Best Way to Store Loose Leaf Tea
Finding the best way to store loose leaf tea is almost as important as finding the best way to brew loose leaf tea. Exposing your tea to certain elements around the house can cause differences in the flavor of your tea and can cause your green tea to ferment slightly over time.
So what is the best way to store loose leaf tea?
There is a consequence to not knowing the best way to store loose leaf tea. If you store tea improperly it may begin to take on a darker color that is less appealing. This also affects the taste of the tea as well. The tea that is stored improperly will begin to lose a lot of its flavor and as a result, it tastes a lot more flat. In contrast, the tea that was properly stored still maintains a lot of its complexity and is still very enjoyable.
Once you find the best way to store loose leaf tea you can keep your tea tasting good for many months, even years after opening. In this article, we are going to cover a few of the basic concepts of proper tea storage. We’ll also be giving you an easy to follow guide for storing your own tea at home.
Does tea expire?
Before we talk about the best way to store loose leaf tea, let’s first talk about the expiration of tea. Japanese green tea normally has an expiration date of about 2 years. Of course, in Japan there are two separate “best by” dates. The first is when the food or drink is best to consume and the second is when it goes bad. This is important to realize because if you store tea improperly, it’s not that it will “go bad” , it's more that the flavor and overall freshness will be diminished.
The first thing that will deteriorate is the volatile compounds inside the tea leaf. These are what give the tea its complex array of tastes an aromas. If you find the best way to store loose leaf tea, you should be able to maintain these for much longer and keep the complexity of your favorite loose leaf teas!
6 Tea Expert rules to keep your tea fresh
1. Tea must be kept free from oxygen
If you have learned about the 6 different types of teas, you will know that oxidation is a huge factor in determining the taste characteristics exhibited by the tea leaf. By the same token, over oxidation after the tea has been prepared can also disrupt its flavor. Although the oxidation process is stopped during the heating of green teas, given enough time the tea will oxidize. Although it may not seem like that big of a deal for your green tea to start tasting more like a black tea, the reality is much less elegant than that. If a green tea becomes oxidized, it won’t taste like a green tea or a black tea, it will just be weak in flavor and taste slightly “off”.
If you want to find the best way to store loose leaf tea, oxidation is the first thing you’ll have to cover. Make sure you are using a container that is airtight in order to store your tea. A lot of the tea packages on our website can be resealed with the airtight zipper on top. If your package does not have one of these, you can use a separate storage option which we will discuss later.
2. Tea must be kept free from heat
As we mentioned before, additional oxidation can be harmful to the integrity of your loose leaf tea, but low level heat can speed up the oxidation process. If you want to find the best way to store loose leaf tea, you will also need to control for heat.
A lot of people like to store their tea in the fridge or freezer. This can be a helpful trick, and it is pretty common in the tea industry to use cold storage to keep tea fresh. A lot of tea farmers for example will have their own cold storage facility to keep packaged teas fresh before they are ready to be sold. Of course there are a number of tricks they employ to make sure this goes smoothly.
You have to be aware of the condensation that will form on the leaves as it changes temperature. To prevent this, make sure you follow principle number 1 and keep the tea in an airtight container when it is in the fridge. Also, make sure that when you take the tea out of the fridge or freezer, you give it some time to reach room temperature before opening it. The cold leaves interacting with the warm air will cause condensation to form and add extra humidity. This is something we will discuss later.
3. Not Translucent Or Transparent Containers
Another important factor when deciding the best way to store loose leaf tea is light. The reason why light damages tea is one of the many unsolved mysteries in the world of tea. Further study is needed in the field of photodegradation of tea, but ask any tea drinker and they will tell you that the impact light has on tea is huge. It can even give the tea a metallic taste.
Still skeptical? We can give you a little experiment to try that will convince you just how much damage light can do. Take a small spoonful of ceremonial matcha, put it out in the sun for even 10 minutes and then compare it to a fresh scoop. The color will shift from green tea brown in just a matter of minutes.
Of course matcha is the extreme example, and likely the most sensitive tea overall, but the same principle holds true with other teas. It’s best to keep them away from light as best you can. This means that you should not store your tea in glass jars or anything else transparent, as these will still let light through.
