Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tea storage experiments with roasted Baozhong

Teaparker's latest book about tea storage has generated several questions about which tea to store in which jar.

Then, just after Christmas, Teaparker demonstrated how a 6 year old Oriental Beauty would change and improve after just 18 hours in a glazed porcelain jar. The same leaves would not just smell finer, but also taste smoother after staying in the jar overnight (compared to those that stayed in the original plastic foil).

Yesterday, I nearly emptied a pack of 100 gram of my Spring 2006 medium roasted Wenshan Baozhong, the Qizhong Oolong in these 8 jars. The stripe-shaped dry leaves have more contact with air and this should mean that they should be impacted faster by the storage in a near empty jar than rolled Oolong.

Indeed, today the fragrances in the jars were noticeably different. And, brewing leaves from each jar also confirmed that the taste had been impacted by this short term storage.

A view of the open jars to show how each jar is closed:
Notice that the Japanese pewter jar has 2 lids to close the jar extra tight. Notice also the 2 mini jars at the bottom. The one on the left has an shiny plastic foil wrapped inside the lid, while the jar on the right has no such foil.

Now to my findings after brewing this same tea stored in different containers with the same gaiwan, same water... :

- Plastic foil storage: greener, fresher, rougher, less refined feeling.

- Mini jar, no foil inside: perfume like scents, more refined, smoother taste. Intense and sweet. Excellent.

- Mini jar, with foil inside: greener than without the foil, but also lacking intensity and aftertaste.

- The other 3 porcelain jars with porcelain lids (no foil): very similar to the mini jar. Small variations seem to be more due to different ratio of leaf to volume in the jar, but nothing very striking.

- The pewter jar: freshness and 'greenness' come out even more than from the foil. However, the tea tastes finer. Less sweetness, more salivation.

- Small Yixing zisha jar: Fragrances and tastes have been absorbed to a degree. It feels weakened rather than refined. The tea doesn't taste so fresh, but feels 'greener' in the sense that the roasting is somewhat erased. When cold, I also noticed bitterness in the taste.

- Bigger Yixing zisha jar: I noticed the jar still carried an unwanted storage smell. It needs further cleaning and drying before it can be used properly.

Major Conclusion: Porcelain jars were the best match to store medium roasted Baozhong (and most probably Oolong, too). They clearly helped refine and smoothen the fragrances and taste of the tea.

However, the plastic foil that wraps the inside of the lid of the jars in my selection has an adverse effect on the tea. It may help to protect the lid during transportation, but I strongly advise that you remove it after you have received your jar. (It only takes a couple of minutes with a sponge and water).

I'm not sure this counts as a New Year Resolution, but, from now on, I'll brew my roasted Oolongs and Baozhongs only after having them stored in a porcelain jar for some time! This shows that using a jar for a Cha Xi isn't just about aesthetics, but that the right storage for the right tea will improve the tea.

14 comments:

lastcoyote said...

Hi Stephane,
I'm amazed by this finding on the foil lids having an adverse effect on the tea. Is there any type of tea that would benefit from leaving the foil on the lids?
I also thought the main reason why the foil is on the underside of the lids is to make a tighter fit, and thus being more air tight to preserve the oolong better.

Maitre_Tea said...

Could the adverse effects of the foil lid may have something to do with air flow rather than the foil lid? What I'm saying is: see the results of storing in an airtight container using some "natural" material

Nerval said...

I'd second the first two comments: while I can understand plastic or tin foil have a negative aspect on the tea, will a non-airtight jar work well in the longer term? Common knowledge would indicate oolongs and greens must be kept airtight for longer storage.

There are a few other jar materials you don't mention here. Aluminium tins (common for Japanese tea); glass jars (I keep >50% of my tea in glass; glass jars are less expensive and easier to buy than porcelain). It would be interested to experiment with these two.

lastcoyote said...

I know with regards to wanting to age a tea by longterm storage that Stephane recommends porcelain jars with wax to seal the lid.
But with a porcelain jar that will be dipped into every now and again over a number of months then i'd of thought that it being airtight would be the ideal thing to do. Of course I may be completely wrong :)
Also the test was done on a few years old 'roasted' baozhong. Maybe the no foil suits slightly older roasted teas and a more airtight jar more suitable for current crop non roasted or lightly roasted/oxidized oolong teas. Again i'm just guessing.

