly checkup. There’s also a decent probability that you won’t be as into tea or pu’erh in 20 years as you are now, even if your bursting stash forces you to continue with this hobby. Of course, how annoying a chore like this will depend person to person. Some people love messing with setups and tinkering. For myself I know it’d be a chore.
Slightly Cracked Storage, Bad Seals & Overcompensation
The airflow debate is one that’s been litigated and re-litigated many times. I personally lean towards the less airflow camp but I’m open to the case that it can be good in very light doses to even out especially humid corners of packed storage. If you decide you want to expose your tea to more airflow, one solution people toss around is slightly cracking open the door of your pumidor.
On the surface this solution makes sense. It’s a seemingly minor modification to the system to allow for small amounts of air to come in. But in my opinion this actually can cause a lot of complications with the entire system. I’ve forgotten to close my pumidor door all the way a few times (leaving it cracked), and even with a small opening I’ve noticed the humidity drop exceedingly fast.
Want to burn through boveda packs? This is a great way to do it. A lot of people’s first reaction to humidity dropping will be to prop the humidity up with boveda packs, salt packs, or humidity beads. This can be dangerous as forcing humidity up through sheer force is a lot more dangerous than gently introducing it. It also illustrates how addressing one issue (airflow) can have significant downstream impacts, inadvertently messing with everything else in your closed system.
This is true to a less extent for devices that don’t seal very well. If you start leaking out humidity to your outer environment, you may need to compensate by adding even more humidity. This leads me to believe that a good seal is usually preferred and trying to regulate airflow passively through a cracked door isn’t a great, permanent idea. Would you rather have storage with a (a) 20 cakes, a cracked door and 10 salt packs or a (b) 20 cakes, a better seal and 2 salt packs?
In my conditioned storage, my bovedas drain slowly (cost ~$0.08-$0.10/cake per year). When I remove my bovedas completely, the tea is able to maintain approximately the same humidity level for a while. For people dealing with more naturally humid ambient environments like Florida or to a lesser extent other parts of the south you might be able to get away with a more porous solution, but for those of us struggling with year-round indoor dry humidity, I think a good seal is best. If you’re concerned with getting airflow or fresh air, don’t pack it to the brim and open it up for air now and then on a humid day. Daily airflow shouldn’t be necessary.
When you’re setting up your storage, don’t expect it to get to your desired parameters overnight. Slow and gentle change is the safest. It may take weeks and/or months but you’ll be better off. Remember pu’erh storage is a long game. A couple days or weeks of humidity acclimation shouldn’t make much of a difference at all.
Temperature & Takeaways
Complicated systems can go wrong in more ways. We should be wary and very picky about adding more elements to our storage. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say simpler is always better, I do believe that while we’re restricted to makeshift DIY systems, it’s better for most pu’erh fans to keep it basic. More stuff, more complexity can result in more ways for your storage to go wrong.. Tinkering may seem fun at first, but you’ll probably regard it as a chore a few years in.
One topic I did not touch on is Marco’s heated storage. Adding a heating element obviously adds some amount of complexity. I also don’t at all think Marco’s experiment is a bad thing..
If I were to heat I would follow Marco’s lead closely, which is not the same as just adding a heater to a pumidor. Haphazardly adding a heating element or heating pad to my existing storage would likely have some unanticipated impacts (i.e. how does it impact the area right by the heater and the corners?) and I think it’s a much better idea to follow a smart person that has put a lot of thought into it and has a couple years of experience doing it.
In the end, I don’t think adequate pu’erh storage needs to be fancy or high-tech. By my estimation this is the core you should aim for if you are living in a colder and/or drier part of the west and have opted for a pumidor or sealed system.
- Calibrated-working hygrometers measuring multiple parts of your storage.
- A good seal.
- High tea to space ratio.
- Odor-free materials.
- Some way to add humidity slowly.
Honestly, I don’t have much to add to that list. You can fuss with other elements, but it’s not really required.