Loose Tea Storage: How To Store Tea Leaves Properly
Whether it’s tea in bags or loose leaf tea, they won’t go bad easily. The latter, however, can easily go stale and loose its flavour due to it’s delicacy and freshness. In this guide, we’re going to share some useful tips, mainly focused on storing ‘loose leaf’ tea. But before we do that, let’s first discuss why teas go stale.
Note: this article doesn't discuss the storage conditions for dark teas and pu erh teas. Those teas have aging potential and should therefore be stored completely differently. For more info read this article: how to store pu erh tea
Why Tea Leaves Deteriorate in Quality: Oxidation
When tea leaves deteriorate this mainly due to ‘oxidation’. In the world of tea, this refers to the browning of tea leaves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in the production of black tea, the leaves are oxidised on purpose, to allow them to develop flavour and obtain their dark color.
After the oxidation of leaves, another process called ‘fixing’ follows. This stops the oxidation, making the tea shelf-ready. Ironically, it's the same oxidation process that can cause the teas to deteriorate and loose flavor. This happens when dry leaves are exposed to humidity and air.
Tea Type Matters
Green, yellow, white and light oolong teas are less oxidised compared to dark oolong and black teas. Because of this, they’ve more potential for further oxidation, making them more vulnerable to losing flavour when not stored properly.
In contrast, black and dark oolong teas are purposely heavily oxidised. There’s therefore less room for further oxidation and the flavour will be less affected due to imperfect storage.
At last, broken leaves go stale faster than full leaf tea. That’s because there’s more surface area that can potentially get in contact with the air. This is even more the cause with powdered teas, such as Japanese matcha. In addition, tea in powdered form easily absorbs even the slightest amount of moisture from the air.
Buy leaf tea from a reputable source
Investing your time in understanding how to store loose tea will only make sense if you buy from a reliable source in the first place. If you’re receiving un-fresh tea, storing it properly won’t make it better. Before you waste your time, find some trustable sellers. For farm-fresh Chinese tea, you can browse our online store. For teas from other countries, take your time to look around and ask your other tea friends for advice.
4 Loose Tea Storing Tips
1. Keep it cool
Exposure your tea to heat, and it will be ruined in no time. Protect your tea by not storing it anywhere near direct sun light and other heat sources such as ovens and stoves. High temperatures will also increase the change of moisture absorption. If you’re storing your leaves in a glass jar, make sure to keep it inside a dark cabinet.
If you don't want to store them in cabinets, then the best alternative is to store them in non-transparent sealed bags or clay jars.
Some delicate and less oxidised teas should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. At Teasenz, most of our green, white, light oolong, and flower teas are stored below 0 degrees Celsius in the freezer. That’s the only way to keep them fresh and maintain their color, flavour and aroma all year round. However, black, dark oolongs, aged white, and pu erh teas should NOT be stored in a refrigerator/freezer.
In the below picture, you can see how one of our dark tea suppliers stores his tea in a dark room to avoid light, while maintaining good ventilation. This keeps the tea fresh while improving further aging.
The challenge with storing in refrigerators is that there’s a high risk that your leaves will absorb moisture, which we’ll discuss in the next topic.
2. Keep it dry
Tea is a dried product, and almost with any dried food, oxygen & moisture will be their enemy. Thus, it’s important that you keep it away from humid areas, such as cabinets above water boilers and dishwashers.
Now let’s get back to storing teas in your refrigerator or freezer. Both storage in a refrigerator or freezer will slow down oxidation significantly. The cooler the more oxidation is slowed down, making freezers the preferred option.
The benefit of storage in freezers is also that moisture will be condensed and frozen in ice instead of moving around freely in refrigerators. This highly benefits the tea leaves.
To avoid moisture further, make sure to pack the leaves in a sealable bag and press as much as air out of them before you seal them. This is because any remaining air inside the bag can condense and result in moisture on the leaves. The dry leaves might absorb such moisture before the temperature has reached below freezing point (when moisture will turn in ice).
What’s also important to know is that once you open the bags in room temperature, the leaves are cooler than the surrounding environment, and therefore sucking up any humidity from the air quickly. We face this issue on a daily basis while packing our teas and we’ve a few good solutions for this that we want to share with you right now:
- Pack your tea in smaller packages that you can consume within 1 month. Even very delicate green teas will stay fresh in room temperature, when other conditions are met. Therefore, it’s advisable to store let’s say 1 KG of tea in 10 smaller 100 gram packages, instead of one large bag. In this way, you’ll avoid letting the whole content of the bag come in contact with the air every time you open them.
- Wait for 10 minutes until the temperature of the tea leaves are closer to room temperature before you open the bags. This will cause the leaves to absorb less moist from the air when the bag is opened.
3. Keep away from odours
Tea leaves are very vulnerable to odours, for the same reasons they’re vulnerable to humidity. They don’t only absorb moist from the air, but also any odours present. That fact that our jasmine teas are the result of laying fresh jasmine flowers over green tea easily proves this fact. The green tea leaves have fully absorbed the fragrance of flowers.
Of course, letting tea leaves absorb the pleasant aroma of jasmine flowers is a good thing. But you don’t want your dry leaves to smell like chicken soup, beef noodles or thai curries. Kitchen cabinets are therefore not ideal locations for tea.
4. Keep them together
Imagine you keep a tiny bit of tea in a large jar compared to a smaller jar that’s full of tea. It’s a rule of nature that the tea in the latter jar will stay fresh for longer. Because the same inside the jar is filled with more tea, it also means there’s less space available for anything else (=oxygen). There’s nothing else in the surrounding for a tea leaf to absorb, but the same flavour of surrounding leaves.
That’s why pu erh collectors fill up a whole closet with tea cakes. After all, you want your cabinet to smell like tea, instead of your tea smell like the cabinet.
We tried to be very complete in drafting this guide for storing your teas properly. We hope that we didn’t make it too complicated. Stick to the rules laid out in this article, and most of the time you’ll finish your teas before you notice any loss of quality.
Tea & Shelf Life
It's always a challenge to estimate the shelf life of tea because it really depends on storage conditions. Generally, tea is a dry product, it can take many years before it goes bad when stored properly. However, to enjoy your teas in the best condition, you shouldn't wait for too long. See the below list to give you an idea on the best before time ranges.
- Green and light oolong tea (in freezer): 3 years
- Green tea (room temperature): 0.5 - 1 year
- Black tea (room temperature): 2 years
- Light oolong tea (room temperature): 1-2 years
- Dark oolong tea, white tea and pu erh tea (room temperature): doesn't deteriorate and will further age and change flavor
Bookmark this page so you can revisit the rules later! It’s also a good way to stay updated as we’ll constantly update this page in the future when there’s any new research update on this topic.