Storage experiment: 2016 W2T Bosch, one year in
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
- to maintain as much as possible of the aspects I enjoy, such as pungency, resinous content, sweetness/juiciness, complexity, and energy effects,
- to reduce as much as possible the harsh bitterness, greenness, and astringency which young tea can have, and, potentially,
- 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
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. I also put a spacer between the mat and the mylar bags, so that the bags aren’t in direct contact with the mat.
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.
- 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.
- L is noticeably thicker and sweeter than R.
- 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.
- 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.
- R is very much not drinkable at high steep times whereas L has a thicker complexity with finishing sweetness which is pleasant and encouraging.
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.