Whether it's loose leaf tea from the late ’90s or from this year's harvest you got just weeks ago, here is some advice on how to keep your tea fresh.
The word tea is used rather liberally in the US, referring to green, oolong, white, and black tea as much as mint, chamomile and ginger. This guide mainly focuses on pure teas made from the tea plant Camellia Sinensis: green, oolong, white and black teas.
The rules are actually quite simple. Keep your teas away from these five elements:
- Air (Oxygen)
Does tea expire?
Properly stored tea doesn’t expire, but the flavor and aroma will change with time, especially greener style teas. One thing to keep in mind is knowing the difference between tea aging and spoiling. Properly stored tea does not spoil. Like wine and whiskey, when teas age they (slowly) change their flavors. Well made teas don't soil if they are kept away from those five elements aforementioned. Teas are spoiled when they mold. Molding happens when tea leaves are exposed to excessive moisture and heat.
How to keep teas fresh?
Different types of tea have different freshness sensitivities.
The category of tea that's the most sensitive to aging is the greener styles, or lighter oxidized tea. For example Green Teas and Lighter Oolongs. These teas are made to accentuate the grassy and vibrant quality of the raw tea plant and therefore carry a higher "freshness" factor. They are the most sensitive to aging because the freshness quality is the first to fade during an aging process.
Tea doesn't spoil if stored properly, just the flavor will change and in this case grassy to earthy. If you don’t have access to a vacuum sealer and prefers that vegetal flavor, try buying in small quantities and drinking the tea within two-four months.
On the contrary, more oxidized black tea or roasted teas are less sensitive to aging. This family of teas appeal by showcasing flavor nuances created by processing the tea plant (ie. controlled and intentional exposure to heat or air). They may even get tastier with time as the flavor settles, therefore suitable for intentional aging.
How to store tea properly? (Storage)
Storing loose leaf tea in a tea canister, tea caddy, or metalized foil bag is the easier and the most effective. We recommend using a container that is odor-free, blocks sunlight, and can keep the tea tightly sealed. Avoid plastic, paper bags, or clear jars.
Pu-erh teas are the exception, as slight air exposure and variable temperatures actually help them age better. However, it's important to keep them away from odors and excessive moisture.
At home, once open, we suggest keeping teas from us in the foiled bag it came with and wrapped tightly with a rubber band. At our tearoom we pack almost all our teas in 60 grams pack and only cut open the bag when we are ready to use it. We store the rest of the unused tea in canisters.
Much like spices, we also recommend labeling the tea with the date that you got it, that way you know when you received it.
Below is the difference between the green tea from the same farm, two years apart.
Green tea from this year versus green tea from two years ago.
Should I refrigerate green tea?
You could if you have a very large batch and it will take you over 6 months to consume it. Be aware of condensation. Temperature difference in the air builds condensation after the tea is taken out of the fridge. The resulting moisture can causes spoilage if it's excessive.
Although the fridge may extend the freshness of green teas, we encourage you to purchase yours in smaller increments to fully enjoy its vegetal flavor and aroma.
Is it ok to leave the brewed tea leaves out overnight?
Yes, we do this all the time. We suggest you complete your steepings from brewed tea leaves within 24 hours.
In summary, keep your tea in an airtight container, store it in a cool and dry location, away from the sun and strong odors.