Stephane said...

Why is the foil bad for storage? I don't have a definitive answer either. Maybe airflow, maybe the interaction with the plastic or the interaction with the foam and glue on which the foil attached to the lid? The foam could be absorbing smells and/or the glue release some unnatural smells vs an inert, neutral glaze that would just reflect the smells back to the leaves.

Long term, the presence of this foil has affected negatively a perfect OB I had stored for the last 2 years. The same tea, stored in an airtight plastic bag has kept more fresh fragrances.

I will soon also open the sealed Lishan Oolong I have to see if wax sealing has helped or not.

For the really long term, I can only refer to Teaparker (who recommended to remove this foil in the first place!) He stores his roasted Oolongs without wax sealing. He now thinks it isn't absolutely necessary. However, he thinks we can add a layer of natural fabric around the lid to close it more tightly.

Nerval,

Yes, for greener, unroasted teas, the very airtight pewter jar seems best to retain freshness.
As for glass, Teaparker said that many years ago he had tested them with a kind of rubber airtight sealer between the lid and the jar. The result wasn't good. Porcelain does a better job.

What I find amazing is how the smells linger so long after the tea is emptied from the jar (provided you keep the cover on). Now, the smell of my empty Qizhong Oolong jars reminds me of cumin and couscous spices!! Very interesting.

Lastcoyotte,
This roasted Baozhong still counts as relatively new and fresh. For older leaves, it may make more sense to preserve their freshness and keep them more airtight. For unroasted Oolongs probably too. That will be my next test.

Anonymous said...

what about wuyi storage , would that be better with zisha/cermaic canisters?

Stephane said...

A medium roasted Wuyi is very similar in character to a medium roasted Baozhong, so I would say ceramic.

However, if the roasting is very recent and on the (too) strong side, then some time spent in a zisha could help reduce its fire.

Karen said...

Y'know, I never really liked the foil on my jars. I'm happy to have an excuse to remove it.

Hélène said...

Hem !! Please, in french !! Bien sûr, si tu y vois une utilité, Stéphane ! ...Je ne comprends pas toutes les subtilités ... Sorry !

Stephane said...

Hélène,

Comme le sujet est important, je ferai aussi un article (ou plusieurs) en français. Je te demande juste un peu de patience.
Merci.
Stéphane

Hélène said...

Bien entendu, Stéphane ! Je suis surtout enthousiaste et cultive la vertu de la patience via la préparation du précieux breuvage qui nous réunit !! Merci beaucoup.

Petr Novák said...

Hi Stephane,

Really inspire experiments.

Do you notice if amount of leaves in jar is important for this awakening of tea ? My impression is that in jar full of tea is slower, but better (more humidity from leaves, less air) than only leaves on the bottom(may be it works faster?). But may be it is only impression, because you did not mentioned the significant difference between small and big porcelain jar.

Matt said...

Stephane,

Wise teamasters (probably like Teaparker) know that tea should never touch metal, least not be stored in it for long periods of time. If you look back at ancient tea storage containers in China, Korean, and Japan you will see that none are of metal.

Why? This is a matter of the qi level. Elemental transformations of metal are said to control the elements of wood. All tea is of the wood element because tea leaves come from the wood.

"Metal controlling wood" suggests that the qi inherent in metal (in this case foil) depletes the qi of wood (tea leaves). This is especially true if exposed to any metals for long periods of time.

Using this same concept in Feng Shui- this is also why there are never (or very little) metal on a tea table. It is also the reason that all wooden furniture (including tea tables) in ancient China don't use nails to hold it together.

Hope this sheds some light on this interesting subject.

Looking forward to seeing more post on the interesting topic of tea storage.

Peace

Stephane said...

Petr,

I tried to keep a similar ratio of leaves to jar volume for each jar. That's probably I didn't see much difference. However, I agree that for long term, it is best to have the jar full to minimize air.

Matt,

Thanks a lot for your interesting comment and perspective. I agree that most metals are poor choices for tea containers.
But I wonder how much metal there is on the plastic foil? In any case, its interaction with tea wasn't good.

Good pewter, on the other hand, seems to perfom well to 'freeze' the freshness of a tea. (Probably gold and silver, too.) But there doesn't seem to occur a real interaction between the metal and the tea, unlike with porcelaine.