Storing Pu’er tea – You are the final master

As long time readers of my blog know, I’m pretty allergic to marketing-speak, especially when the vendor is spewing disinformation. Well, I got an email a couple days ago from an outfit called Misty Peak, which I’ve never heard of but who had somehow harvested my blog email to put on their mailing list. The title of the email is the title of this post – Storing Pu’er tea – You are the final master. Yes. You can read the email here.

Basically, the email tells you how to store your tea, which seems informative enough, until you actually read it. To summarize the five points:

  1. You need circulating air – apparently the tea needs to breath or it’ll suffocate.
  2. There are two kinds of storage – dry and wet. Wet storage is when humidity is 50% or higher. Dry storage is “much drier condition.” No, 50% is not a typo.
  3. Temperature – between 55 and 80F (that’s 13 to 27 real degrees for the rest of the world)
  4. Store tea with other similar teas, turn over your tea every six months so “the leaves are getting exposure to the elements” and store it in porous containers, like wood or clay. If your got your tea in bags, throw away the bags or drink them quickly. The perfect place to store tea in a house is the top shelf of your closet – put it near a bowl of water and introduce a humidifier if it’s too dry. “There should be plenty of fresh air coming in as you open that door often and perhaps leave it ajar from time-to-time with a window open.”
  5. “Caravans of horses and mules travelled thousands of miles by foot over snow-capped mountains and through sun-heated desserts [sic].” So have fun. “Place some in your cabinet, some in your closet, and maybe even some on your porch. Just remember, this tea was cared for and crafted with absolute mastery and now it is up to you to learn to store it with care and prepare it with patience. You, my dearest tea friend, are the final master in this tea’s journey.”

Now, if you haven’t figure it out already – do not follow any of this “advice” if you care about your tea at all.

Let’s start with point 1. Airflow is pretty much a bad idea, and the theory that puerh needs fresh air to age is simply bogus. Fresh air can do a lot of things, but most of it will destroy your tea. If you want your tea to retain its aroma and age well, stick it in a place with low airflow that isn’t too damp. The fastest I’ve ever seen mold grow on my cake was on a coffee table with good airflow. A few days of continuous rain and it started growing stuff. Don’t do it.

The definition of dry and wet here is so off it’s laughable. Wet (I think they mean traditional in my usage) is a lot wetter than “50%” humidity – in fact, 50% is positively dry. Anything drier is going to kill your tea, and even a constant 50% will pretty much ensure your tea never really age at all. The idea that 50% or higher is wet is… simply amazing in its ignorance coming from a vendor. Certainly no vendor in Asia will call that wet.

Temperature – well, this is a sort of reasonable, if somewhat low, range. Temperature is not going to kill you here, but if it’s too cold for too long your tea won’t change much either. The reason Malaysian teas age a bit faster is because they’re generally hotter there. If your temperature is a constant 15 degrees your tea once again won’t age much at all.

Point 4 pretty much repeats what comes before, except that as people who have tried storing teas in clay can tell you – clay is very, very dangerous, and can easily kill your tea by helping mold grow. It’s not a porous material at all – certainly not porous enough. Wood, even, is pretty risky, and wood has the additional risk of smell coming from the wood itself. Sometimes simple is best – paper box with a tiny opening, a closet that is almost always closed in an area that isn’t too damp, avoid direct sunlight, etc. You can experiment with additional moisture via bowls of water if your area is dry, but humidifier is a pretty risky thing to use and I’d caution against it. You only need to screw up once to mess up your whole stash.

Point 5 is so comical as to invite laughter, or if I’m less charitable, I’d think they’re actively trying to get you to screw up your tea so that you’d have to buy more from them. Put your tea on your porch? Really? Caravans traveled through snow-capped mountains and sun-heated deserts? Not really – not usually anyway. They mostly traveled through passes (instead of over the mountains) and on plains through oases. You’d avoid deserts if you can help it at all. And don’t get me started on the bit that I haven’t quoted about dead horses and coming back to the tea years later.

