One of the intriguing characteristics about pu-erh is that its quality and aged appeal become more prominent with time. Being one of the 3 most important factors governing pu-erh’s quality, storage of pu-erh is a meaningful topic to be brought up for discussion.
The dry and wet storage of pu-erh refers to the methods of keeping the pu-erh after it has gone through the complete production process; it starts from maocha, which is produced after withering, roasting and sun drying the leaves from Yunnan’s native big-leaved arbor tea plants known as camellia sinensis var. assamica. Compared to loose leaves, compressed forms of maocha are more commonly stored for their ease of loading and transportation.
For dry storage method, pu-erh is kept in arid and well-ventilated indoor environments similar to those found in Kunming, Yunnan. Due to high elevation and low latitude, the climate in Yunnan is subject to intense sunshine and cool temperatures, with large daily fluctuation and low yearly variation. After spring season in Yunnan, newly produced pu-erh cakes are placed into storage facilities with less than 80% relative humidity to allow for natural post-fermentation. Dry storage pu-erh tends to take on a cleaner appearance with a more reflective surface due to the fur present on the surface of the tealeaves. The liquor brewed is of vibrant red colour, has a more full-bodied taste and leaves a calescent feeling in the mouth. It also has a stronger aged aroma compared to wet storage pu-erh.
For wet storage method, the newly produced pu-erh products are kept in damp, dark and highly humid (with relative humidity greater than 80%) environments, often found in basement or underground facilities. This storage method was popularized by tea merchants in Guangzhou and Hong Kong back in the 1970s. During this period, large shipments of raw or final products of pu-erh were exported from these regions supplying international markets. Many of their storage facilities were the basements of factory buildings that were especially humid during the monsoon season. Wet storage pu-erh tends to have a darker and more muddled appearance. It produces liquor that is maroon in colour, similar to red wine. The taste would be comparable to that of the damp forest floor, has strong humidity, sugarcane sweetness and leaves a smooth feel in the mouth. Wet storage pu-erh generally has a sweeter taste compared to dry storage pu-erh.
Note that wodui is different from wet storage. Developed in 1973 in Kunming, wodui is a process engineering method known as pile-fermentation that shortens the natural but lengthy post-fermentation time. Instead of storing compressed forms of pu-erh, it uses loose-leaf maocha as raw material. Every aspect of the wodui process, including temperature, humidity, air and enzyme growth is scientifically monitored. It is a post-processing that renders rice-milk-like smoothness and sweetness similar to flavours of lao sheng pu-erh.
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