Pu-erh tea storage is very important for it’s characteristics / taste. We believe it’s helpful to understand the differences between wet and dry storage although there is no 100% accuracy.
Wet and Dry tea storage
Originally the dry storage is natural way of storing tea without any artificially adjusted conditions to speed up process of aging / maturing ( increased humidity & temperature of storage ) despite of location and it’s natural environment ( humidity & temperature of storage ) . The wet storage is then those artificial adjustments are applied. That means there is a dry storage in Guangzhou or HK although their natural environment is pretty hot and humid most of the year.
This is the traditional understanding of dry / wet storage definition which is still used in places with high humidity and temp. ( like GZ,HK, TW,MAL..etc. )
Since the puerh tea is not only stored in those places mentioned above, the understanding of terms “dry / wet ” has been adjusted to wider scale of humidity measurement. So generally in China the dry stored teas are in places like Kunming , Beijing ..etc. , and wet stored are considered Guangzhou , SH, HK ..etc. Of course some orthodox long term puerh drinkers will oppose this claim sticking to the traditional terminology and call Kunming storage as Superdry storage. In that case there would be no any further term / expression for Tibet storage ( this place is much drier than Kunming ) .
There is no certain % value of humidity written down anywhere which defines what is dry and what is wet and doing so is would be like asking an African and Norwegian what it the winter or summer like.
From Kunming tea vendors / tea drinker perspective , the places like Guangzhou , Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Malaysia , Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand are considered as a wet storage places. Places like Kunming, Beijing, Xingjiang..etc, are considered as a dry storage places.
We use on our website also term “semi-dry” which would refer to places like Simao , Lincang and some places in Xishuangbanna ( although the humidity there is also very high during some seasons ) .
Wet clean storage – refers to wet storage without any unpleasant odors, molds or cardboard taste like notes.
The storage has very important influence on transformation / maturing of pu-erh tea so even within one city or even within one building some differences might be noticeable. For example if you live near by lake or if you live in 1st floor or on 23th floor. The storage ventilation and temperature. All that could change the characteristic of your tea even within 1 year. Common myth of Kunming being very dry.
So what is better , dry or wet stored tea?
Nope, there is no answer for that one. Not from us at least , although we do promote dry stored teas rather than wet stored ones ,due to our personal preference and availability to get good tea of that storage. Wet stored teas transferred to drier place might cause to leaf “die”. Like with anything , too much is not good , with tea is the same. Too wet or too dry can’t be good either.
With most of wet stored teas we went trough , the overall impression is that original taste of pu-erh is covered by wet notes. Mushrooms, wet wood, old barn , laundry room notes..etc , are dominating over the fruity, flowery , honey …etc notes. Also typical pu-erh characteristics like “sheng jing” sweetness or “hui gan” after taste being killed by wet storage in many cases if stored long time.
The other issue is that bringing the tea to the lower humidity place is causing certain storage defects.
More details in Choosing Tea article ( 3.Aged and semi-aged Pu-erh Tea – b)
Many beginning pu-erh tea drinkers are not aware of this difference ( maybe just in theory ) and wondering why tea from Shanghai or Guangzhou vendor tastes very different from what they use to buy from Kunming vendor. In some cases even complaining that their new vendor sold them a fake!
Well, …there are more “fakes” ( fake old teas usually ) in Guangzhou than in Kunming and one of the reasons is the faster transformation / maturing environment ( more about further down ) , but distinguish them by comparing with dry stored teas is not the right way.
If you follow the Chinese pu-erh tea market you will spot that the dry stored teas are generally more expensive / higher rated than wet stored teas. We believe that reason being for that is what we mention in our article.
There is an endless marketing fight between Kunming and Guangzhou / HK vendors with claims like that Guangzhou tea is moldy and smelly Kunming puerh is too dry , green ( not matured ) and can not be even called pu-erh.
I wouldn’t dare to claim where is the barrier between wet and dry ( we label our puerh as dry stored due to the Kunming standard were we are based ) , also what is the right humidity for the “real” pu-erh tea. Some vendors or puerh drinkers do so. Naturally defending their own interests or habits of drinking. The fact , that places like GZ, HK, TW or Malaysia ( all humid environment ) which have the longer pu-erh tea drinking / purchasing / storing history than Kunming , puts their storage in position as the right pu-erh storage. Yet ,the market is changing based on demand. More and more pu-erh tea drinkers , especially beginners or green tea lovers are getting interested in young or semi aged sheng puerhs stored in drier conditions than traditional, due to the certain aspects which traditional storage can not offer. One of them is closer and familiar taste , or lets say, more recognizable / understandable ( differences mentioned above ) .
It is hard and expensive to buy an old, clean wet stored tea for decent price ( foreigners would be willing to pay ) which would have some qualities and taste, rather than “dead leaf” have only the mushroom storage taste without any distinctive notes from other wet stored teas , wrapped with antique wrapper. Buying some tea from XX’s you might end up buying ( in better case ) badly stored 10y old tea. Same as buying a new pu-erh you are risking a chance buying cheap Lincang bush tea instead some Bing Dao from old arbors. It is very up to you which chances are you going to take if chooses to chase some very old or very famous. ( more in Smart Tea Buyer / Drinker ). There is no research with solid numbers done to claim the which of those is more dangerous. Yet a lots of variables are involved to make such a research legit. Same with claim which type of fake is more on world’s market ( in China and abroad ). Of course there will be always somebody coming up with some numbers, which are , again , involve lot’s of variables in order to be legit ( like making and selling those fakes your self to see what sells better 😉
We can judge only from Kunming market perspective and our very personal experience ( we do not put our selves into the ultimate research institute ) when drinking tea in various tea shops, yet not making marking up any particular numbers . There is more mislabeling / false origin claims here than age claims simply because it’s more obvious to spot difference between 5 or 10 years old dry stored tea and not many people are in favor of “dead leaf” coming from Guangzhou wholesale tea market anyway. So only specific vendors are in business here with so claimed 80’s puerh. Yet, mostly sold out of Kunming claimed as KM storage. ( more in Fake Tea ) . It is hard for us to say the situation in Guangzhou, but what we know from friends doing the business there , it’s quite “messy” as well. Lots of stuff apparently also going to Malaysia and Taiwan for re-selling as and authentic (TW or Mal) storage.
Obviously it makes sense. If you do the fake, you do with all details, including the story and place of storage. ( more in Fake Tea ) .