4 Tips for Storing Fine Teas

A storage jar decorated with Chinese calligraphy.

Fine teas, especially rare teas and collectible pu-erhs need to be stored properly. Here are five tips to help you do just that.

  1. Follow the basics of tea storage — avoid light, air, heat, and moisture. Keeping air out accomplishes two things: avoidance of other odors affecting the tea leaves, which are very absorbent; and keeping the leaves fresh tasting. Moisture can be harmful in two ways: being absorbed by the leaves (if the moisture level in the air is higher than in the leaves), or being sucked out of the leaves (when the air is dryer than the leaves) which have already been set at a certain moisture level during processing. Heat will cook the leaves or cause them to spoil, or even promote bacterial and mold growth. Light will fade the color of the leaves, making them look unappetizing.
  2. Keep accessibility in mind — If you like to enjoy some of those teas on a daily basis, be sure the storage method allows for easy access. Matcha, for example, is best stored in small jars (usually around 50 grams capacity) with openings wide enough for a small spoon to fit. If you like a daily round of pu-erh, keep some broken pieces in a loose paper bag or unsealed clay jar.
  3. Adjust for duration of tea storage — Some teas will be stored a short time only. Others can be stored for years. You can prolong the “shelf life” of your teas by first determining if you will be planning to store them a long time or not. This could take some experience with the tea in question but also depends on your personal tea drinking habits. If you can’t start your day without a morning cuppa ripened pu-erh, you might think about keeping enough readily accessible for that daily use and store any extra. Storing pu-erhs depends on the length of time: short (break into small pieces, put in paper bag, be sure there is plenty of air circulation), medium (break into pieces, put in paper bag which goes into cardboard box or unglazed jar), long (put unbroken tea cake in plastic wrap with air holes or in a clay/glass/metal jar, or keep in paper wrapping in a cardboard box). More details on storing pu-erhs to come in future blog articles.
  4. Know the exceptions to the basics of tea storage — The basics are just that — basic! And the old adage “there’s an exception to every rule” certainly applies to storing your fine teas. There are those who say not to put your teas in the refrigerator or freezer. But if you know the tricks and which teas can take it, then you’ll be fine and so will your teas. Green teas can be frozen if the leaves are wrapped up tightly in small batches and not left in the freezer for longer than about two months (don’t worry if you go a few days past this), then steeped while the leaves are still frozen. Contrary to what some tea vendors say, you can store teas in the refrigerator, too, especially the newer models that can reduce moisture levels (the main problem with storing teas this way). Be sure the teas are in an airtight container, preferably vacuum sealed by the vendor (once you open the package, sealing it totally airtight is difficult). Reputable tea vendors in China store their fine teas such as Tie Guan Yin in refrigerators all the time. Just don’t consider this long-term storage.

Keeping your fine teas properly stored will help your expenditure go further since you won’t have to throw away spoiled tea leaves.



Porcelain matcha jar showing cranes playing on a pond. 50-gram capacity and wide opening for easy access.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
This entry was posted in Tea Info for Newbies and Up and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 4 Tips for Storing Fine Teas

  1. M. Handler says:

    I've recently been wondering about this issue myself.

    Currently I seal my tea in airtight glass containers. It seems this would be good for black, white, green, oolong teas? Do you know if all teas keep the same length of time? I imagine the black tea, with more oxidation, would keep the longest.

    I was looking at ginger jars to keep the tea, but most don't have an airtight seal. Perhaps, best for short or medium-term puer storage?

    I would be grateful for any insight…

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  2. Any container will have some air in it. Black teas will tolerate this generally speaking but can become stale. They usually store for a couple of years. Ginger jars are good for short-term storage but you can prolong that by using a little saran wrap over the top and then put on the lid. It helps. Short-term puer storage can be in the original wrapper and then in a plastic bag.

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  3. Sorry, I misspoke about the short-term pu-erh storage. Item 3 says to wrap loosely in paper for plenty of air circulation. Pu-erh is rather exceptional in more ways than one, and storage is one of those ways. 🙂

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