puerh: to air or not to air?

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cbrace
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Wed Oct 14, 2020 12:26 pm

In this blog post from 2008, "Perspectives on Storing and Aging Pu'er Teas (i)", I encountered the following observations:
My tea-teacher has long advised that I expose newly-arrived pu’er to the air for at least two weeks prior to tasting it. I have learned that shu is incredibly better when aired. I flake some of it into a bowl and cover it with a paper towel. Then I tap my foot for fourteen days. When nineties sheng arrived with the leaves somewhat the worse for wetnitude, I used to despair. I’d consider my money ill-spent. But I have learned now not to judge nineties pu’er until it has aired for two months. I flake some of it up and leave it in a bowl as I do with shu, but for sixty days rather than fourteen. I’ve witnessed some truly tremendous evolutions. I cannot overstate this recommendation.

This the first time I've heard of "airing" puerh. I have heard that tea in general can suffer from "jetlag" and is best to leave it a few days after receiving an order. But this is something different. My natural inclination to keep my small collection of puerhs stored in a storage box (a pumidor) and the rest of my teas separately in sealed containers (tins). Do people here "air" their puerh? How and why?
mbanu
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Wed Oct 14, 2020 2:57 pm

The blogger is sort of describing two separate processes at the same time. Breaking apart a cake and mixing together leaves from the inside and outside loose is actually a version of a well-known tea practice called "bulking". This equalizes the flavor of the tea. However, this is distinct from exposing the loose leaf to air.

I think that all cake pu'er benefits from bulking once it is ready to drink.

However, I think that the air exposure for shu is related to brewing method, as many of the people who promote this practice want to gongfu the shu, and fresh shu from a freshly broken up cake does not usually gongfu very well. If you are making it dimsum style, this is not really a helpful practice.
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Stephen
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Wed Oct 14, 2020 10:34 pm

I agree with mbanu, this is a mix of a couple ideas. There's the idea that puer needs to rest and acclimate to a new environment after shipping. I agree with this one, I like to let tea rest in my tea storage for a week or more. Then there's the idea of breaking apart a cake for consumption. I like that one too, I often break up tea cakes that are ready to drink and store them in ceramic jars. There's also the idea of airing out humid stored tea to reduce storage taste. I agree with that one too, I think breaking up a cake and storing it in a jar helps reduce storage taste. The storage taste will probably reduce without breaking up the cake, but maybe a bit slower.
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StoneLadle
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Thu Oct 15, 2020 12:29 am

Cooked PE always benefits from airing out.

Aged raw PE also benefits from airing out.

Whether one is bulking or simply airing, the end result is the same, usually it's better tea.

For example, I have a few cakes of mid 90s Kunming factory raw cakes, stored under heavy compression, and were taken out of storage about a year ago and wrapped in shrink wrap...

Two months ago, the tea was pretty much undrinkable, doing all kinds of funny stuff with each brew, sour, bitter, thin, murky... One cake was broken up and left in a mylar bag with some kitchen towel and just left to sit in the room or just left around the house, I kind of kept it like a pet... It's warm here and ambient RH is usually between 70-90%... Now it's drinking fine and nice with good body developing...

And then there are ways to deal with cooked tea... Modern cooked tea is often highly compressed and flaking out the cakes and bricks definitely brings benefits irrespective of Gongfu or Dim Sum or Grandpa or Grandma... Personally I like using porous clay containers to condition cooked tea if I have to drink it...

Porcelain for cooked tea doesn't work so well but is excellent for prepping aged raw tea for drinking, after airing out...
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wave_code
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Thu Oct 15, 2020 5:24 am

I let me teas rest usually just as they were shipped/arrived - in the zip pack or tin or in paper/plastic bags, usually for at least a couple days before my initial sample if it came from within Europe, more like a week if it was on the slow boat or from further away. Then from there decide what to do with it.

I haven't really done much bulking with my cakes teas, but I think I need to move in that direction. Part of this is because usually I'd try it a few times to decide if I wanted to drink it now or just let it age, or that if I would drink it so infrequently I might as well let it continue to age as it is. But more often than not I find I'm drinking things now and if I like it enough would get additional cakes for later, so I might as well be breaking them up. I've also found while with some teas they come apart easy enough with a wash and short rest steaming in the pot, but some don't break up so nicely and it results in some wonky brewing. Also I think over the life of a cake constantly breaking off little bits will result in more pfannings/dust than just breaking up a cake properly all at once reducing waste as well as dust or tiny broken bits getting into each brew.

