When it comes to storing tea there are some important questions to both ask and answer with regards to this one. These questions include, is the tea loose leaf or is it rolled tea (pearls)? Also, is it black, green, oolong or something else? These factors play a role in proper storage of tea.
For example, the lighter green teas lose their flavor and quality faster than the robust black teas. And fermented tea like pu-er is intended to be kept and stored for years. It is helpful to consider tea the same way many people consider wine. Just like wine, tea has its own unique styles, lexicon, attention to terroir, climate, growing techniques, harvesting methods and regions. Giving proper respect and care to how tea and wine are stored makes the difference between a superb beverage and a mediocre cup of something other than just water.
But does tea spoil?
To start, properly stored tea will not “spoil”, meaning it does not necessarily have a shelf life like other food. But, the flavor and quality of your tea will begin to fade over time depending on the type of leaf. Teas that are produced from larger leaves and are tightly packed and rolled like many of the pearl style tea leaves will last much longer than broken or smaller leaves. The more leaves are exposed to air, light, moisture, heat and other aromas the more they will lose their flavor and quality.
How to store it?
Given the prior warnings about excessive light, air, moisture, heat and other flavors and aromas that can leech into the tea to make for a reduced quality tea, lots of care should be taken to find a good spot for your tea. An excellent way to store tea is in an opaque spot, box or tin. One that is air tight or as air tight as possible and is also stored in a cool place free of excess moisture.
Storing your tea with an item or material that can absorb excess moisture such as charcoal is ideal, especially if you live in a climate with high humidity or a heavy rainy season. Vacuum sealed packages or even the classic tin box can be great places for tea storage. Also make sure to store tea in a place that is not surrounded by strong or powerful aromas. Storing tea and coffee alongside one another makes sense due to their shared role as caffeinated pick me ups, but coffee’s powerful aroma can reduce the quality of your tea. The same goes with other foods and spices.
No fridge time
Storing your tea in a cool place should not result in it going in the refrigerator or freezer. However, there are a few reasons as to why. To start, the fridge is home to lots and lots of different food aromas and scents. Think kimchi or another food rich in spice and flavor. Tea exposed to these scents can have its quality and flavor greatly reduced.
The level of cold air may also be too strong for your leaves, especially in the case of tea in the freezer. And another reason tea should not go in the fridge or freezer is because when the tea is removed and the package is opened, the warmer and colder air meet and cause moisture to accumulate on the leaves’ surface. The excess moisture can also degrade your leaves, and the excessive switch from warm to cold will not be good for your leaves quality or shelf life. It is possible to put tea in the fridge if it is an unopened container or bag that you plan on storing for some time, but this is in a rare case.
A handy checklist
So to recap, tea has a virtually unlimited shelf life if stored properly. In the case tea is stored properly there is essentially “no expiration date”. But the following criteria should be met and the following factors should be considered when it comes to storing tea and considering how long tea can last.
- Is your tea stored in a dark place where it isn’t exposed to excessive or direct sunlight?
- Is your tea stored in a cool place?
- Is your tea stored in a place that does not have excessive moisture or humidity?
- Is your tea stored in a place it is not exposed to other strong scents, odors or aromas?
- Is your tea smaller loose leaf or open leaf? Then it will retain its quality for 6 months up to a year or so.
- Is your tea tightly packed or produced from large leaves? Then it will retain its quality for 2 or more years if stored properly.
- Is your tea green tea? It will retain its quality if stored properly for up to a year.
- Is your tea Oolong, black, whiteor fermented tea? Then it will retain its quality for 2 or more years, fermented tea like pu-er, if stored properly, can increase in quality decades or more.
Tea like fine wine
Hopefully our handy guide has cleared up some questions, misconceptions and concerns posed by the earnest tea enthusiast. Here’s to hoping your tea lasts a lifetime!
“Common Tea Questions.” TeaClass, www.teaclass.com/lesson_0304.html.
“How to Store Black Tea Properly.” TeaVivre, www.teavivre.com/info/how-to-store-black-tea-properly-2.html.
“The Ideal Places and Methods for Storing Pu-Erh Tea.” TeaVivre, www.teavivre.com/info/store-pu-erh-and-other-teas.html.