Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Word on the Freshness of Tea

An aspect of tea that goes often overlooked lies in the freshness. Will the tea that you have kept in a ziploc bag in the back of your cupboard for four years still taste good, today? Maybe...but I can almost guarantee that the flavor will have diminished in body and quality from what it once was. Excepting certain teas that are meant to be aged (in a proper manner), most tea tastes far better when it is fresh. I have found that the three other factors that will affect the freshness of tea are light, extreme temperatures, and air.
  1. Age...Much like food, tea can lose its freshness over time, even without the other factors.
  2. Light...Keep your tea stored out of direct sunlight and artificial light. The UV light can break down the tea, and florescent lights can also have a negative effect.
  3. Temperature...I have encountered a number of places that recommend storing tea in the refrigerator; however, this only really works with greens and very lightly oxidized teas, and, even then, I have found that this changes the flavor of the tea. 
  4. Air...Your food does not benefit from extended storage and exposure to oxygen, so why should your tea? Additionally, aromas in the air can affect the smell and taste of your tea.
Fear not for your tea! There are certainly things that can be done to combat the above freshness-killers. Here are a few corresponding (to the above list) tips that I have implemented in my own tea collection
  1. Age...Only buy an amount of tea that you will consume within a few months. This will assure optimum freshness. Sometimes, the freshest-by date on a tin of tea will only be valid so long as you do not break the vacuum seal. (The exception to this age rule is pu'erh, the storage of which will not be addressed in this post.)
  2. Light...Use opaque containers to store your tea. Alternately (or additionally), store your tea in cupboards, drawers, etc. which would allow for the use of transparent containers, if such is your desire.
  3. Temperature...In the refrigerator or freezer is not the best place for your tea (in my opinion). Near a stove/oven or next to a dishwasher is not ideal, either. I keep my tea in cupboards away from this large appliances. 
  4. Air...Use air-tight containers for the storage of your tea. (Again, this does not entirely apply to pu'erh storage.) Containers (such as bags) inside larger containers (such as Tupperware)? Sure! So that your tea does not pick up the aromas of food or other teas, I do not recommend storing tea near food, nor do I recommend storing very aromatic teas in bags with other tea. I have had a weakly aromatic tea pick up the smell of a much more strongly-scented tea by both teas being stored in Ziploc bags next to each other for a period of time. My final word on this is to avoid exposing your tea to air, as much as possible. The following is an example from my personal tea collection:
 Rishi's Peach Blossom white tea has remained one of my favorite summertime teas for many years. This could potentially be saying something, considering that I am the same one, whose taste in black teas has varied over the years from strictly unflavored to almost entirely flavored (fruit, chocolate, crazy froo froo blends) to, now, mostly enjoying aromatics (e.g. Earl Grey, Lady Grey, etc.) and lighter black teas, such as Darjeelings. As such, I find it financially wise to purchase Peach Blossom white in bulk, pre-summer.
However, it would not be wise for me to open this large bag, every time I wanted to get a few teaspoons of leaf, especially if I am making it several times per day. The amount of oxygen to which this tea would get exposed could have quite negative affects on the delicate flavor and aroma. Aside from making certain that this bag is closed with as much of the air removed as possible, I use a method that I call "anti-decanting." (You heard it, here, first, folks). At its most basic, decanting involves moving a liquid from one container to another. With wine, decanting is often perform by pouring wine from an enclosed bottle to a more open decanter for the purpose of exposing the liquid to air and allowing the wine to breathe. While we are not dealing with liquid, the theory here is the same, simply reversed in regard to the air exposure. I take a portion of the tea from the larger container and put it into a small bag (or bags), which are stored with the same positive conditions as listed in the middle of the post. Thus, I am reduced from opening the large bag several times a day to a couple of times per week, depending upon the frequency with which I am drinking the tea.

Hopefully, this post has provided you with useful tips for keeping your tea tasting and smelling better for a longer period of time! Feel free to post comments or questions, below. Happy tea drinking!

No comments:

Post a Comment