While getting large jars of even local but unglazed clay can be not as easy here and I'd reserve it for my nicer teas does anyone have any order of preference for other materials? Glass over porcelain, porcelain over glass? I have some stuff in paper bags inside of tins and it seems to do pretty alright, but might be more susceptible to temp changes for better or worse than a thicker material. I've seen some teas sold based also on being stored either in wood warehouses or wooden boxes which also made me a bit curious about trying that out for myself- using a nicer wood to make a storage box that intentionally imparts a bit of flavor. I've actually got this old cabinet that was already sitting in my apartment when I moved in with big heavy wood drawers - might just throw a cheap cake or two in there for a year and see what it does.
polezaivsani
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Thu Oct 15, 2020 1:20 pm

I have repurposed a wooden wine crate for a short/mid storage and based on anecdotal experience, it works better than nothing. At least lu an seem to feel better in there without occasionally turning astringent. Frankly i'd build a whole rack out these things, but since they are nowhere to be found around where i am now. I'm thinking about a bigger and sturdier old wooden crate that i need to investigate the inside condition first.
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StoneLadle
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Thu Oct 15, 2020 11:35 pm

Unglazed clay is best for cooked tea,or treating aged raw for storage smells etc...

Aged raw tea is best flaked out and then conditioned in porcelain or metal containers...

Unglazed clay is a disaster for aging raw tea ...
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Iizuki
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:35 am

Does anyone have theories to back up these ideas? Or are these just "median opinions"? Not saying you're wrong but IMO the reasoning is often way more interesting than the conclusion.
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OCTO
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:19 am

I definitely agree to the concept of airing the tea. The airing process "awakens" the tea. There is a scientific explanation to this but I have forgotten over time. The end result is way more interesting to me.. hahahaha.... That doesn't mean the tea is undrinkable before being "awaken". It's just better after being "awaken". There is also no specific time to how long will the tea needs to be "awaken". Some tea takes a few weeks, some may take months.
Iizuki wrote:
Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:35 am
Does anyone have theories to back up these ideas? Or are these just "median opinions"? Not saying you're wrong but IMO the reasoning is often way more interesting than the conclusion.
@Iizuki

As for the different types of jars or containers to use, conclusions my own trials and errors are inconclusive... hahahahaha.... for example Porcelain works perfectly well in a less humid environment. LiuBao works perfectly well in a terracotta clay jar, but kills the tea in very humid environments. Against popular believes... I have a large porcelain jar where I would usually place my PuErh to rest and air out. It's very windy where I live, I keep the porcelain lid on with a folded calligraphy paper to keep the lid from closing shut. This will allow some air circulation to take place. In some instances, the tea needs more airing, I do what @StoneLadle does... just pop the tea in a plastic / paper bag and just fold the opening. For those I want to consume or share with tea buddies... I would break it up and air them inside a small porcelain jar and subsequently transferred an airtight stainless steel / tin jar.... often recycled mooncake container tins... ahahahaha....

I'd guess it's again very much a personal preference on how you want your tea to turn out. Then you employ the methods to achieve that outcome.

Cheers!!
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StoneLadle
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 1:45 am

Iizuki wrote:
Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:35 am
Does anyone have theories to back up these ideas? Or are these just "median opinions"? Not saying you're wrong but IMO the reasoning is often way more interesting than the conclusion.
I been doing the stuff I been doing to PE for a long time since childhood, worked for ancestors, they work for me
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Stephen
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 8:13 pm

Iizuki wrote:
Fri Oct 16, 2020 12:35 am
Does anyone have theories to back up these ideas? Or are these just "median opinions"? Not saying you're wrong but IMO the reasoning is often way more interesting than the conclusion.
I think the idea is that pu er tea is subject to microbial and enzymatic activity. So things like temperature, humidity and environment can affect the tea. Shipping, for example, can expose the tea to changing temperatures, humidity and environment that might impact how the tea tastes. How the tea is stored could also affect it through the same means. But mainly I go by how the tea tastes! :D
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StoneLadle
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 10:31 pm

@Stephen no replacement for displacement! And one has to drink to taste!

All these methods of dealing with the tea are easily checked via comparative brewing... Just batch them up and try it out
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Stephen
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:31 pm

@StoneLadle Yes, true! I'm always surprised by how tea responds to things like good storage and humidity. I guess that's why we love pu er - it's always interesting. Actually, I just went through this with a 7572 cake. It just wasn't brewing as well as I remembered. I broke it up and put into a jar. A week or two later and it's already brewing better.
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StoneLadle
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Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:51 am

Stephen wrote:
Fri Oct 16, 2020 11:31 pm
StoneLadle Yes, true! I'm always surprised by how tea responds to things like good storage and humidity. I guess that's why we love pu er - it's always interesting. Actually, I just went through this with a 7572 cake. It just wasn't brewing as well as I remembered. I broke it up and put into a jar. A week or two later and it's already brewing better.
More details please!

How old is the cake?

Aged where?

What did you do to it?

What kind of jar?
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Stephen
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Sat Oct 17, 2020 1:22 pm

It's a 2006 Fuhai 7576. So not exactly a 7572, but same difference. Stored in Guangdong. I've had it for 5 years in my storage, usually 55-65% relative humidity, 70-80'F. This tea has lighter fermentation so acts a bit like sheng pu. I just broke up the cake and put it into a ceramic jar, double lid ginger jars are my preference. They seem to work well in my environment. Also yi xing clay jars aren't easy for me to come by!
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