Once you open your package of tea, with the exception of pu-erh and aged teas, many of your loose leaf teas have a shelf life. Many of them can go bad, which begins with a decline in flavor. If you want to experience everything your tea has to offer, then you'll want to drink your tea at its peak freshness. We’ll cover some of the important things to know so that you can make the most out of your enjoyment of tea.
The three most important factors that negatively influence the life of your tea are: (1) air, (2) light, and (3) moisture. The first two contribute to the oxidation of your tea while the third can spoil it.
What is Oxidation?
Oxidation is a process where chemicals begin to lose electrons and thus their properties change. This is the same process that converts iron into rust, changing it from strong to brittle, and it is the same process that turns your bananas from green to brown. To use a metaphor, you might say that oxidation causes your tea to “rust,” as the resulting flavor is usually weaker than when it was first prepared.
Oxidation is not necessarily a bad thing. The oxidation process begins the moment the leaf is plucked from the tea bush or tree. Tea masters and expert roasters then use different methods, from withering and steaming to frying and roasting, to try and control how much the tea is oxidized. These steps change the chemistry of the tea, giving us our green teas, oolongs, black teas, and more!
The problem begins when our teas begin to oxidize passively due to factors that were unintentional, such as light and oxygen. What was once a vegetal, rich, and brothy green tea becomes a stale cup of badly flavored water. If you’re lucky and catch it early enough, your tea might simply taste “off.”
Storing Your Tea
For the reasons above, some stores you visit might pressure you into purchasing a tea tin or airtight canister for storage. Such tea tins aren’t necessary though, and you certainly shouldn’t purchase one simply out of fear. As long as teas are sold in resealable bags that block light, your tea will be just fine.
In fact, when purchasing a tea tin, you certainly don’t want to purchase one too large because more space means more air, which is the thing we’re trying to avoid. For this reason, I would recommend using the resealable bag in many cases, especially because you can squeeze excess air out of it before resealing it.
Another benefit of the resealable bag is that most of them usually block out light that can contribute to tea oxidation. Whenever a place stores their loose leaf tea in glass containers or storage jars, you will notice that their tea almost always looks lifeless, even sapped of some of its color. Light usually contributes to this misfortune.
Are there benefits to purchasing a tea tin? There certainly can be. When selecting one, do it with an eye to three qualities: (1) how well it blocks light; (2) how well the lid seals; and (3) how much you enjoy its visual appearance. Tea tins and storage jars are display pieces, and they should be treated as such. Other than decoration, they’re not necessary.
Finally, you want to be especially careful to avoid letting moisture get into your loose leaf tea. Tea is an organic product, and when moisture is added, you run the risk of mold developing, especially if it’s stored in a warm area without any light. The last thing you want to do is drink some moldy tea.
Hopefully these tips can help you make some better purchasing decisions and gives you an idea of what to look for when you’re shopping around. At MeiMei Fine Teas, we care the most about keeping your tea leaves fresh and in good shape, and so we always select the packaging that we believe accomplishes those goals!