Fermentation is a significant aspect of Chinese cuisine and culture, with fermented ingredients found on almost every dinner table in the country. It’s no surprise that fermentation has also made its way into the world of Chinese tea culture.
While all types of tea can be aged, green teas require more time and skill to age due to their higher moisture content. However, aged green teas can still have an excellent flavor profile if aged correctly. Nonetheless, most tea enthusiasts prefer to enjoy green tea while it’s still fresh, as freshly harvested green tea has a unique taste that is hard to beat.
If you’re interested in aging tea, we recommend starting with a pu-erh cake, which is known to be suitable for aging. As you drink more tea and develop your palate, you’ll notice changes in your taste preferences and the subtleties of the tea. After years of aging, you’ll be able to see how the tea’s taste has transformed, along with your perception of it.
Before you age your pu-erh cake, break off a piece and taste it, taking notes on the taste, mouthfeel, smell, and color. Keep a journal of these notes, and refer to them years later when you’re drinking your aged tea.
How to Age Your Own Pu-erh Tea: Tips and Guidelines
Pu-erh tea is a type of fermented tea that originates from Yunnan Province in China. Pu-erh tea can be categorized into two types, sheng (raw) and shou (ripe), with sheng being less processed than shou. Aging pu-erh tea is a popular practice among tea enthusiasts as it enhances the flavor and aroma of the tea. In this article, we’ll provide you with tips and guidelines on how to age your own pu-erh tea.
Choosing the Right Pu-erh Tea
When selecting pu-erh tea for aging, it is best to choose sheng pu-erh cake as it is less processed than ripe pu-erh. This will allow for a more significant transformation of flavors and aroma during the aging process.
Maintaining the Right Humidity Level
The ideal humidity level for aging pu-erh tea is between 60-70%. It is essential to maintain this level to keep the cake and its natural bacteria healthy and thriving. If the humidity level is too high, mold can easily overgrow, while aging will not occur if the humidity is too low. Geographically, the best areas to age pu-erh tea are Southern Chinese provinces, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and some neighboring countries with similar humidity levels. However, if you live outside this region, you must keep track of the humidity levels in your home.
Storing the Pu-erh Cake
Pu-erh tea should always be aged in cake form, not loose-leaf form. The compression of the cake helps to lock-in the good bacteria, providing an adequate living environment. Loose-leaf pu-erh has a higher chance of allowing unwanted bacteria to enter, and the leaves may become too damp. Store your pu-erh cake away from strong odors, such as spices or coffee, and place an open container of baking soda or charcoal near the cake to absorb any unwanted odors. Store the cake in a dark, cool place, such as a closet with a neutral scent, and keep the temperature around 60-80°F (15-27°C). Use something breathable, such as a paper bag or the original wrapper, to store the cake, avoiding tin boxes or zip-lock bags.
Testing the Aging Progress
Pu-erh tea should be aged in cycles of five years. After about ten years of aging, the flavors start to mature, losing any unwanted sharp tastes, earthiness, bitterness, and dampness. It is essential to break off some of the cake every three years or so for a tasting to see if the aging process is going well or not. Based on the condition and taste of the tea, you may want to adjust the storage conditions.
Understanding Mold on Pu-erh Tea
It is normal to see a thin layer of white mold on the pu-erh cake during the aging process. However, black, green, blue, or orange mold is not acceptable. If the mold is thick and growing fast, this may signify an environment that is too humid or damp. Try to gently scrape the mold and consider storing your cake in a slightly drier environment.