Storing tea properly is critical to preserving its freshness for months on end. Typically, when someone buys tea they are unsure of whether they should keep it cold, warm, or away from sunlight etc. and are also unclear regarding the shelf life of most teas. In this article we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions on this topic in order to give you a better idea of how to enjoy your tea better both in freshness and over long periods of time.
The ideal way to store tea is at slightly cool temps in dry area that is free of moisture and sunlight. First, when we say cool we do not mean to refrigerate the tea. For Puer and Oolongs especially, placing them in a refrigerator will cause the oxidization properties as well as many of the healthy components found in tea to dissipate. Slightly cool would ideally be in a room that maintains a constant temperature such as an air-conditioned room in the summer. In the winter, rooms are typically cool and it is highly unlikely that turning the heat on will affect teas unless the teas are placed directly on top.
Dry areas are important because moisture affects the quality of tea such as how many times you can brew it and maintain a fresh taste. In Taiwan, for example, it is very difficult to keep a bag of loose-leaf tea dry once it is opened since the humidity is so high. To avoid this, dealers have their tea supply constantly stored at room temperature and turn on dehumidifiers to regulate moisture in the room in order to avoid problems. Remember, all teas are dried after being picked in one way or the other as to capture the taste produced throughout the fermentation process.
Sunlight meanwhile can over stimulate a tealeaf causing it to dry up. To understand what this looks like, make a pot of tea and when finished, keep the leaves inside for a couple of days and take a look. You will find the leaves are all shriveled and dried up, much like a prune. We do not recommend making prune-like tealeaves and thus, high amounts of direct sunlight should be avoided.
If you keep the leaves stored in a cupboard we recommend they be not placed next to other fragrant items such as spices, as the two scents may overlap and affect the quality of the leaves. If this area is dry, room temperature and next to dry foods such as canned goods etc., then you should be able to keep your tealeaves in good condition.
But wait, there is one other factor that is extremely important – keeping the leaves packaged well. If you have a loose-leaf tea bag opened all you need to do is make sure to seal it as much as possible. It will be difficult to air seal it like the way it was once you bought it but simply using a rubber binder or a clip will make a big difference. Leaving the bag open will cause too much air to get in and will take away from the flavor. You are also at risk of dust entering should you choose to leave the bag wide open.
There are a variety of seal-tight canisters available in the market that you can dump the tealeaves into for good storage. Make sure, however, other food items have not been used inside in order to prevent aromas from mixing. Someone we knew once kept Whey protein in a canister and thought by rinsing it out would get rid of the smell. Little did he know that despite there being no apparent smell after the initial washing it came back after drying but it was too late since the tealeaves were already dumped inside. He ruined a good tea as a result and found it hard to stomach Whey protein green tea.