So with this email, I was curious who these guys were, so I went to their website. I see they only do puerh, which is disappointing – for an outfit that only does puerh, the advice they’re giving you is astonishingly bad. I went to their “About” and “FAQ” pages, and noticed a few interesting things

“Our tea is the only tea on the market grown and processed by one family from trees planted in Yunnan China before the advent of electricity, 200-500 years ago.”

Pretty sure this statement is not true. There are lots of people selling single family teas from old tea trees in China (real or fake), but I guess if it’s in China it’s not happening?

“In 2014, the online tea community on the world’s largest tea review website, Steepster, rated us the #1 Pu’er Tea in the world out of over 5,000 different Pu’er teas with over 10,000 voting people!

Oh, Steepster…..

“Now the tea is available in over 370 select shops in the North America, Europe, Asia, and South America.”

Let’s see… 370 shops, but only one farm, and only 200-500 years old trees. That’s A LOT OF TREES FOR ONE FARM. Does this pass the smell test? You be the judge.

“First company in the world to change the shape of Pu’er Tea.”

You clearly haven’t bought any gongyicha before. You made a triangle in 2015. These guys made an elephant in 2013. There are also countless examples of other people who did this sort of thing way earlier. First in the world? Really? Have you ever been to a tea market in China? Obviously not.

Anyway, I think I’ve made my point. Avoid these clowns, and stop putting me on your junk mail list.


Comments

Storing Pu’er tea – You are the final master — 27 Comments

  1. I’ve thought about it and, if aging of puer is achieved by aerobic fermentation via microorganisms, then there should be enough oxygen within a tong wrapper to keep them happy for decades. I don’t understand why airflow should be necessary, except in extreme cases such as storage in humid HK caves.

    So, if that is true (and I’m not sure if it is), then what would be wrong about sealing an entire tong (bamboo wrapper and all) inside an aluminum foil bag for long-term aging? This would lock in the moisture content existing within the leaves, while protecting the tea from undesirable odors.

    Then it should be possible to store these sealed tongs in a North American house with winter heating without the leaves drying out. Basically the idea is to let the natural moisture content in the leaves provide the water source to keep the microorganisms alive while aging in a dry house.

    I know the aging process would still be slower than HK or Malaysia, but still the tea should remain alive and continue to evolve slowly over time.

    Marshaln, would you please critique this idea? I want to know what would be wrong with this strategy.

    • I think it’s not entirely unreasonable to try. There’s no real need for air exchange and so that is not really a requirement at all. The thing you have to make sure is when you do the sealing the tea cakes are not wet in any way – if it’s been raining nonstop for a week and your tea has soaked up a lot of moisture, sealing it then could lead to mold growth.

      • Having said that though, if the tea is in original tong wrapping you probably already have the cover you need. If you wrap it too tight then this might be similar to the clay jar problem – one small misstep and you’ve got growth on your hands.

      • Thanks for your reply. I appreciate your input.

        (Marshaln: My first version of this reply was accidentally posted on a business account. Can you please purge that comment and publish this one instead? Thanks.)

        My thinking is to buy tongs when they are really young — basically fresh off the press so that I know they have sufficient water content as they haven’t been allowed to dry out. Then I’ll seal them in aluminum foil and keep them for year.

        In the summer, when the RH is higher (compared to the winter months), I’ll open the bag up and do an inspection, maybe take a sample and see how the taste is evolving. At that point I could let the tong breathe for a few days and then I’ll reseal it for another year.

        To test this strategy out, I’ll buy 2 tongs of the same tea; seal one and leave the other out just in the tong wrapper. That way I can do a side-by-side comparison from year to year.

        I’ll report back in a few years to let you know how it goes. =)

    • Have you actually measured the relative humidity of your North American house with winter heating on? Mine is currently 23%. Average RH of the Mojave Desert? 10-30%. I’d say my house qualifies as desert. I have woodwork with splits. What do you think these conditions will do to bamboo, and consequently, tea? Does anyone want to check out my feet? Didn’t think so.

