Tips and Tricks: Keep Your Tea Fresher, Longer
It happens to us all: you open your tea cupboard and find unnamed packs of old leaves tucked away in the back; you look inside and wonder what style of tea has such yellowish-brown leaves; sniffing the odourless leaves you decide to steep them, realizing from the first sip that their taste is long gone. Of course, we all know that for most styles, fresh tea tastes better. So what are the golden rules of tea storage?
Given their delicate floral fragrances, subtle notes of fresh-cut grass and marine accents, green teas really are best consumed fresh. And the sooner the better. Just months after the harvest, the distinctive aromatic notes of spring teas tend to dissipate. To delay the natural fading of green teas, three rules are essential to follow.
1- Choose an airtight container. Contact with the air encourages the aging of the leaves, causing the aromatic components to dissipate and the colours to fade.
2- Store in a cool and dark place. To prevent the colour of the leaves from decaying further and the taste from deteriorating, avoid glass containers and well lit spaces.
3- Place in an odour free environment. Since tea tends to absorb odours, the container must be kept far from fragrant foods (like coffee or spices).
Following these basic principles, most green teas can be kept fresh for a period of 6 to 12 months. Nonetheless, their best tasting experience will always be as close to the harvest as possible.
White teas, wulongs teas and black teas
Generally speaking, preservation of white, wulong and black teas follows the same rules as green teas. But being less sensitive to oxidation and dissipation of their aromatic compounds, their freshness period easily extends from 12 to 18 months.
Also, most oxidized and roasted teas undergo “mellowing” changes over their first weeks of production. These changes are often appreciated by amateurs as they tend to diminish the over-dominant aspects of a tea and benefit the general balance of its profile. A few weeks, sometimes a few months, are necessary for the rich floral scents of white teas, the tart green notes of 1st flush Darjeelings or the caramelized aromas of roasted wulongs to subdue and harmonize with the rest of the ensemble.
In China, many tea producers from the Wuyi Mountains (Fujian) claim that their roasted wulongs are at their best one year after harvest. And many high grade teas from this terroir are kept aside and sold only at this moment. Good quality Wuyi wulongs can keep and develop for years.
Storage conditions can greatly impact the taste of aging teas. To keep things simple, consider two main factors in the aging process of tea: oxidation and fermentation. Oxidation occurs naturally in contact with air. Letting some air flow once in a while and avoiding air-tight sealing of the leaves is usually enough for it to follow its course. Fermentation, on the other hand, is a little more complex because it requires active microorganisms to develop on the leaves. Giving these microorganisms the required conditions to carry out fermentation is essential. Temperature and humidity are the main considerations here. Very often, a simple clay jar placed in the right spot can provide a great solution to this puzzle.
Ideally, the temperature should be maintained between 20 and 30°C. Below 20°C, aging greatly slows down. The leaves should also be kept at a constant humidity between 60 and 70%, and in a dark room, where they will not be exposed to light. Keep away any substance that might give off an aroma they could absorb (like coffee, spices, etc.). And because their microbial floras differ, sheng Pu Er and shou Pu Er should be kept separate.
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