So you've just brought home a little pouch of fresh tea. But how do you store your tea ? It's actually a very important point, since storing your tea wrong can reduce the amount of time you can drink from it.
This is also a kind of sensitive point for many tea drinkers, since in some cases there is no clear consensus on a few thing. I'll help you out as best as I can, and you can follow these guidelines as you wish.
Though before we start, we really should talk about a very important feature of tea, and tea drinking in general. Let me explain.
Tea is meant to last for several months or years
Tea will last a reasonably long amount of time, if stored properly. It's meant to be a drink enjoyed over several months or years, depending on the type of tea you've got.
Some teas, like the Pu'er teas, are better with age. Their flavors change over the years, and they need to be stored differently than other teas.
But with most other teas, you will be able to enjoy a nice, hot cup for up to 2 years if you've stored your tea properly.
So don't rush with drinking your tea, for fear of it spoiling. Tea takes a long time to outright spoil. It can lose flavor over time, yes, but most of the time you'll be done drinking it by the time it loses its flavor.
Enjoy your tea, and drink it slowly and deliberately. Don't try and make it last too long, keeping it only for special occasions. The tea will make the occasion.
Now that we've settled that, let's talk about the 11 tips on storing your tea. Some you might know, some might be a surprise. Here they are.
1. Keep tea in a dark place, sunlight damages it
Whichever kind of tea you've got, it should never be left in direct sunlight. This means that whatever container you store it in, it should be opaque. It should let no light in, so this means clear glass containers are not okay. Not even tinted containers.
Just be safe and use a completely opaque container or tin or jar.
This can be extended to where in the house you keep your tea in. Best to keep your tea in a place that doesn't receive direct sunlight as well. For example if you leave your tea in an opaque container on the kitchen counter, and there the sun shines directly on it, that's not okay.
The sunlight brings heat as well, and this will damage the tea inside, even if the sunlight doesn't reach the leaves.
For example with green tea, your color can end up a dark yellow instead of green because of sunlight exposure. And it can become an unwelcome bitter tea if you're not careful.
In many cases your tea vendor will provide the tea in small bags. They are usually multi-ply bags, good for storing a few oz/grams of tea at a time. These tea bags keep light out, and they're usually resealable.
For example here's a couple of tea bags I have from my local vendor. I'm sure you can find something similar in your area as well.
2. Keep your tea in a dry place, humidity will grow mold
Keeping your tea in a dry place will ensure that you won't get moldy tea next time your try and brew it. This means areas like the basement, bathroom, most closets, sometimes the attic, are not okay.
If your kitchen gets very humid when you cook, and you cook often, then that's not a good place to store your tea either.
The moisture in your home, if it gets to your tea, can bring tiny mold spores. There is also the problem of your tea partially brewing once it comes into contact with the tiny water droplets.
If your container can keep out air, it can keep out water as well. So try and find a container that will be airtight as well. We'll touch on this in a bit.
You'll notice humid tea fairly fast. Even if its original taste and smell was a bit pungent, you'll be able to smell the mold right away. If there is no mold yet, but the tea's been kept in a humid place, you'll notice an extra sour smell and taste coming from it.
Brewing a cup will make things much clearer, but it's up to you if you want to try it. I would recommend discarding the tea you suspect went bad. You can always buy new tea, but an upset stomach is never fun.
3. Keep tea in a cool place, heat will damage the flavor
Another very important point, keeping your tea away from high heat. Now if you keep the tea at room temperature it should be fine. But if you keep it in a hot kitchen where you cook daily and the heat rises, this is not a good place to keep your tea.
Especially if you keep your tea on a high shelf. Heat will always rise to the top, and be trapped by the ceiling. This heats up everything you keep in a high shelf or cabinet. And this is true for all seasons, as long as your kitchen has the heat going on.
You might be tempted to keep your tea in the fridge, or the freezer. This is a very debated point in the tea community, and you won't find people agreeing over this.
Some say keeping loose leaf tea in the freezer or fridge is alright, as long as you vacuum-seal it. Vacuum sealing takes out any and all oxygen, which prevents moisture from building up and ruining your tea.
Many Chinese vendors store their teas like this, and if done properly your can keep your tea for many months longer.
That being said, I do not recommend this option because most people don't have the conditions necessary to store loose leaf tea in the fridge or freezer. And even if you do, the risk of ruining a tea outweighs the merit of longer lasting tea, at least in my opinion.
Best to just buy smaller amounts of tea, only when you need them and know you'll be able to drink them within a few months.
So where does that leave you ? Store the tea in a cool place, where the temperature doesn't get past 23 C/ 73.4 F very often. That room can vary from home to home.