4. Tea must be kept away from strong odors
The fact that tea leaves can absorb the aromas of their surroundings is of great benefit to producers of scented teas like jasmine, but it can be a hassle for people trying to find the best way to store loose leaf tea. Overtime, your tea will begin to take on the aroma of whatever it is stored next to. Maybe this is not a problem for you if you have your tea stored next to your jasmine flowers, but it can be a problem for just about anything else.
Here it is time to briefly revisit the fridge. As we mentioned before, the fridge can be a great way to keep your tea in cold, dry storage. The problem is, it’s also where you keep all the other foods. These foods can impart their aromas onto the tea leaves and can impact the flavor. For this reason, we really recommend to use the fridge or freezer for unopened packs of tea. Most packs of loose leaf Japanese green tea come in packs of 100 grams. You should easily be able to go through this amount in less than a month, so don’t worry too much about the fridge here.
5. Tea must be kept away from moisture
The longest part of the tea production process by far is the drying phase. This is done through a series of small ovens and conveyor belts that gradually heat the tea leaf overtime so that the moisture can be taken down from about 70% to between 4-7%. If the leaf is heated too quickly, it will “roast” and alter the flavor.
With so much work done by the farmers to reduce the humidity of the leaves, the least we can do is try to keep them dry until we are ready to brew them. The tea leaves are designed to tightly seal in their flavors until they are exposed to water, where they will release them all at once. For the best tea experience, you want this release of flavors to happen when you are ready to drink the tea!
6. Do Not Buy Too Much Loose Leaf In Bulk
The final principle in finding the best way to store loose leaf tea is not getting too much loose leaf tea in bulk. You’ll notice that all the tea we sell is in modest sizes. 40 grams of matcha, 100 grams of loose leaf tea. This is a manageable amount for an individual tea drinker. When tea is packaged in small portions like this, you leave the tea storage to the professionals and ideally you don’t have to worry too much because the tea will be gone in less than a month.
When you buy tea in bulk and plan to consume it over many months, that is where the best way to store loose leaf tea will really become a factor. You will really start to notice the difference tea storage makes after a month or two, before then you don’t have to be quite as careful.
Best container to store loose leaf tea
Of course a guide to the best way to store loose leaf tea would not be complete without talking about the proper tools you can use to store the tea.
Let’s go through a quick list of containers people use to store tea, and determine which ones match all of our criteria for best way to store loose leaf tea.
Air Tight Jar
An airtight jar can be the best way to store loose leaf tea provided that it is a metal jar and not a glass jar. If you really want to get serious, you can go for a double sealed metal jar, which will give you an extra layer of oxygen and humidity protection.
Air Tight Bag
An airtight bag also can be the best way to store loose leaf tea as long as the bag is not translucent and the bag does not contain a lot of extra air inside. When you store the tea in a bag, do the best you can to press all of the air out so you are not trapping it inside with your tea. When you do this, also be sure not to crush the tea leaves!
Wooden tea box
A wooden tea box is not the best way to store loose leaf tea. It can do a good job at protecting the tea from light and from outside odors, but the humidity can get through it, and it is almost impossible to get an airtight seal with wood. For this reason, although wooden tea boxes may look nice, they are not the best way to store loose leaf tea.
A metal case can work for loose leaf tea, provided it matches the same criteria as the metal jar mentioned above. It needs to be airtight and preferably double sealed. Metal tends to be your friend when it comes to tea storage, that's why they are used for matcha, the most finicky of teas.
Benefits of storing Loose Tea correctly?
The aroma tends to be the first casualty of improperly stored loose leaf tea. This aroma comes from the volatile components in the leaf, which by definition are easily affected by the air. If you use this guide and find the best way to store loose leaf tea, you should be able to lock in the aroma better and enjoy your favorite delicious and fragrant teas for months after opening.
Of course the nutrients in the tea and the flavor often go hand in hand. The amino acid theanine for example is responsible for the sweet and savory flavor of green tea. It’s no surprise that as the flavor goes, so do some of the health benefits. If you want to drink healthy teas for months after you open them, its important to follow the guide of the best way to store loose leaf tea.
