How To Store Chinese Tea - A Quick Overview
All teas benefit from being stored in a cool dry place where the temperature does not fluctuate very much. Tea is very good at absorbing odours so keep it away from anything smelly. Airtight containers are inexpensive and much better than the plastic pouches or cardboard containers that tea typically comes in.
Almost all teas last for about one year. Green/White teas deteriorate more quickly than fermented teas because they oxidize faster when exposed to the air. Always ask how long a tea has been sitting on the shelf before you buy and when new teas will be in stock. Vacuum packaging is a mixed blessing as tea lasts longer on the shelf but the packaging may crush the leaves and make the tea bitter. Many teas come in a cardboard container with a vacuum packed pouch inside. Keep the tea sealed in the pouch and keep the pouch in the cardboard container if you don't have any airtight containers.
If you have airtight tea containers, you can store all Green/White teas, Taiwan Oolong, Tie Guan Yin (Gun Yam, Iron Buddha, Buddha of Mercy, Chinese Oolong) and Phoenix teas in the refrigerator. As a result, these teas will actually improve in flavour over time but beware that once you have stored a tea in a fridge, you cannot then store back on a shelf or the tea flavour will diminish rapidly. Do not use this technique if you do not have airtight containers or the tea will absorb every odour in your refrigerator and ruin your tea.
Pu Erh Tea (Bow Lay in Cantonese) mellows quickly and the flavour develops dramatically when kept in an unglazed clay jar, preferably in a cool dry place with little temperature fluctuation. Younger tea is less expensive to buy than older tea so you can buy a newer tea you like and keep it for many years. If you are keeping new tea for many years, keep it in a clay jar and when ready to drink, break it up into small pieces and store in a clay jar. This is called “waking up the tea” and the flavour will begin to develop more rapidly. If a clay jar is not available, a cardboard box or paper bag will do but make sure these have no odours from the manufacturing.
The smoked varieties of Da Hong Pao Tea improve with age when kept in a glazed porcelain jar in a cool, dry place with little temperature fluctuation.
For full details on storing Pu-erh tea, see our guide How To Store Pu-erh Tea by Daniel Lui.
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