In my home most rooms are alright all year round, but the bedroom gets very warm in winter since that's where the thermostat is. Maybe in your home a constant temperature is only possible in the living room, or a hallway.
Take a minute to figure out which room wold be best to keep your tea in, and you'll be thankful later when you've got fresh tea.
4. Keep tea in an airtight container, otherwise you lose flavor
Always, always make sure your tea is exposed to as little air as possible. No air, if you can manage it. This means that the flavor will be kept for a much longer time, because airflow makes flavor evaporate.
It's the same with coffee beans and ground coffee, actually. And all spices too, since all flavors are going to go away when exposed to air, moisture, heat, and sunlight.
Keeping your tea in an airtight container is even better if you can manage to squeeze out all the air out of the bag or tin before you close it. Some containers will help you with that, some can't do that.
The point is that if your container can keep out water, then it can keep out air as well. This usually means a double lid in most metal tea tins, or a rubber lining on the lid in other kinds of containers.
Not only for loose leaf tea though. Tea bags work the same way, and they lose quite a bit of flavor if you leave them lying around. This is also true for tea that's already been brewed too.
The flavor of the tea can and does evaporate, so it's best to keep your tea in an airtight container. Or drink it immediately if you've brewed tea.
5. Do not keep two teas in the same tin
Tea is also very sensitive to other flavors. This happens through direct contact, but also if you keep two teas in the same container but separated.
This is because the flavor and aroma from other items, like flowers or food or a garbage can will penetrate your tea leaves, and it will stay there.
For the most part this is a blessing, since this is how some flavored tea is made like for example Earl Grey (black tea with bergamot flavor). Or Jasmine pearls, which take on the jasmine notes and bring them to your tea.
This also means that if you store your tea in a wooden box, you have to be alright with the aroma of that particular wood, since it will get into your tea.
So if you've got a very floral green tea, make sure you keep it separate from any other tea. Even if you were to place a separator in a tea tin, and add your flowery tea next to a simple green tea, the simple one would pick up the flowery notes anyway.
There is no way of getting around this, other than simply not storing your teas together.
Always use small tea caddies, and only place in one tea type at a time.
Also keep in mind that if your tea was a very strong one, it will imprint its flavor on the container it's in. If you're using wood or paper, this means the scent will be there for a very long time.
For tin caddies, airing them out for a few days should be okay. Ceramic or glass usually don't keep scents that much.
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6. Keep tea stored in bulk to maintain flavor
Keeping your tea in large amounts will sound counter-intuitive to what I just said above about small tea caddies. But ! Keeping your small tea caddy fully stocked is what I mean by bulk.
This ensures that your tea won't have time or room to be exposed to lots of air, because it will always be in its own company.
Of course, your tea will run out at some point. Your stash will get to about half, and then start to dwindle. Once that happens, I recommend drinking what's left of the tea in a short amount of time, and considering getting another batch to fill up the tea caddy.
7. Green teas are meant to be enjoyed in less than a year
Now let's talk a bit about the tea types you will find out there. Or, at least the most common ones. Green teas are very special when it comes to taste and freshness.
The leaves for green tea are fired for a much shorter amount of time than any other tea. This means that it will retain its freshness for less time than, say black tea.
If we were to fire it for longer, we would lose the green, fresh aroma of green tea. And we would end up on the path to an oolong tea, so again no green tea.
This means that the way you store green tea will have to be very strict. Store it as we've discussed above, no heat, humidity, sunlight, airflow. And make sure you drink it in less than a year after you've purchased it.
Actually, it would be best if you can find out from your vendor when your green tea was harvested. The first 6 months after the green tea has been picked and processed are the most flavorful.
It won't spoil after the first 6 months, but it will start to lose its flavor faster.
I recommend putting a label on your green tea, with the harvesting date and the date you bought it on. This way you'll be sure to enjoy it at its fullest.
8. Black, white, and oolong teas can last up to 2 years
The story is very different with black, oolong, and white teas. Black and oolong teas are heavily fired and processed, which will keep them fresh and beautiful for longer.
They can last up to 2 years, even longer in some cases. How much you want to push that date is up to you. But most people will probably go through their tea in less than 2 years, so you should be safe.
White tea lasts for longer than green tea because it's a tea that is only dried, not fired. It will keep longer than green tea, and will provide a more delicate flavor.
Many people actually prefer older, aged white, black, and oolong teas. Their flavor deepens a bit, and becomes more pronounced.
These are not Pu'er teas though, so don't overdo it.
You'll know tea's lost its flavor when it seems very bland and watery, no matter how many leaves you use. And you'll notice it's spoiled when it develops an overly sour or bitter taste, which isn't normal for these teas.
