Storage experiment: 2016 W2T Bosch, one year in

// Published August 4, 2018 by mgualt

No topic in the puerh tea world is fraught with more controversy and misinformation than that of storage. Each collector must decide which storage system they will use for their tea, hoping that it won’t be ruined by the time they actually get around to drinking it. Some of us are more ambitious (or delusional!), with plans that our 2009 Dayi 7542 will, before we pop our clogs, transform into a sublime masterpiece rivaling the legendary teas of yesteryear.   Collectors with a substantial investment in their tea collection are often very touchy on the topic of storage, and in the unlikely event that they are willing to discuss it openly, will defend their chosen method… usually using self-contradictory arguments… to the death.

My experimental system:

For me, the main goals of puerh storage are

  1. to maintain as much as possible of the aspects I enjoy, such as pungency, resinous content, sweetness/juiciness, complexity, and energy effects,
  2. to reduce as much as possible the harsh bitterness, greenness, and astringency which young tea can have, and, potentially,
  3. to develop in new unexpected ways, with emergent flavours and aromas as well as deepening energetic effects.

One year ago, in an attempt to achieve these goals, I started testing a storage system which would also fulfill the following criteria:

  • Most importantly, no maintenance required, so that during long absences nothing need be done;
  • Minimize risk of damage, for example by mold, pests, drying, etc.
  • Maintaining individuality of teas, no mixing of aromas/tastes
  • Cheap

The best dead-simple system I could come up with involves three pieces of technology: first, 1-gal Mylar ziploc bags, second, a coleman cooler, and third, a temperature controller attached to a 17W seedling mat. For about 50$ and no assembly whatsoever, you can individually ziploc your cakes and keep them at a balmy 32 degrees C for months.  After the cakes have been properly conditioned (which for me could mean anywhere from 63-69%RH), this system will maintain that humidity with no maintenance required.  Note that the cooler serves only as insulation – this helps stabilize the temperature and saves a lot of energy.

 

What are the results?

One of the first teas I put into the hotbox was one of White2tea’s most popular cakes of 2016, the Bosch.  Each half of my Bosch cake was kept in a mylar bag; one went into the hotbox at 32C, and the other stayed out at around 23C (room temperature). After one year (i.e., today), I did a simultaneous tasting: 4g each in two identical 60ml gaiwans, with one drinking partner.

The most surprising result is that there was a very clear difference between the two teas, after just one year of heated storage.  The effect was not at all subtle, and the heated tea was much preferred by both of us.  In the photos below, the heated tea is on the left.

Both teas have quite pungent dry leaf, but the heated tea is slightly more pungent and with a sweeter smell.  The unheated tea has a strong high-pitched floral aroma. The wet leaf is more pungent, sweeter, and less green for the heated tea.

  1. Sweetness on the left, slightly thicker, much less grassy. On R, green, grassy, medium thickness, oolong-like as in my initial tastings for Bosch 2016. Menthol on both teas.
  2. L is noticeably thicker and sweeter than R.
  3. With a 30s steep, L is remarkably sweeter and thicker than R, and R is quite bitter and green. The difference is quite remarkable. The sweetness on L is not only in the arrival but also in the finish.
  4. Testing a 45s steep, both are quite strong. L is softer, sweeter, less green.  R is starting to show quite some harshness and greenness.  L has some harshness too but the sweetness comes as well.
  5. R is very much not drinkable at high steep times whereas L has a thicker complexity with finishing sweetness which is pleasant and encouraging.

Heated Bosch 2016 on the left, unheated on the right

These results were quite a surprise to me; I was expecting the results to be much more subtle. Even visually, the tea has clearly aged more quickly.  The harsh grassiness has been much reduced and the sweet pungency has been enhanced. At this point, I am strongly encouraged to put more teas into the hotbox.  I also have another hotbox set at a higher temperature, and hope to report on that one in not too long a time.

Comments

  1. MattCha
    August 4, 2018 @ 3:15 am

    Marco,

    I would like to order 4 of these. I will remit my payment via PayPal tonight. Thanks again.

