Here’s our guide to help you spot and retain your fresh from your flat and your delightful from your dull…
How Long Does Tea Stay Fresh For?
In most cases tea is packed with a three-year shelf life. However, teas don’t go ‘off’ in the same way other food products might as they’re already dried. They will go stale and start to taste flat though. This happens quickest for green teas and scented teas. Green teas are fired at high temperatures soon after picking to lock the leaf in its green state. It’s impossible to get all of the moisture out from this firing and so with some moisture remaining, the leaf will slowly deteriorate. For scented teas, the fragrance of, for example, jasmine is volatile and so will diminish over time. Black teas are processed differently to green teas and they tend to have a lower moisture content left in the leaf and therefore they deteriorate slower – but they do still deteriorate.
Use the best before date as a guide to knowing when the tea was produced – but open the bag and look at the leaves to decide whether it is fresh or not and whether you want to drink it.
How to Keep Your Teas Fresh at Home
Here’s our top 5 things to keep in mind when storing your tea at home to help keep it as fresh as possible:
1. Air – In a temperate environment, oxygen is what can cause teas to go stale quickly. To avoid this, keep your teas in an airtight container. Zip seal packaging will work in the short term but airtight tins and caddies are great for longer term storage.
2. Light – Light can also degrade the natural compounds in the leaf, causing discolouration and loss of flavour. So avoid storing your tea in glass jars, unless they’re stored in a dark cupboard; opt for metal or ceramic tins or caddies.
3. Heat – Like light, heat can damage the integrity of your tea leaves so avoid storing them in direct sun or in places exposed to heat. For maximum freshness, top-quality green and white teas can be kept in the fridge, but away from other foods and well-sealed.
4. Smells – Unknown to most people, this is the biggest culprit for ruining the flavour of your tea. Dry tea can easily soak up hints of contaminating smells from the air, so avoid storing tea near strong smelling foods like coffee, onions and spices.
5. Moisture – A final but obvious one for damaging your tea. The only time you want your tea leaves to be wet is when they’re being infused, so avoid any damp or wet areas for storage. If you do store tea in the fridge, remember to bring the container up to room temperature before removing the lid, as any condensation that occurs inside will dampen and spoil the tea.
Is Old Tea Ever Good?
Some very specific teas in the right conditions can react differently over time, not going stale but changing in flavour in a positive way. Like good wines and whiskeys, these “aged” teas get better over time and gain in value. The best-known aged teas are from the puerh category, but you will also now find some aged white teas and aged oolong teas. Puerh teas are intentionally aged and are prized among collectors who might seek out a particular vintage or origin. These teas can be aged indefinitely and develop distinct characteristics over time, usually becoming sweeter, earthier and more complex.
No tea will age well without the proper storage conditions though, so aged teas will be meticulously stored and monitored so that the conditions encourage the desired flavours.