Making tea from fresh tea leaves can result in a better-tasting, more satisfying cup. And proper storage is one key to ensuring the tea stays fresh and tastes great. Here’s the best way to store loose leaf tea so it stays good for as long as possible.
When it comes to tea, I enjoy both loose leaf and some bagged varieties. But there’s something about steeping a hot cup from fresh tea leaves that seems to make it more satisfying.
In this post, I’ll go over how to choose the best type of tea storage container. Plus, I’ll look at how to create the right storage conditions to ensure your loose leaf tea stays fresh and tastes great when you’re ready to use it.
How to store loose leaf tea
Some of the biggest enemies of dried loose-leaf tea are moisture, light, heat, and air. If your tea is exposed to any of these factors, it can shorten its shelf life and cause it to lose flavor more quickly.
That’s why the best way to store loose leaf tea is in a clean, dry, container with an airtight seal that you keep in a cool, dark place like a pantry.
Let’s take a closer look at the type of storage container to use and how to create the optimal storage environment.
Choosing the right type of container
Since light exposure and air are two issues that can affect tea, your best option to store loose leaf tea is in an airtight container with a lid — like a metal tin or dark-colored jar.
Even if the tea originally came in sealed packaging, it’s still a good idea to keep it stored this way before and after you open the tea. Once you open it, you can simply transfer the leaves from the package to the tin.
Steer clear of plastic tea storage containers as those can absorb odors into your tea. Clear glass jars can also pose problems, especially if not kept in a dark space, as they’ll expose the tea to light.
If you don’t have tins or stainless steel containers, another great choice is to simply place your tea leaves in resealable plastic bags like a Ziploc. Then keep it stored in a pantry, kitchen cabinet, or dark cupboard.
Dried tea leaves can absorb moisture very quickly. That’s great when you’re ready to steep your tea. But it’s not so great if that happens before, which can sap the tea’s flavor from the leaves. Here are a few ways to keep excess moisture away from your tea leaves.
Keep away from high-humidity environments. Don’t store your tea tins out on a kitchen counter. If you do a lot of cooking, steam and heat can negatively affect the tea and could even lead to mold.
Don’t store in the fridge or freezer. Tea leaves can absorb moisture in both freezers and fridges, which can affect freshness.
Be sure to seal your container. Whether you’re using a tin with an airtight lid or simply resealable bags, make sure you keep it closed tightly when storing to keep out excess moisture and air.
Keep it cool and dark
Cool but not too cold. Tea leaves are best kept cool at around 60°-65° Fahrenheit. Don’t store them below 50° Fahrenheit, as cold temperatures can start to harm the leaves. And avoid keeping them in areas that are much above room temperature.
Avoid ambient heat sources. Don’t place them in drawers near or above the stove or microwave. The heat from those devices can also be harmful to your tea.
Screen from the sun. Exposing the tea leaves to direct sunlight can not only generate unwanted heat, it also can affect the quality and taste of the leaves.
Keep away from other odors
Loose leaf tea can easily absorb strong odors from other foods you may keep in your kitchen, so you’ll want to make sure you limit this exposure as much as possible.
For example, don’t store your tea tin right next to other scented teas with strong aromas like mint or florals. That can cause unwanted changes in the flavor of your tea. The same goes if you store things like onions and garlic in your pantry along with tea containers.
And the container itself can also pose unwanted odor issues. That’s why materials like metal or ceramic are preferable. They don’t absorb and retain odors like some wooden and plastic containers can. And resealable mason jars can retain unwanted odors via the rubber seals used on some of them.
Limit air exposure
Even with a sealable container, air can still get in and can affect your tea. A great way to limit exposure to oxygen is to keep your storage container as full as possible.
The more tea that’s in the container means less room for too much air. And that will help keep the leaves fresh for longer.
How long does loose leaf tea last?
Loose leaf tea can stay fresh for a relatively long time — up to a year if stored properly. The tea will not really expire or go bad, but it can lose taste and result in a less enjoyable cup of tea.
In some cases, if the tea is exposed to excess moisture it can produce mold and spoil. This will sometimes be accompanied by a sour or off smell. If you notice an unpleasant odor in your tea leaves but don’t see any visible signs of mold, check its texture. If it feels soft and tacky (or sticky) rather than dry and loose leaves, that’s an indication it may be going bad. In these cases, it’s best to discard the tea.
While not as preferable as a metal tin or an opaque container, clear glass ones can be used to store tea as long as they’re kept in a cool, dark, dry place like a pantry. Keeping them in a clear jar that’s exposed to direct sunlight can shorten the tea’s shelf life.
You don’t need to store tea in the fridge to keep it fresh. And in fact you shouldn’t. The tea can absorb moisture in the high-humidity environment of a refrigerator and cause it to lose freshness.
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