How to Store Tea

January 20, 2014

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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.

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


General Tea Storage


. 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.


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.


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.


How to Store
Green Tea and Green Oolong


Green teas and greener oolong teas like Spring Tieguanyin have the shortest shelf life of all.

Because these greener teas have undergone only minimal processing, they are not as well protected from changes in flavor over time. That is why these taste taste best within four to six 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.


Always keep your 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 and cool place, like a shelf or drawer out of the sunlight. Sunlight will create heat, subtly changing your teas’ flavor.


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 but are not appropriate for every tea. Long leaves that are not curled and rolled can sometimes get crushed under a vacuum. In these cases, be sure to keep your bags sealed between uses, removing excess air whenever possible.

Keep your tea COLD

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 green Anxi oolong 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.


If you are lucky enough to get green teas and green oolongs fresh within a few months 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.


How to Store
White tea, Black tea + Dark Oolong


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 designed to grow over time. However, if you store these teas well, you can feel free to experiment and see how aging changes your teas 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.

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


Unlike pu’er teas, black teas, white teas and darker oolong teas do not need or want an excessive amount of air flow.

Aged Anxi oolong teas does need not be completely sealed from the air; storage in a jar with a piece of cloth underneath the lid usually works well. Most black teas and white teas, however, should be protected from sitting out in the air and the open.

In general, if your tea arrived in resealable bags with food-safe linings, keep using these bags and keep your tea sealed between uses.

. 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.


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 an overly bitter and dry sheng pu’er or a fishy shu pu’er is not likely to yield the best 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.


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.


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. This means that wooden boxes (like cigar boxes) are generally not a recommended choice, because they can impart the aroma of their wood onto all of your teas. Cedar chests and storage areas with mothballs, spices, household cleaners, and other strong smells are also not recommended for this reason.

Stabilize HUMIDITY

Keep a relatively stable humidity.

Keep pu’er away from extremely wet or extremely dry environments. Wet air  – like a basement or a bathroom – will cause mold, and very dry environments – stored with dessicants, etc – 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 your tea is accessible and within reach on the shelf, it is too tempting to drink it all right away. Opened cakes of pu’er can be wrapped in more paper or thin clean 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.


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.




39 Responses to “How to Store Tea”

  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. 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 ;])

  4. 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. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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?

    • 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Thanks for the article, i have a question though, my friend is telling me that i should’t use metal cases for storing tea, that it can hurt the tea. Can someone shed some light on this matter? Thanks!

  12. Trumpetsvamp

    Good to know this in anticipation of my first order from you. With such exquisite tea, I almost feel a bit anxious about learning how to best enjoy them and how to store them properly.

    • Lily Duckler

      Hi Abigail,

      Sounds like your grandma is a pretty cool lady! Thank you for sharing 🙂 Many of our friends also store their teas in ceramic jars, especially roasted oolongs, black teas, and pu’er.

    • Lily Duckler

      Our pleasure – thank you so much for reading! One of the great things about tea is the fact that there are so very many kinds of tea, and each has their own flavor. I have a feeling a tea you’ll love is out there somewhere.. 🙂 Until then, have fun exploring!

  13. I was wondering if I should separate my sheng and shu pu’er teas while storing and aging? Some of my shu teas – such as the 2000 Big Leaf Shu – emit stronger, unique smells and I am worried that it will impact my shengs and even other shus if I store them in the same location. I am considering dedicating a cabinet solely for shengs and one soley for shus. Am I “tea-crazy”, or could that forest-mossy smell (that I absolutely love) be absorbed by other sweeter shengs?

    • Lily Duckler

      Hi Lou,

      Great question! We do recommend storing sheng and shu pu’er separately, if you can. For very small collections, it is not too much of an issue, but when your collection reaches a certain size, it is both often more convenient and pleasant to store the two in seperate boxes. So no – 🙂 you’re not tea crazy! We store our collection in a few different boxes – right now, we have two boxes devoted to Qianjiazhai sheng (yep – we have so much!), another box dedicated to younger sheng (2007+), a box dedicated to older sheng (2005 and older), and a box full of just 2006 (we started our collection in 2008 and 2009, so 2006 still makes up a majority of our collection). We keep shu pu’er also generally seperated by years: younger (2006+) and older (2005-). Part of this is to keep like with like (as you describe), but also to make access easy – for example, when I’m in the mood for an old shu pu’er, I can simply pull down one box and take a look, rather than having to sort through a mixed collection.

