The thing that is both intriguing and challenging about raw Puer tea is that it changes. Over time it ages – often referred to as a form of fermentation but seemingly, technically enzymatic oxidation. This is perhaps the most discussed aspect of raw Puer and indeed Puer in general.
Sun dried raw Puer is a living thing that, being stored in such a way that it is open to the environment: it needs to be like this for ageing to occur – is susceptible to the environment; particularly temperature and humidity. This means that Puer is constantly changing, not just over the longer term, but short term changes are constantly occurring too. In Jinghong, where there are effectively only two seasons – one wet, one dry – Puer tea changes noticeably between the seasons. In the rainy season, the fragrance of tea becomes muted, as the tea ages, it goes through stages, loosing it's initial 'green' fragrance and sometimes having an awkward stage before it develops more mature characteristics.
When tea is transported from one environment to another it needs a little time to acclimatise. Older tea seems to be a little more resilient to these changes, but young tea can be fickle and it is worth waiting a while before tasting newly acquired tea.
Younger Puer tea also seems more susceptible to different waters than older tea. We find in Jinghong that water with relatively low TDS and neutral pH (7) or even slightly acid (6.7/6.8), works well and that has been our experience in other regions too. But what works well in one region may not be suitable elsewhere. One needs to also experiment with the temperature of the water, quantity of tea and steeping times in order to find the optimum method for any tea.
Tea should be stored away from stong smells which it will absorb. Puer should be stored where there is air circulation (not in a draught) and with a relatively high humidity (60-80%). Higher humidity helps the ageing process, but if too wet there is a risk of mold. Tea should be kept away from direct sunlight, but it is acceptable to air it which can help remove odours.
Puer should be stored at a moderate temperature; too high will risk the tea maturing poorly but too low a temperature will slow down the ageing process. Storing in an earthenware jar can be useful to help stabilise the storage environment.