Another consequence of not finding the proper tea storage is wasting money. Of course, at the end of the day you are buying tea for its taste and if the great taste is no longer there, you are essentially throwing money away. This is why it is so important to find the best way to store loose leaf tea. It may be tempting to try and save money by buying tea in bulk, but then you are taking a greater risk that your tea will go bad. Sometimes you are better off buying tea in modestly sized portions so you get good value for your money, while also ensuring that the tea won’t go bad.
There is of course also an inherent benefit to keeping tea for a longer time. You may have a particular tea you like that you can no longer find, or a tea may have sentimental value to you. Whatever the case may be, there are reasons to keep tea fresh for a longer time besides simply the money or the aroma.
How can I tell if tea is still fresh?
The easiest thing to pick up one when a tea is no longer fresh is that it will have no aroma. You can easily check the aroma of a tea by smelling the brewed leaves. There should be a vast changed in the smell as the leaves go from dry to wet, and if this isn’t the case it’s possible the tea is no longer fresh.
You can also look at the color. If the color is normally a yellow or green and now the tea is drifting into more of an orange direction, this is also a sign that the tea is no longer fresh.
Should you store tea in the fridge?
A question we are often asked is should you store tea in the fridge. The answer is yes, but only if the pack of tea is unopened.
If the seal is broken, there are just too many factors that could go wrong so it's best just to keep these packs outside the fridge and try to use them up quickly.
Can you store used loose leaf tea?
It’s best not to store used loose leaf tea for long periods of time. Once the leaf has been rehydrated, it is really susceptible to microbes. You should ideally use your tea leaves withing a few hours after their first brewing. You can enjoy the first steeping in the morning and the second two in the afternoon, but it is not recommended to go beyond this.
Can I store tea in a glass jar?
As we mentioned before, tea can be very sensitive to light. In a glass jar, the light is still able to get through, so it is best to not store your tea in a transparent container like this. If you want to store your tea in a jar, its best to use metal.
What to do with old tea?
If you really want to make the most of your tea leaves after they have lost their freshness, one way you can do this is to roast the leaves. Freshly roasted hojicha can be delicious, and it may be just enough to salvage your tea! Try it out for yourself and see what you think.
Only store it If you must
The best thing to do to maintain the freshness of the tea you drink is to simply get it in smaller packages and drink it right away. There are tricks you can use to make your tea last longer, but drinking it sooner is always the best solution.
To do this, try not to have too many packs open at once. If it takes you 1 month to get through a 100 gram pack of tea, that means it will take you 3 months to get through 3 packs of tea. This is about the limit for teas to maintain their freshness after opening without using the techniques in this guide. Try to pick 3 teas to have open at a time and stick to these if you can!
What are the best and worst loose leaf tea for long storage?
Best for storage
Gyokuro is the only Japanese green tea known to improve with age. The can get even smoother, and for that reason it was the favorite tea of the emperor. Before the widespread use of refrigeration, the quality of a tea was judged by how long the flavor lasted. The emperor always selected Gyokuro as this had the best flavor for months after it was harvested. This is why you will often see gyokuro labeled as “imperial gyokuro” etc.
Worst for storage
Matcha on the other hand is the worst tea for storage. It is incredibly sensitive to light heat and humidity and for that reason it is recommended you double seal the container (put it inside a bag, inside a jar).
A short side note on the humidity, if your matcha forms clumps, this does not mean the matcha has gone bad. This just means you will need to sift the matcha powder before using it.
Best way to store loose leaf tea: Final Thoughts
When it comes to finding the best way to store loose leaf tea, the solution may just be to enjoy tea in smaller quantities. It can be tempting to have 20 different teas open at once, but this will lead to a lot of wasted tea. It is also tempting to “save” a special tea for an indefinite amount of time, and this is also likely a mistake. You should enjoy tea whenever you can, but not over indulge. By following this guide to the best way to store loose leaf tea, you can get your tea lasting significantly longer, but the sooner you can drink it, the better. Don’t wait for a special occasion, just enjoy the tea whenever you want!