    Peace

    Reply
    • mgualt
      August 7, 2018 @ 5:37 pm

      We should do a Kickstarter, Matt!!

      Reply
  2. nonen
    August 7, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

    How did you select 32C (89.6F)?
    Ninety degrees is quite warm and well outside the “standard range” of temps we often see recommended in Western storage discussion. Did you have any fears of mold growth at that temp?
    Cheers!

    Reply
    • mgualt
      August 7, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

      “How did you select 32C (89.6F)?”

      I selected 31-33C and 39-41C, although I haven’t said anything about the second box, yet. 40C is approximately where the tea enzymes have maximum activity. 32C is a lot more practical to maintain. Also, 32C is simulation of hot temperatures in Malaysia. You do know about Malaysian storage, yes?

      “Ninety degrees is quite warm and well outside the “standard range” of temps we often see recommended in Western storage discussion.”

      I assume by “Western” you mean in English? I actually haven’t encountered that many temperature recommendations, and what I have seen is mostly about mimicking (usually only part of) the storage they wish they had. Finally, I am not making recommendations, I am telling you the result of a 1 year experiment. You can conclude for yourself :).

      “Did you have any fears of mold growth at that temp?”

      Of course, I was trying to avoid mold growth at any temp. You may be under the misconception that mold grows better at higher temp… it’s not the case. If you are at 66% RH, then 32C is extremely safe, but 23C (room temperature) is definitely not safe from mold growth. Interestingly, if you are in the low 70s of RH, room temp is *extremely unsafe* whereas at 40C it is very unlikely (almost impossible) that mold will grow.

      In this experiment, I keep humidity in the mid 60s with *no added humidity source* and at 32C I don’t get any mold growing (with one year running). This is consistent with the data that mold prefers 70-80RH conditions; indeed, at 70%RH or at 75%RH I have been able to grow mold, both at 23C and at 32C. Note also that it is not always simple to tell if mold is growing or not — it may take many months of growth before you can actually see evidence of mold.

      A last comment on English-language storage discussion online: there tends to be a lot of discussion of methods but not much discussion of goals/criteria of storage. In the post you will see my personal criteria, not everyone will share those.

      Reply
      • nonen
        August 7, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

        Thanks for your informative reply. By Western I mean people living in Europe and the Americas, who by and large are not in warm & humid climates. The parameters I’ve seen discussed are usually around 65-75% RH and 70-80F. If I understand you, this could actually be more dangerous than 65% RH, 90F storage. No I am not familiar with typical Malaysian storage parameters.

        Another thing I wonder about — given the high temperature differential between your warmed cakes and room temp: does this mean the warm-stored cakes are not really available for intermittent drinking? Specifically, is there any reason for concern about condensation that may form on the tea due to those temperature swings, should you pull one out and wish to drink it?

        Cheers!

        Reply
        • mgualt
          August 7, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

          About geography and storage: I don’t think it’s a reliable indicator. People in Southeast Asia love AC just as much as the humid Floridians or the Sweltering Swedes. It’s all about the exact conditions of storage. Nowadays I don’t think you can assume anything.

          As for temp and RH range, you understand me perfectly. At room temperature, 75% is comfortably in the mold growth zone. And, as many have pointed out, room temp is cold for puerh storage.

          As for actually drinking the tea, I have my own system for breaking chunks off cakes and storing or “airing out” small quantities and I don’t disturb the tea in my long term storage every day. Condensation would happen if you took a cake out of the hotbox and left it outside without unzipping the bag… So don’t do that.

          Reply
  3. Tthx
    August 8, 2018 @ 2:25 am

    Which Coleman cooler did you use? (48qt?) If it has a drain, were you able to route wiring through that? Cool experiment!

    Reply
    • mgualt
      August 8, 2018 @ 10:56 am

      Any insulated box will do; that size should work as mine is a bit larger. I didn’t bother with wiring through the spout, I just went through the lid.

      Reply

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