Unlike most types of teas out there, pu-erhs need a bit of air. So, how can you tell when your pu-erh needs a bit of air? Here are some signs:
A whiff of moldy aroma
It can be very faint and only hit your nostrils on first opening the wrapper, so you’ll have to pay close attention to detect it. If you’ve had the cake stored awhile, you’ll want to check the humidity level in that area and perhaps have a small fan running in the room just to keep the air moving around. The moldy quality, if it’s only very faint, can be removed by airing out the cake. If the cake is a fairly new one to your stock, check it carefully for any visible signs of mold. This indicates poor storage somewhere along the way (tea factory, distributor, tea vendor, etc.) or even possibly a bad cake. Air it first with that fan running in the room (but not blowing directly on the cake) for a couple of days and see how it goes. If the odor goes away and you seen no other signs of mold, you just saved your cake. Otherwise, play it safe and say “Sayonara!”
A generally stale, lifeless aroma
Ever unwrap a cake you’ve had stored awhile and have your high expectations met with a totally lackluster aroma to the cake? Try letting the cake sit outside its wrapper for an hour or two just to get some air. It has worked for me once or twice. Worth a shot. But bear in mind that even if the aroma does not liven up with that air interaction, the flavor could still be good.
Odd flavors when infused
So, you select a cake from storage, unwrap it, break off a nice piece, and prepare for a steep session deluxe. Your tea table, pre-seasoned Yixing teapot, chahai, tea cups, etc., are all set. You do that first short wake-up rinse. And then the moment of truth comes – the first actual steep that you will drink. They are usually only about 15 seconds, depending on which pu-erh you’re infusing. The timer dings. You pour into the chahai and from there into the cups. You sip. Your friends sip. Then come the grimaces. Something is off – waaaaaay off! Stop right there. Toss away the leaves in the teapot. Then, take the cake they came from and set it in a cool place (not the kitchen) that is fairly free of extraneous odors, and let it air for a minimum of 24 hours and ideally about 48 hours. Then, break off another chunk and see how it goes.
Let us know how these work for you.