I'm quite fascinated by the world of pu-erh tea. The really good, aged stuff is not only expensive, but difficult to come by. Time seems to be the necessary factor in softening a good but harsh & young tea. The cooked method of production sought to overcome the time issue by replicating the taste of an aged product using moisture and heat, but has produced a different (though often still quite enjoyable) taste experience.
However, I'm curious if anyone has had any luck in experimenting with a young, raw cake and using an at-home technique (e.g. steaming, baking, putting in a sauna?!?) to soften/change/improve the taste? Any interesting experiments that have led to a different (but positive!) pu-erh drinking experience?
I think that, unfortunately, there is only one way to help the aged flavor come out faster. When you buy the cake/brick, you can carefully set about breaking the cake up into 'loose' form. When your doing this, try not to break many of the individual leaves because it will eventually impart a bitterness to your tea. You can store the broken cakes in clay pots or jars.
Although it may not be immediately apparent, you should start to notice subtle differences in flavor and sometimes appearance in a couple months.
A good experiment to do is to buy a cake or brick, and break up about half of it. Leave the other half intact. After 2 or 3 months, taste them side by side and see if you notice a difference. Its not a vast one, but there will be some faster changes.
Also, depending on your humidity and heat levels, tea stored in "wet storage" will tend to develop quicker. This is why tea stored in Hong Kong will generally develop faster than tea stored in say, Vancouver.
Thanks for the response. I have to say that I'm impatient at times and some of the raw cakes that I have just aren't developing as fast as I would like; I'm sure this is a common complaint
I've heard on other boards that people have tried methods to steam, bake, alternately steam and bake, add microbes, etc to experiment with changing the pace of aging. So far, I haven't heard of too many success stories, though I'm sure that if someone comes up with a great method, they might be wanting to patent it or something before sharing.
Interesting thing is that Seattle and Vancouver have pretty high humidity levels: Vancouver is at 62.9% today and HK is at 65%. Our different weather systems and more temperate marine climate means that we feel less of the humidity than HK, but it's there. I wonder if we were to store our pu'ers out in the open, if they could be considered to be partially wet stored (in contrast to a more inland, very low humidity locale that would be dry stored)? Just curious.
I think that Vancouver can store tea alright, however its quite a bit less humid than ideal from what i have heard.
In the spring, Hong Kong can reach as high as 90%. Summers are 75 to 85%, and autumn is generally around 65 to 75%. So throughout the year, these humidity fluctuations will rise and fall, but on average are quite a bit higher than Vancouver or Seattle.
Also, a couple friends i have from Hong Kong think that Vancouver is comparatively quite dry.
Im sure that Vancouver or Seattle is good enough though, i think you would have to worry more if you were living in Alberta or Saskatchewan.