      • Yeah, I measure the RH in my house. It varies depending on the location because of temperature differential. In the winter, it’s around 25-30%; my hands dry out and I have to apply hand moisturizer 5 times per day.

        This got me thinking that, if my hands can’t handle these conditions, the tea is going to be toast. Rather than add moisture artificially, such as with a pumidor, my approach will be to just keep the tea from drying out in the first place. I like the simplicity of this strategy and the fact it doesn’t require any special equipment.

  2. Steepster thread – http://steepster.com/discuss/12440-misty-peak-teas-marketing-practices

    The thread also comments on the “best tea on Steepster!” which especially Steepster users think is complete nonsense… and the fact that Misty Pines seems to be rigging the ratings there using multiple accounts… and some other stuff.

    At this point I’ve mentally filed Misty Pines alongside Verdant in my mental bank of tea vendors. Glad I haven’t ended up on their mailing list. Even if it’s all the work of one of the brothers and the other brother is totally legit… that’s still super shady.

  3. Looks like Steepster’s love affair with them is over… guess the emotional manipulation of free samples only takes you so far.

    There’s a few missteps from these clowns:

    1. Co-owner bullying Instagram users for drinking round pu-erh (which Misty Peak supposedly invented, according to the wikipedia entry added by this same co-owner, Phil America) – http://steepster.com/discuss/12440-misty-peak-teas-marketing-practices?page=1&post_id=191933

    2. Apparently lying about when their tea was picked (like, Spring harvest in January)
    http://steepster.com/discuss/10736-hey-all-does-season-of-harvest-matter-to-you?page=2&post_id=171430
    http://deathbytea.blogspot.com/2015/04/this-much-is-true.html
    http://steepster.com/discuss/11810-misty-peak-teas-autumn-2015-green-puer-harvest-online-now

    3. Marketing email sent about how you should send pu-erh to your friends who aren’t a size zero –
    http://deathbytea.blogspot.com/2015/12/waiting-for-rapture.html

    4. Fake Steepster profiles caught boosting their average rating – http://steepster.com/discuss/8458-people-screwing-with-the-ratings-in-order-to-bump-misty-peak-not-cool?page=1&post_id=145719

  4. Sounds like the typical (and lacking in critical thought) elitist that plagues any interest. Comical, as you said, but sadly people like this get a lot of attention that they want.

  5. It is unfortunate to see this. I read your blog post as soon as you posted and didn’t have the time to reply here. I also received this email, I got some samples from them in the past which were ok. Then I started receiving increasingly spam-y email from them. As people have posted here already they have claimed so many things by now, that I haven’t unsubscribed just to keep up with their next claim and laugh a bit.

    I feel like they have gone out of their way to slowly build bad reputation. I think they are their worst enemy. Hopefully they’ll continue to make these outrageous claims and keep isolating customers.

  6. How about this: it’s March 23, and they are already selling cakes from spring 2016. And they are shipping from the USA.

  7. Hello M,
    Just would like to say that since posting photos of White2Teas puerh balls (it is pretty good), numerous spam accounts have begun liking the photos. This has been going on for months. So, yes. Misty Peak Tea has been harrassing me through fake accounts. I have taken screen grabs and some day they will link them to Phil America. He seems to have way too much time on his hands.

    BioHorn/TeaZap

  8. It is sad to see all the negativity. I googled the guy and it’s clear Phil America is a very notable character who has done a lot of good. To see the comments talking about someone doing so much good that say ‘he has too much time on his hands etc’ are disheartening to say the least, slander at worst.

    To say you are getting likes on your photos of white2tea and blaming someone you say works for another brand is also quite shocking. Where is any of the merit in him getting you fake likes and making fake accounts when he is already posting under his own real name? Sounds like you are just trying to make him and misty peak out to be the bad guys to support your own brands.

    I would agree, misty peaks is their own worst enemy though. They should have never posted on your accounts. But things like this https://www.instagram.com/p/BAY_861tY5S/ are absolutely horrible to see coming from the tea community.

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