      As for aroma greatly impacting each other – I generally find that after the first wash and few steepings, any influencing flavors fade to nothing, and the true nature of your particular tea emerges. So yes, it could be absorbed, but in my experience it takes years and eventually fades after a few quick brews. Some feel that some of these teas may have different cultures that may influence each other, but it is difficult to say – much of that research is still being conducted, and is not particularly clear. It may be fun to break off a few small pieces, place them in a separate box together, and check on them in a few years :). The environment in your own home (do you live in a humid or dry place? Does the ambient temp change through the day, the seasons, the years?) will have a great and unique effect, and it is worth testing for yourself over the years to see what you think!

  14. Does the storage container matter? For example, tins or jars (placed in cabinets of course)… someone in my family insists on plastic tupperware… and sometimes it seems as if the scents of stronger teas ‘sticks’ to the tins/glass unless I rinse with a light vinegar solution..

    • Lily Duckler

      Hi Kate – great question! I usually recommend against plastic, as many plastics have an aroma which can leech into teas. Of course, not all plastics are created equally, and it is possible that a non-reactive and non-aromatic type may come around – just take care and look at your options on a case by case basis.

      When you speak about aromas “sticking” – is this for containers you are reusing to hold new teas? I do thoroughly recommend cleaning between teas, especially if you are switching between something very aromatic. Glazed ceramic is a popular option for this reason, as the bodies can be easily cleaned. Unglazed ceramic and stoneware is a more popular option for storing pu’er, but then again, those teas benefit some airflow, and an airtight storage will retard or halt the growth (maturation) of the tea.

      In general, we recommend containers that are non-reactive. If you have a stoneware jar that you love and you would like to store tea inside, there is nothing stopping you from following that preference. In these cases, however, I often find that I like to dedicate one storage container to a specific kind of tea – if only so that I can remember what teas I have stored where! Pressed tins benefit from good cleans and scrubs in between very differnt teas as they often have small nooks and crannies which can trap aroma and tea dust. This aroma will usually not have a large effect on whatever you store inside next, unless you are storing highly aromatic scented teas, blended teas, or teas with flavorings or oils.

  15. Hello, I am new to loose leaf teas. My question is about storage. I have a FoodSaver vacuum sealer and I was wondering if I could use that to seal my tea. The bag is clear (I don’t have foil bags for my sealer) but I plan to place the bag in a tea tin to save it from exposure to light. I happen to have a lot of tea tins a friend gave me since she had too many. I heard tins were good but I want to extend the life on my tea as long as possible.

    • Lily Duckler

      Vacuum storage is definitely an option for some teas! You see it most often with rolled oolong teas. Their rolled shape protects the leaves against breaking against the side of the bag when the vacuum sucks everything in tightly. In contrast, I wouldn’t recommend using a vacuum on a long, twisted strip-style oolong, because the action of the vacuum might end up breaking or crushing the leaves, which would change the flavor of your next brew.

  16. Abhishek Prasad

    This tea blog contains a lot of information about tea
    I just loved this whole blog but especially I like the most how to store green tea and green Oolong and how to store
    pu’er tea
    thankyou so much for such an amazing blog

  17. Thanks for the article, it’s really informative. I do have a wisdom though. I know we’re supposed to store tra away from strong aromas. Does that include other tea as well? I mean can bagged or loose leaf of different types be stored in an organizer box without taking on each other’s attributes?

  18. Lily Duckler

    Hi Kat – great question!

    In general, bagged and loose leaf teas of different types can be stored in the same area, as long as they are all also sealed. That said, if one of the teas is a strongly aroma timed tea (for example, a jasmine tea or a spiced tea blend), then you may want to consider storing these teas separately. If they are air-tight in their original bags, then the danger of the “strong smell” of the scenting or blending ingredients influencing your other teas is low, but sometimes it is nicer to keep them away to be on the safe sid and for organizational purposes.

    Because of its separate storage needs, I do recommend storing your pu’er together and away from other (non-aging) teas. This is also helpful for organizational purposes! For example, if I accidentally store some fresh green tea with my pu’er, I might end up “losing” the green tea for a year or more, and then my tea will not be as fresh when I want to drink it again.

    Thanks so much for your question, Kat!

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