How to Store Tea

Tea is one of the most affordable luxuries in the world. Learning how to store your loose leaf tea properly will help you get your full value out of each sip, even months after buying. It is easy to forget, but real people across China are picking your tea by hand, carefully processing it and making sure that it is packed and sealed to survive the long journey to your teacup. This tea storage guide is here to help you extend the care put into each leaf, all the way up to the moment you take your first sip.

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Let’s start with some general rules that apply to storing all teas, regardless of type or processing technique:

Store Tea in a Dry Environment

Keep your teas dry and away from excess moisture. Dampness and humidity can dramatically reduce the tea’s lifespan, and could even cause mold to form.

Store Tea away from Strong Smells

Tea will absorb the aroma of anything stored nearby, which is why we always recommend keeping your loose leaf tea away from strong smells. This may mean that that kitchen cabinet is not your ideal choice for protecting fine looseleaf tea, especially spice cabinets and pantries. Cupboards or bookshelves in living rooms or studies are good candidates, as are clean linen closets away from bathrooms.

Stay Organized

Try and keep your teas organized according to a system that makes sense to you.  An unorganized pile of tea bags is not ideal storage. Without organization, you won’t know what you have, or when you purchased it. An organized tea shelf helps you quickly identify your options and make choices based both on your taste preferences of the day, and on what is freshest.

Keep Notes

This is related to staying organized. When you buy a tea, make sure to write down the harvest season if that information is available from the vendor. Teas do have shelf lives, even when properly stored, so being aware of the amount of time you have to drink a tea can be very helpful.

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How to Store Green Tea and Green Oolong Teas

Green teas and greener oolong teas like Hand Picked Tieguanyin have the shortest shelf life of all. They taste best within four months of picking. While they do not ‘spoil’ when kept longer than four months, they do begin to fade in flavor. Following a few basic tips will help you keep your green teas and green oolongs fresh for as long as possible.

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Keep your tea away from sunlight

Always keep the tea sealed in an airtight container that blocks out all light. Glass jars are not acceptable for tea storage because sunlight over time damages the leaves. Keep the tea in a dark cool place, like a shelf or drawer out of the sunlight. Sunlight will create heat, subtly changing the teas flavor.

Vacuum Seal for Longer Life

If your tea is sealed in a pouch, make sure that there is as little air as possible when you close the pouch. If you have a vacuum sealer, vacuum-sealed foil bags of tea have the longest shelf life.

Can You Store Green Tea in the Refrigerator or Freezer?

If you have a vacuum-sealer, you can feel free to thoroughly seal your tea in a moisture-free environment, and store it in the refrigerator on a colder setting, or the freezer. This is a contentious point in the tea community, because improperly-sealed tea stored in a freezer will be damaged. However, all Chinese tea vendors store their green teas and Tieguanyin vacuum sealed in large freezers. If you have the resources, feel free to do the same. This will extend the freshness of the tea from four months to about a year.

Drink Your Tea!

If you are lucky enough to get green teas and green oolongs fresh within a month or two of picking, then by all means, drink the tea. Green teas, even fine ones, should not go in the “save for the right occasion” pile. The tea will make the occasion. Seize the moment: drink your tea and thoroughly enjoy the way the tea wants to be enjoyed.

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How to Store White Tea, Black Tea, and Dark Oolongs

While green tea has a definite shelf life, white tea, black tea, and darker oolongs like Big Red Robe and Dancong can be kept for a much longer period of time. Many in the tea world actually prefer the taste of aged white tea, aged black tea, and aged oolong. There is a belief that the aging process mellows the tea and lets the flavors get richer. On the other hand, most aged oolongs reflect the amount of years they’ve been processed and aged by their original tea master, refiring and reprocessing every year.  We generally recommend drinking black tea, white tea and darker oolong teas within two years, unless it is a specifically aged white tea designed to grow over time.

Since shelf life is not as much of an issue issue, you just need to be sure to store your black teas, oolongs and white teas in a way that protects them degradation and keeps them organized enough for you to find and enjoy.

