How to Store Tea 'Fresh'

Tea in Storage Needs Some Help to Stay Fresh

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Fresh tea is a wonderful treat, stale tea not so much. Longtime tea drinkers know that buying a favorite tea is only half the battle to enjoying it: Storing it so that the Chinese black tea or Chinese oolong tea stays fresh through the last brewing is the rest of the fight.


Loose-leaf tea is an impressionable delicacy. The texture of a processed leaf seems quite durable, and the aroma of an unbrewed leaf ought to hold its own, one would think. Yet tea leaves are sensitive to their environment. They must be protected if they are to be preserved with full flavor.


Heat degrades leaf over time, robbing it of subtle flavor. How warm is too warm? Cool is best, not chilly, but not room temperature either if the room is 80 degrees. A rule of thumb is that if a stored tea is in the coolest area of a house, it is all right. If an entire house is stifling, on the other hand, one shouldn’t buy more tea than can be consumed in a short while. It won’t keep in a hothouse.


Light has the same impact, with ultraviolet rays doing a job. So if displaying a favorite tea in a clear-glass jar on a kitchen window sill is desired, just don’t expect the last cup to have the same richness as the first cups of the tea: Sunlight weakens and otherwise degrades tea.


Air also negatively impacts stored tea—in two ways. First, the moisture in the air is absorbed by the tea. Tea is an incredibly absorbent food because it is in a dry, relatively porous state. And when tea and moisture get together, the tea begins to release flavor. Tea drinkers don’t want that to happen till they are brewing the tea to drink!


The second impact of air is to expose the tea to odors. Once again, the absorbent tea embraces the odors that visit it. So if tea is kept in an open container in the closet with the garbage can, whatever smell is emanating from the can will become part of the tea-drinking experience. On the other hand, if your closet is full of roses and honeycomb, the resulting tea flavor might be appealing.


So, you are thinking, what do I have to do—put the tea in a bank vault! Don’t be ridiculous: Tea is not that valuable, at least not most of it. However, unless the stored tea is pu-erh, which already has pretty much reached its final state, a tea lover should seal up his teas against deterioration.


These are the surest methods:


  • Store tea in a dark area of the house or in a container that is light-free. If the tea is brewed and drunk regularly, take out a few days’ portion and put in a smaller, opaque container so that the larger store of tea is not exposed on a daily basis

  • Store teas away from odors that aren’t wanted in the oolong Chinese tea or another tea. This includes greasy smells from a stove, pungent odors from garbage, and even strongly scented teas that can overwhelm a more subtly flavored tea.


  • Store tea where there is low humidity. The laundry room, for example, is not a good place. Neither is the refrigerator: Humidity and condensation in the fridge are a constant environmental threat to nearly every tea. The freezer also is not the place


  • Not all containers are created equally when tea is what they contain. Metals and plastics can leach into the tea. Wood containers sometimes contain natural odors. The best containers are formed of glazed ceramic or opaque, non-leaching plastic.


Protect your Chinese black tea or another favorite tea so it will be good to the last cup.


(Want to stay connected to other tea lovers? Check the Tea Twitterati 100, a list of the 100 most active tea industry social media users. The regularly updated list is posted on the website of premium quality tea supplier Wild & Bare Co. wildandbare.com)