This post details my personal heated storage system.
It’s just a modified version of Marco’s hotbox. As I ran into various issues throughout my time experimenting with it, I had to make some adjustments. These adjustments were: installing a second heat mat on the ceiling of the hotbox, placing the temperature sensor inside a mylar bag, and using bookends to position the cakes and keep them in place.
I tried installing a fan to improve the evenness of heat distribution, and it was an improvement to the single heat mat design, but using two heat mats worked much better in practice, with an average temperature differential of -0.5 degrees Celsius from the sensor’s reading.
- Seedling mat (x2)
- Temperature Controller (C206T)
- Mylar bags
- Boveda packs
- Gorilla tape
The black line is drawn over the temperature sensor, which is oriented horizontally, roughly at center of mass:
Try to replicate the environment of your cakes for your temperature sensor. Since the cakes are in mylar bags standing up, your sensor should be as well. Place the sensor inside a mylar bag and tape it (oriented horizontally) from inside. Place this mylar with the sensor in it in the center of the hotbox, with even amounts of tea on each side. The location of the sensor should be at center-of-mass.
This mylar bag holds the temperature sensor, and should be placed in the center of the box:
Keep the hotbox mostly full to improve temperature stability. Note that there’s also such thing as too full. This is a reasonable amount of tea to fit in the box:
- Pre-condition the tea at room temperature by throwing a Boveda pack and a cake of tea into a sealed mylar bag. Every couple of weeks, check the generated relative humidity by removing the Boveda pack and placing a calibrated hygrometer into the bag with the tea and sealing the bag for 4 hours. When the tea has reached your target humidity, make sure to remove the Boveda before placing the sealed bag into the hotbox. (Note: the time it takes to measure generated RH depends on the compression of the tea among other factors. Most loosely compressed tea cakes will get you an accurate reading in only 2 hours, but it’s better to wait extra just to be sure.)
- Use bookends to position the mylar bags and keep them in place.
- Upon removing a cake of tea from the hotbox, open the mylar immediately to prevent condensation inside the bag. You can close the bag once the tea has cooled down.
- Wait a month after removing your tea from the hotbox for any serious evaluation. Puer can suffer jet-lag after major temperature swings.
- It’s advisable to spend the first 6-12 months of storage just storing samples of a diverse array of teas at various temperatures and humidity levels to get an idea of how each variable affects each tea. Work out the kinks in your setup before committing any full cakes.
- As heat evaporates moisture from the tea cakes in sealed mylar, the relative humidity increases a few percent. I’m currently working on generating some tables of data to demonstrate this, so for now refer to Marco’s post. As RH rises, the storage effect changes. I notice that with teas stored at 40C, pre-conditioned to mid-high 60s RH, the storage on the tea becomes more humid, which encourages using more leaf.
- After roughly two years of heated storage experience, I have formed a preference for 36C storage of raw puer pre-conditioned to 65% RH. This is my default recommendation, since it matures the tea much faster than 32C (though slower than 40C) at the same pre-conditioned RH, while not coloring the tea with storage notes as intensely as 40C. Less-aged teas are more likely to develop storage notes such as the lemon ester note when stored at high temperatures (~40C+) at sufficient RH levels.