Author: Zhan Xun Hua /Organization: Su Ying Chun /Photos: Chen Ming Cong
Puerh tea is no ordinary tea. lt can be stored and will undergo a post-fermentation,transforming the quality of the tea. This Is the often proclaimed' better with age- effect. This "warehousing,"however,Is a unique area of learning. There are perhaps many people who understand tea, but only a few have made the effort to learn about storage based on the characteristics of the tea. In this Issue's discussion of tea storage, we had the opportunity to speak with the head of Taiwan's Jiu Hu Tang Tea Company, Zhan Xun Hua, who has over twenty years experience in the Taiwanese tea Industry. He has a special understanding of Puerh and a unique perspective on the question of "warehousing." His aged tea appears glossy and clean, and the brewed tea ls a chestnut red. Tasting the tea by iron tea cup. lt has an elevated fragrance with a sweet undercurrent. The cha yun (charm of the tea) is rich and abundant, and it possesses a magnificence of Qi. The skill with which he has aged the tea is clear. In this Issue, we have Invited him to describe the points which must be considered in storing tea. We hope this provides tea lovers with not only more information, but also the stimulation to try storing some Puerh.
Before we can understand "warehousing," we must first understand the quality and nature of tea. This allows us to adapt to the material at hand, selecting the most appropriate storage environment and duration.
This is the only way to ensure that aging improves and adds significance to Puerh, If new tea can be drunk immediately, it does not need to be put in storage. I often refer to putting a tea into storage as "going into seclusion." Clearly if a tea's composition is intact and the tea is clear and fresh and possesses excellent flavor, there is no need to place it in storage. However, due to flaws in the production, blending, or storage process, the overall flavor of a tea may be incomplete or insufficient. The tea needs time to age in order to settle and to develop higher quality.
The goal of storage is to allow the tea to even out, because teas requiring storage usually lack uniformity of flavor or quality. In order to make the tea more uniform, we must first understand the tea's shortcomings. For example, a new tea may seem overly dry or overly bitter. Before storing the tea, it is important to understand these shortcomings in order to know how to deal with the tea after placing it in storage. In other words, if the initial quality of the tea is confused or not well-pronounced, the tea should be set aside in storage. The storage place and time is determined by the quality of the tea. The point of storage is to give the tea time and space to settle and to allow the composition of the tea to readjust.
Choosing a Space
The choice of storage environment is extremely important, since we store tea to give it a place to rest and settle. It is important to choose an undisturbed location with appropriate oxygen levels and strictly controlled humidity, light, and air flow. Satisfying these conditions requires us to personally search for an acceptable storage place. Each of these factors must be individually taken into account.
For instance, a cellar or other below ground storage with excessive humidity is not suitable. When looking for a storage environment, it is important to find the best location rather than the most convenient location. Specialized knowledge must also be brought into play. In addition to understanding tea, a relatively sophisticated understanding of natural forces is needed. This allows us to determine whether the chosen location has suitable levels of humidity and air flow. Also choosing a storage place based on the nature of the tea must also consider natural conditions such as the environment, light levels, fengshui, humidity, etc.
We should pay the most attention to the level of humidity. Because tea is stored for periods of time, we must absolutely avoid humidity levels that will collect or have an adverse impact. We should certainly choose clean and slightly circulating humidity, This must be produced in a natural style and not brought about by painstaking artificial methods as a spray nozzle or large fan.
This kind of man-made humidity and air flow Rather, in an attempt to hasten the aging process the tea is not allowed to settle. Tea is a natural product and should be carefully aged under natural storage conditions, allowing the tea to slowly ferment in a natural environment, This process does not permit man-made interference and should be carried out with respect for Nature. Many people cake a self-centered approach to aging tea, attempting to hasten the aging process, though forgetting that tea is a natural product. I believe we should respect Nature, allowing the trace elements in tea to gradually ferment and be transformed under natural conditions. We should allow the tea to follow the path it would naturally take.
Tea should be stored separately based on its particular characteristics. For instance, fresh, ripe, new, and old teas should be kept separate. Relatively intense teas can be kept in a fairly dark place. This helps to neutralize the tea's stronger flavors. Cardboard boxes and other odds and ends should not be kept in the storage area. Bamboo is ok, however, and the tea can be kept in its bamboo casing.
In addition, the shelving and baskets should not be made of wood. Generally speaking, wood tends to draw moisture and may have its own aroma, which is easily absorbed by the tea. Plastic materials are best, as they do not absorb moisture and do not smell. By the same principle, wood should not be used for the flooring. If possible, the ideal storage space should be made of brick or cement.
Because tea can easily absorb odors, the room cannot have any particular smells and is best left unpainted. When placing the tea, we must be careful that it is not directly against the wall. Even more important is that it is kept far from sources of light and heat. The windows of the room should be sealed, cutting off all light and keeping bugs away from the tea. The tea should not share space with humans and should be allowed to quietly rest.
After placing the tea in storage, there are two opportune times each year to look at the tea. The most suitable time is after the Mid-Autumn Festival (mid to late September). Cooler temperatures make this a good time to arrange the storage area and to remove teas. The other time is early spring before the arrival of hot temperatures, but there is some danger to disturbing tea in the early spring.
After spending the winter resting, the rush of heat from opening the door to the store room can cause changes to the flavor of the tea. If inspection of the tea reveals mold growth, there are problems with the storage place. A better storage space should be found as soon as possible. When the tea has completed its structural transformation, and has no particularly evident undesirable flavor or aroma, we can move on to the next step: "removing it from storage."
Removing Tea from Storage
The process to remove the tea from storage is just as critical as that for placing the tea in storage. It also requires just as much time and possibly even longer. The goal when removing the tea from storage is to reawaken its vitality. We must also carefully choose the storage environment for removal. Ideally, we select a storage place near the entry storage area. The requirements for the removal storage area are basically the same as those for the entry storage area. The removal area can have a natural humidity level, however. There is no need for slightly elevated humidity. It is best to choose a sun-facing store place. Compared with the entry storage area, the removal storage area should be closer to normal room temperature. It's sufficient that it be slightly cool and have natural relative humidity. There is no need to seek out a high humidity, low temperature space, but it should also not receive direct sunlight.
Tea should still be divided into classes with the locations based on the entry storage situation. After two years, we can place the tea in cardboard boxes. It is best to protect the tea by wrapping it in layers using bamboo casing, cotton paper, brown wrapping paper, and cardboard. Mid to late autumn is the best time to enter and look at the removal storage area and to take out tea. Removal storage can revitalize the tea, clarify cha yun, lift the tea's aroma, and improve the layering of the brewed tea by iron tea set, leading to a clean and fragrant tea. When it has reached this point, the tea is ready to be taken from storage.
As stated above, Puerh tea storage requires at least two storage areas, one for entry storage and another for removal storage. In practice, however, Jiu Hu Tang uses an additional space to allow the tea to acclimate and enter daily life.
This means that when the tea reaches the hand of consumers it does not experience too great of a shock. Tea sellers should also work to protect the tea before handing it over to consumers. Ideally, each tea cake should be packaged in a hard cardboard box, protecting it from direct sunlight, In addition the tea should be placed in an unscented plastic bag, isolating it from outside changes in humidity. As much as possible, this preserves the excellent flavor of the tea at the time it was removed form storage.
After sharing the "warehousing" process described above, I must admit I do not believe it makes sense for consumers to store tea in this way themselves on a large scale, Tea storage should be entrusted to professionals who understand the nature of tea and understand how to give the tea ample time and space to settle and ferment, This ensures that the tea we drink is of the highest quality possible.