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.
. 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.
How to Store
Green Tea and Green Oolong
Keep your tea AWAY FROM SUNLIGHT
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.
Keep your tea SEALED FROM THE AIR
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.
DRINK YOUR TEA
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
. 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 + 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 WELL SEALED
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
.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. 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.
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.