9. Pu'er teas require a bit of airflow, will last many years
Pu'er teas are an accident, at their core. Back when tea was meant to be transported along the Silk Road, travels used to take many weeks or months.
Due to the heat, humidity, time spent in travel, and the tight packaging, the green teas sometimes formed compact tea cakes. The leaves were pressed together tightly, and fermented along their way into the West.
Then, their infusion had a very different taste. This led to people purposefully fermenting tea cakes, and keeping them for years before trying their flavor.
So if you've got a nice Pu'er cake, make sure you give it the tiniest amount of airflow. Keeping it in its ricepaper wrapper is alright, and keep that in a dark, cool storage room. Make sure you keep it in a container that will remain partly open, or get yourself a special Pu'er container.
A small amount of airflow (small is key here) will keep the tea developing and you can age it for several more years.
If you want to break the whole cake and keep it in a tea tin, make sure you use up all of it within two years. Again, here the tin should be airtight and opaque so as to maintain the flavor.
But if your Pu'er is just a few ounces or grams in a tea pouch, and you want to keep aging it, make sure you keep the pouch partially open. Just a bit.
Any changes in humidity (too dry or too wet) will significantly alter your tea's flavor, as will temperature changes.
10. Keep notes or put labels on your tea tins
Keeping track of what teas you've got is going to save you a lot of trouble when looking through your collection. Even if you've got just a few, a label will tell you when the tea was picked (if you can get that info) and when you bought/opened it.
In the case of aged teas, like the Pu'er or if you want to age black tea, it's important to know everything about the tea's age and development.
You'll thank yourself later if you do end up putting labels in your tea tins. And if you've got very similar looking ones, it's going to be much easier to tell them apart than if you just opened them and exposed them to unnecessary air.
Another thing notes and labels would help in is singling out your favorite teas.
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11. Tea bags need to be stored just as well as loose leaf teas
This was all about loose leaf teas, or at least that's what it sounds like. In truth, this applies to teabags as well. Given the general lack of quality in tea bags (compared to loose leaves), you could argue they're not worth protecting.
However there are teabags out there that provide a nice enough tea infusion, even if they're the smaller, broken leaves of your favorite tea.
This means that you've got to keep them in a nice storage place as well.
There are some tea bags that come individually packed, in small, airtight envelopes that also block out sunlight. If you've got that kind of teabags, then you're in luck. They'll keep better than most others.
For every other teabag though, you're going to need to take care where and how you store it.
An idea on how to store your teas at home
When storing your tea you will need a dedicated storage space. Be it a cupboard, or a drawer, or a certain section of your home. The storage space should be cool, dark, dry and able to store several tea caddies or containers.
I use a drawer in my kitchen, in which I've got several tea pouches, boxes, and bags. We cook daily but the windows are always open so humidity or heat are not a problem.
The drawer blocks out the sun, keeps things dark, and there is nothing in the drawer, above, or under the tea drawer that would impart a scent.
If you've got a similar place in your home, feel free to use it as long as it won't hinder your other activities. And as long as small children and pets won't easily get into them.
As for the tea caddies, sometimes they're necessary. If you're buying in large quantities, a tea caddy will be better suited than a tea pouch for long term keeping.
For example this set is made of little caddies that will hold quite a bit of your tea. They're all colored differently so you won't confuse one another.
The greatest thing about them is that they're small enough to be good at keeping the amount of tea you put in fresh, but also large enough that you can still actually use them.
These caddies are also stackable, so you can place them on top of each other if you feel like building tea towers.
I would still recommend you store these inside a cupboard or drawer, or at least away from direct sunlight since they're metal after all. If they heat up from the sun your tea won't be very happy.
You can check the listing on Amazon here, and read the reviews as well.
If you're looking to store your teas the best way, then I hope this article was helpful to you. I know tea is very sensitive and sometimes very expensive.
It's great when we can make a little go a long way. Storing our tea properly makes sure your tea will last as long as it can.
Be reasonable with your expectations of tea, though. Even herbal tea won't last more than a year, even when stored properly. All teas fade in time, except those made to ferment like the Pu'er.
But keeping a green tea for two years and expecting it to be bright and fresh (and green looking) after those years is not a reasonable expectation.
I learned my lesson a few years ago, with a black tea I gifted to my mom. It was a spicy black tea, the kind that would be fairly welcome in winter. Well, after that winter she still had about half left.
The she forgot about it, and about 2 years later I stumbled upon it in her cupboard. I was curious how it was after all that time, so I made a cup.
It was very bland, and this was weird for a spicy tea that was meant to scream cinnamon and cardamom and black pepper at you. Ah well, I ended up throwing it away, and promising myself to never let a tea go to waste like that again.
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