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Keep your tea away from sunlight

Use an airtight container that blocks out all light. As with green teas, sunlight and airflow will degrade the tea’s quality over time. Clear glass jars are not an acceptable storage method.

Keep away from Smells and Damp

Keep the tea sealed away from humidity. Drawers and shelves out of the way of the kitchen smells and basement humidity work best.

Keep Notes on your tea

You can find out for yourself if you like black teas better after eight months to a year if you write down your impressions and keep your notes with the tea for later comparison. Your notes will help you form your own informed personal preferences.

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How to Store Pu’er Tea

Pu’er is another world entirely. People make and lose fortunes investing in pu’er, and betting on this unique tea’s slow fermentation process. Most pu’er does in fact become more complex over time. Astringency mellows out, darker and richer flavors come through. Textural complexities become more pronounced. Starting with an intriguing young pu’er of high quality with lots of textures and flavors at play will increase your chances of graceful aging. Starting with a bitter and dry sheng pu’er, or a fishy shu pu’er is not likely to yield good results, even given a long time to age. Follow a few basic guidelines and you will be thrilled with the ever-changing and ever-growing nature of pu’er.

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Allow Proper Air Flow

Do not store pu’er in air-tight containers. If you have only a few ounces, and you plan to drink your tea in eight months or less, airtight pouches are fine.  For long-term investment, slow airflow is needed to encourage further development of the tea’s character. If the tea is looseleaf in a pouch, just leave the pouch partially open, or transfer the tea to a ceramic non-airtight jar.

Avoid Strong Smells

Keep pu’er away from smells. Pu’er is a sensitive, growing thing. Any smells you expose it to will be absorbed, and ultimately affect the flavor.

Stabilize Humidity

Keep a relatively stable humidity. Keep pu’er away from extremely wet or extremely dry environments. Wet air will cause mold, and dry environments will slow down the tea’s development. Sudden changes in humidity can disrupt the trajectory of a tea’s development.

Pack It and Forget It

For long-term investment, get a big paper or wood box, put your pu’er inside, and forget about it in a closet for a year or two. If it is on the shelf, it is too tempting to drink it all right away. Open cakes of pu’er can be wrapped in more paper or cloth if the rice paper wrappers are torn or loose.

Protect your tea

For long term storage, it is best to leave your pu’er cakes in cake form. Breaking a cake apart is great if you plan to put it in a jar and drink it over the next two years.  New leaf will be exposed to air, and the tea will be easy to access any time you want to enjoy with friends.  However, if you plan to move your tea around often, leaves can be broken over time. The original cake or brick form protects the tea leaves over many years of storage.

Don’t worry too much!

There are a lot of pu’er fanatics out there that might try to convince you that pu’er storage is a matter of life and death. Well… it isn’t. Pu’er was an accidental discovery to start with- cakes of green tea that fermented under the heat and moisture of mule and camel packs on long journeys. One degree of temperature variation or humidity difference is not going to hurt your tea. Just try to store the tea somewhere safe, and enjoy it. Remember, you purchased your tea for your own enjoyment.

Keep Notes

It is extremely fun to start a pu’er logbook for each cake of tea that you have and record the way it changes each year. After several years, you get a full idea of the tea’s trajectory, which will help you understand pu’er aging in general.

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Published on by David Duckler

Green teas, and green oolong teas have the shortest shelf life of all. They taste best within four months of picking....

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Tea Storage TinsTea Storage Tins
Sun Dired Jingshan GreenSun Dired Jingshan Green
Autumn Harvest Laoshan GreenAutumn Harvest Laoshan Green
Autumn Harvest Laoshan BlackAutumn Harvest Laoshan Black
Qianjiazhai Old Growth 2012 ShengQianjiazhai Old Growth 2012 Sheng
Master Han's 2004 Loose Leaf Shu Pu'erMaster Han's 2004 Loose Leaf Shu Pu'er

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Posted Comments

  1. Ash-Lee (DaisyChubb)

    Thank you for this article!
    I have a lot of oolong drinking to do! sounds good to me – every day will be an occasion!

