Oh Tea…you are not who I thought you were…
Does a tea you once loved suddenly taste lackluster to you? Are you afraid that you’ve lost your love of tea? Are you afraid to talk about it? It may not be you, it may be your tea…or at least how it is stored.
I was at my bandmate Philip's place and we made a pot of tea from a loose leaf black blend he had. The first sip was uninspiring and I mentioned that the tea tasted flat like it had lost its character. He was so relieved that it wasn’t just him. He thought that maybe he was going off tea or that he was somehow making it wrong. I looked at the bag it was stored in: not airtight resealable – there was quite a bit of air in there and no tight closure. I asked him how long he had had it and he said months. It’s not that tea can’t last that long, especially black tea, but when it is stored such that air or light or moisture (or heat or odors) can get in and wreak havoc the glorious flavors have a much shortened life span.
There are a myriad of opinions and articles on tea storage but here’s what works well for me and I hope it helps keep your relationship with your favorite tea in a good place:
- Opaque resealable bags – My favorite are the multi-ply ones that have what looks like a foil inner layer. If you press the air out prior to resealing these will do a good job at protecting your tea from light, air and odors. Your wise placement of them in a cool dry place will keep heat and moisture at bay too. Avoid clear plastic bags for obvious light reasons but also sandwich bags and the like are not meant for any long term storage and they can imbue the tea with a plastic essence. Blech! Save yourself from that disappointment.
- Canisters and tins – These are great if you use your tea quickly or if they have a vacuum packing design whereby you can ‘suck’ the air out. A regular tin leaves room for air to be stored with the tea. Air and tea don’t make good roommates. I have found filling the gap with baking parchment paper to be helpful but only on a shorter term basis. Similar to placing wax paper atop ice cream prevents ice build up the air isn’t directly touching the tea and seems to help retain the tea’s character a bit longer. Another option if your loose leaf tea comes in a bag that doesn’t reseal well is to press the air out of the bag and put the whole thing into a tin. I tend to keep smaller tins also. I love the beauty they lend to my tea area – beautiful tea deserves beautiful storage.
- Glass and ceramic canisters with gaskets – If these are opaque they are similar to metal tins in usage. It is best having a gasket with these, especially a good food grade silicone one, for keeping air out. Clear glass canisters need to be in a dark place to be effective, and if they are pretty it seems a bit counterintuitive to hide them so leave those for the quickly eaten biscuits:) Otherwise, as with metal canisters, leaving the tea in the bag it came in and sticking the whole thing into the glass canister is an option too.
- Refrigeration – I only refrigerate matcha and not for very long if it is opened. Matcha degrades quicker than any other tea I have had and it doesn’t just become a ghost of itself. It metamorphoses into a gross bitter beast of a thing. So, just don’t ignore your matcha. It gets mean.
- Buy only what you can consume quickly – This is my main mantra for having really fresh tasty tea on hand. I am lucky I have a tea shop in walking distance that is owned by an importer. So I tend to get my mainstays in small amounts weekly. It really works. But ordering online can give you a similar effect. Joining a monthly tea subscription is another idea. It can give you both freshness and an opportunity to explore new teas.
- High quality loose leaf lasts longer than broken bagged tea – The fuller and more twisted or rolled the leaf the longer it appears to maintain its character. It makes sense: less surface area for air, light etc. to work on means slower degradation. If you do love your bagged tea, especially a classic like PG Tips for example where each bag is not separately air tight sealed, you would benefit from moving it to airtight, opaque storage after opening.
- Store tea away from other strong odors – I’m not accusing anyone of storing tea with dirty laundry or in the cat box, but even places with pleasing odors are not a friend to tea. The main culprit being the spice cabinet. Spices are wonderful, but not when they enter your tea uninvited. A good air tight container will prevent this but anything less and you’ll be sipping your tea with a side note of oregano.
So there you go. Like Philip you may have a better palate than you realize and if your favorite tea tastes ‘off’ to you, it may be worth your while to rethink your storage. After all good relationships take care and attention. I hope that you and your tea bae have a long, satisfying, delicious relationship.