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Tea Storage and Packaging

How long does tea stay fresh?

When tea is stored in optimal conditions -- vacuum-packed or nitrogen-flushed in temperature- and moisture-controlled environments -- the tea will stay fresh as follows:

  • White tea: 1 year
  • Green tea: 1 year
  • Oolong tea: 1-2 years (although some rare, expensive oolongs do last several years)
  • Black tea: 2 years
  • Pu-erh tea: varies (actually needs some air exposure, which makes it improve with age.) Some excellent pu-erh teas are 30-50 years old.
As with all things about tea, there are exceptions. Keep in mind that every tea is different, and many  variables can affect the storage conditions. Some greens are extremely fragile and lose their finer notes quickly; others can be stored for several years. In general, the less oxidized the leaf, the faster it will lose flavor when exposed to air. Black teas and darker oolongs tend to retain flavor longer, sometimes even up to two years! 

How should tea be stored at home?

Often when visiting friends and asking for a cup of tea the following happens. Your friend reaches above his or her stove into a cabinet and pulls out an unsealed tea bag out of an open paper box. Some unfortunate things happen in this scenario.

Tea, like spices, is best when fresh. Stale tea looses much of the magic. Tea is particularly susceptible to oxygen, smoke, light, and moisture. As a result, over the stove is perhaps one of the worst places to store tea (and spices). Smoke and steam all permeate that area and if tea is not in an airtight environment, it will absorb all those flavors and moisture. Tea is able to hold onto other flavors very well, which is why there are so many flavored (and not true) teas out there.

Tea must be stored correctly to maintain freshness. Excessive heat, odors, moisture, air, and light exposure can forever alter the character of your tea. An airtight container is necessary to maintain quality, and teas should be stored in a dark, odor-free, and moisture-free environment. Room temperature is fine for most tea. If you store tea in a tin canister, seal it in a Ziploc bag first. Most tins are not airtight. Finally, all teas will leave some residual odor in whatever they are stored in, so make sure to wash the container out well if reusing for other teas.

Green tea can be stored long-term in a refrigerator, provided there is no moisture in the storage container.Green tea leaves contain a relatively high percentage of water (around 6%), so freezing them changes the quality of the tea. Instead, keep your tea refrigerated, well away from strong-smelling foods, particularly coffee and spices. To remove another two weeks supply of tea leaves from your sealed stock, let it warm up to room temperature (15-30 minutes) before opening the tin. If opened immediately, moisture from the air will condense on the tea leaves - not desirable.

You may have noticed the simple packaging we use for our tea. These reusable, resealable plastic bags block all light. Our bags are optimal for short-term storage (generally 2-4 months). Used properly, they will protect against odors, oxidation, and moisture. Cheaper tin containers or decorative boxes, usually do not provide an airtight seal, because the seams are not welded together. Usually they will not protect teas for more than one month.

We encourage the use of airtight ceramic containers for long-term tea storage (three or more months). The ones we offer have odorless silicone seals, unlike many of the cheaper alternatives available. We list three sizes for your convenience. The container should be a size appropriate to the amount of tea to be stored; don't use a huge container for an ounce or two of a particular tea. Finally, there is no substitute for buying fresh teas in reasonable amounts from a reputable tea merchant.

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