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Guide to Proper Storage of Tea

The authenticity and the quality of every tea depend upon its coloring, flavor and the aroma. These characteristics are what define the sweetness in tea. It is therefore essential to look for ways to maintain all the three from the time they are picked, transported and even stored. Ideally, tea storage is a bit more complex than the other processes. But also, it is the easiest part for individuals who know what they are doing. Good storage is imperative for a longer shelf life, freshness and the typical flavor of the tea.

How to properly store tea

teahouse of tea storage

Just like any other plant, once tea leaves are harvested and processed, they begin to deteriorate in both taste and flavor. During processing, tea can either be oxidized or not. Mostly, this is how most of the tea varieties are obtained. The specifications of the mode of processing for each tea variety explain how they lose value. 

Those tea varieties that are not oxidized like green tea, yellow tea, and pu erh, have a tendency of getting oxidized with time if not stored well. And since they are normally prized for their vitality and lack of oxidation, the continued oxidation is a form of deterioration.

For those that are purposely subjected to heavy oxidation, there is the least possibility for further oxidation. Even when it happens, it is almost impossible to notice it in the cup. This is the case with black teas and the oolongs that are heavily oxidized.

One more fact about tea leaves is that those broken deteriorate faster than those not broken. This is because they have a larger surface area exposed to air than those not broken. It is therefore important to keep the leaves in good condition.

Now, before we analyze the best ways to store tea, let's talk about 'tea aging.' Is tea aging a special case of tea storage? By definition, the goal of "aging" is to allow the tea to change with time so as to increase palatability. What really happens during this process depends on how the tea is stored.

1. Hermetic seal storage

This involves the use of an airtight container to store tea. The ambient oxygen initially present in the container allows the tea to get oxidized slowly over time. Typically, the oolong teas apply this form of storage which lasts for many years. 

2. Non-Hermetic seal storage

Puer and the other post-fermented teas are subjected to some level of moisture meant to influence the aging process during storage. This way, over time the teas undergo both oxidation and fermentation. For Maocha tea, this aging process is done under lower temperature so as to preserve the oxidation enzymes within the leaves hence prolonged oxidation. 

How do we store the different types of tea?

Black tea can be stored in a sealed package inside a refrigerator to avoid high temperatures and bad odor. It is however important to note that long preservation of tea in the refrigerator can degrade its quality. Another way that black tea can be stored is by the use of airtight iron tins. The tins should be leak proof and in good condition. This is a cheaper method but is not the best choice for long term storage. You could as well use a vacuum flask or airtight ceramics jar. Another interesting method is the use of charcoal-sealed method which utilizes the moisture absorbing nature of charcoal.

The general conditions for the Oolong storage include keeping them airtight at room temperature free from air and light. However, there are several types of Oolongs which makes it hard to propose a universal way of storage. Most oolong teas come from the green types which are less durable and should be consumed earlier enough. The roasted Oolong can last a little much longer. Mostly, the roasted Oolong are roasted.

pu erh tea storage

Mostly, pu erh is stored using the aging technique. A suitable container that controls humidity and airflow, which are pertinent for the aging process. If the compressed tea leaves are broken up, it is best to store them in unglazed clay jars which are preferably from the Yixing clay. This is because the jars breathe allowing slow but constant airflow, regulate humidity, and maintains the temperature. Remember to check for any unfriendly odor in the container before storing them.

Typically, the matcha is stored in a bag inside an airtight container and placed in a cool and dark place like in a refrigerator. When properly stored, the matcha normally last for a period of about 2 months before it begins to become less fresh in the fridge. So, the matcha should be consumed early enough.

There are three main enemies of white tea - light, air and odor. The only way to keep white tea fresh for longer is by avoiding these conditions. You should therefore store tea in a cool and dry place far from light and any strong smell. Plastic bags are not so good since they sometimes possess some odor. Tins work better. The tins should however be made air free before storing the white tea.

The conventional brown and amber glass bottles method can work great for herbal tea. These bottles are specially designed to keep off light and all the unfavorable conditions. But if you can't afford these bottles, you can use the regular jars with lids. Clean them and let them dry before placing the tea in it. The bottles should be placed in a cool and dry place.

matcha tea storage

To preserve the freshness, green tea should be placed in an airtight tin that keeps off any light then stored in a refrigerator. You should try to remove as much air from the tin as possible. Resealable bags normally work better since you can squeeze out as much air before storing the tea. For short term storage, the tea can be kept in room temperature. But, for long term storage, the refrigerator works best; just remember to allow the it come to room temperature when you want to open.

Summary of the general conditions for tea storage

i. Keep tea away from strong odors

Tea leaves can absorb any scent within their surrounding. This is what normally happens when jasmine scented tea is being produced. However, this nice characteristic can sometimes be detrimental when bad odor comes in contact with tea. This means that you should not only avoid unpleasant odors but also shun containers with a strong smell. 

ii. Oxygen-free storage

tea storage

Oxidation of tea leaves continues over time when exposed. Even in airtight containers, ambient air will still oxidize the tea. Some manufacturers do normally use oxygen-absorbing packets or even nitrogen-flushing to vacuum-seal tea. The oxygen-absorbing packets are however used mostly for long-term storage since opening and closing the container will let in oxygen hence forming rust. 

iii. Keep tea away from heat

Heat accelerates the oxidation process. Some of the common green and yellow teas should be stored in a refrigerator or a freezer; this will significantly slow the oxidation process. However, caution must be taken to avoid condensation of the tea leaves. When packaging tea into small packets to be used probably within weeks, it is important to squeeze out the air to avoid condensation in the package. When using this type of storage, it is important to only open the package when it has reached room temperature.

iv. Tea should be kept away from light

This is based on the fact that when dry tea leaves are subjected to light, they undergo some changes through a process called photo-degradation based on some anecdotal evidence. This is just a term that basically means the degradation of tea by light. These light-induced damages have been known to give the tea an unpleasant metallic flavor. 

v. Keep tea away from moisture

When tea leaves are exposed to moisture, they release their flavor. This doesn't, however, mean that tea should only be kept away from visible liquids; instead, even moist air should not come in contact with the tea. This is because tea is hygroscopic, hence can absorb moisture in the air. 

In a nutshell, the above guidelines are what if followed carefully, the quality and the vitality of any tea variety is upheld. As mentioned before, the different types have their own way of storage depending on the mode of preparation and the supposed shelf life. These guidelines should therefore be followed to the latter for the best storage results.

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