The Basics

If your goal is to destroy your tea, then you are in luck! In most cases, it is already gone before it is even made. There are 5 excellent ways to destroy your tea, and your tea has probably been exposed to them in its travels to your palate. Tea will flat out deteriorate because of:

Before It Gets To You

Your tea will probably have had the following experience before it gets to you:

  • The tea garden may not process it or package it properly; they may store it in a hot, humid environment.
  • The standard route for tea headed to North America is to be picked, sent to one of the tea auctions in Europe, sold to a broker in say New York, and then sit in a West Coast warehouse. It then sits in a retail shop or supermarket and finally reaches the tea drinker.
  • Along the way, if temperature and moisture are uncontrolled, it is done for, something common in the long flights and trucking that most tea is faced with
  • Tea is often bought in large quantities and dumped into tins that are not air tight, leading to a staling effect
  • Most companies can’t go through the volumes they buy fast enough and the tea gets old
  • Supermarkets sometimes don’t bring old tea forward, and you can sometimes buy really old tea without knowing it
  • The tea may have been opened and repackaged in an improper environment.
  • It may be displayed in glass to be pretty, but this generally makes for dead tea

What Can You Do?

Keep your tea supplier on their toes. If you don’t want to destroy your tea, ply them with questions about packaging, ordering, harvest dates, why they put the expiry dates where they have, how they get their information, etc. Make sure it has been flown in as direct as possible, skipping auctions and multiple continents if possible. Changing temperature during travel stresses the tea. Make sure the space you buy from is not warm. (Optimum temp of under 9˚C is impossible for most, but cool temperature is important.

If everything is in order and you are confident you have received fresh tea, you can keep the tea yummy with a few simple precautions:

  • Make sure it is not in the sun. UV rays and light kill quality tea.
  • Glass breathes, plastic is toxic. Non-leeching metal is the absolute best way to seal tea. Look at the packaging and make sure it is suitable. Tea that is not absolutely air tight is circumspect. A simple tin can with a lid that is not airtight is not going to do the trick. A good test is whether or not it leaks water.
  • When you bring it home, write down the date you open the tea and tape it to the tea.
  • Be aware that regardless of what the expiry date says, Japanese teas are generally considered expired 12 months from harvest (in the case of maccha, 6 months from stone grind).
  • Store your tea in a cool, dark, dry place away from strong odours. Keep unopened tea in the fridge.
  • After 3 or 4 weeks open, your tea will have lost its stuff. You can still enjoy it, just don’t expect it to taste the same. We recommend using old maccha in baking, rehydrating premium old tea leaves and cooking with them, etc.

Fresh tea is teamwork. Having the knowledge and being informed on how your tea has made it to your home, coupled with your proper care will make for delicious and fresh tea every time.

Ummm... Why Does It Matter?

North America has traditionally been the dumping ground for old and poorly made tea. For the longest time, tea “dust” stuffed into tea bags, sitting opened in paper satchels for 2 or 3 years in the tea drinker’s house was the general image of tea.

The movement is towards loose tea, carefully sealed in non-leeching tin containers, with the date harvested (in the case of maccha, the date stone ground as well) and the date the tea drinker actually opened the sealed, aluminum bag inside, all written down. Teas journey is akin to wine and specialty espresso, a never-ending quest to maintain the gorgeous flavours of well made artisan beverages.

The reason this is important is because tea loses its zazz around 1 month after opening and exposing it for the first time to oxygen. Just one little peek starts the clock. It must be sealed at the tea farm where it was processed or follow a psychotically controlled repacking process taking into account the variables that have the potential to wreck everything.

The Reward

Quality tea that has been stored properly:

  • Retains its floral and/or fruity notes
  • Retains a full, round body and flavour profile
  • Feels like it is dancing in your mouth when compared to old tea
  • The aroma, the smell, what scientists say make up the majority of taste, is present and vital

Tea that has not been stored properly:

  • Tastes flat and slightly bitter in comparison
  • Has a noticeable lack of powerful aroma
  • Often has a predominant “old hay” flavour
  • Generally needs to be covered with “natural flavours”, “essence of something”, or doused in milk and sugar and honey to overpower the bad flavour of old tea

Think About It

What does it take to store tea properly?

It is harvested and processed in a consistent manner, year after year, a difficult challenge in the flurry of the tea harvest. Basically, the entire year’s income is made possible by super efficient harvests during the flushes. In Japan, that is May and July, ichibancha and nibancha respectively.

Next, it is sealed against the oxidizing effects of air in aluminum bags. Maccha is sealed immediately after stone grind and should never be opened before it reaches the end tea drinker.

For the majority of its life, it is stored under 5°C. Heat and oxygen are tea’s immortal enemy in the quest for fresh full flavours. The other four culprits are age, moisture, light and pungent smells. Tea, especially maccha, is going to stale quickly. It is also badly affected by moisture that can often build up from constant temperature changes.

Pungent smells also affect delicate tea flavours, and are actually often employed to cover up low quality or old tea.

Store your tea well and it will appreciate you.