    I do appreciate having this info all in one place – it will be bookmarked forever (until it gets in my head and I don’t have to reference the page anymore).

  2. LC Aponte-Blizzard

    This is great! It’s definitely something I’m bookmarking as well. Glad that greens and green oolongs don’t last as long, gives me an excuse to drink more and get more, right? :)

  3. Jesse

    Definitely a needed and well appreciated article! There’s so much being said out there, speaking mainly along the lines of pu’er storage, that it’s nice to see an informed article telling me it isn’t necessary to make a cave in my backyard for my tea (though, if it came to it, I may be willing to ;])

    • LC Aponte-Blizzard

      I want a tea cave, myself! I’m picturing something out of Batman, with a tea desk that rises from under the water.

  4. Bruce

    I was going to send you and email inquiring about all this! I literally was thinking last week, “I wonder what david duckler would say about how to ‘properly age’ puer tea, and/or long time storage different kinds of teas!” Much appreciated!

  5. Charlotte

    I drink my green teas fast, but I always feel kind of bad about how fast I go through them sometimes. I think I should wait and save them for a special occasion, but now I know I don’t need to. Plus, tea being relatively inexpensive I really don’t need to!

  6. Juanita

    oh goody. This knowledge is now enabling me to buy white tea in quantity. I had no idea that this least oxidized tea is more durable than greens.

  7. Juanita

    I had no idea that white tea is more durable than greens. This is going to enable me to purchase more of this tea, as well as several black tea types in bulk. Plus I am reminded that puers are like living entities that don’t like to be locked away from oxygen so I will remember to give it breathing holes.

  8. Char

    That’s why my greens have been going stale… TY for the article!

  9. Joely (Azzrian) Smith

    For me – keeping track of harvest season – logs – dates etc is what I need to work on! I will do better…I promise :) Great article – thanks David! Have a great trip to China!

  10. Jodi

    Love the article – good to know!

  11. Michelle

    Looks like I have some reorganizing of my tea collection to do – and prioritizing what I drink first!

  12. Charlotte

    I’m curious David, how do you store your teas that are available for sale for us, especially the oolongs, greens, and white teas? How do you keep them fresh for when we order them?

    • David Duckler

      Hi Charlotte,
      I store almost all of our tea in China actually. Because we are such a small company and I can’t invest in all the vacuum sealing equipment and walk in coolers I would want, I will buy up a harvest in Laoshan and let the He family store it for me in its orinal environment, vacuum sealed in small 250g bags and refrigerated. I will get enough tea shipped over for about 2 weeks and leave it all sealed until the tea is ordered. Bags are only cut open to pack, so the tea is not exposed to outside air for more than 30 seconds or so before being sealed in our durable bags. Next year, we might do more of our own storage if business keeps growing. That would allow me to keep more tea in stock at a time.

      • Charlotte

        Wow, I would not have guessed that. I thought you had it all shipped over at once and kept it all stored in refrigerators or freezers on site. Hopefully with all the business you have been accumulating you will be able to do more of your own storage.

  13. JD

    Thanks for the clear write-up! I appreciate that your reasoning is backed up with facts.

  14. Christine

    I keep my tea in glass canning jars in a dark cupboard. I always cut off the label and add it to the jar. The cupboard itself is dedicated only to tea and innocuous staples like flour that won’t affect the flavor of my tea. It works out pretty well.

  15. yssah

    good to know! i wont be buying a lot of greens then. just enough to consume within a few months :)

  16. Sarah

    Great information! Go figure, my favorite tea has the shortest shelf life. It’s good to know this, but now I have to focus on drinking through my current stock of green teas before buying more.

  17. Charlene

    Love the article very informative. Also loving the new tins!

  18. Scott

    Interesting! I didn’t understand that different teas required different storage techniques. Thanks for writing!