Keeping your tea fresh is of the utmost importance, for both a full delicious flavor and to keep the more subtle flavor nuances alive longer. Many people don’t even know the average shelf life of their tea, which is extremely important and varies greatly between varieties of tea and how they are packaged. The following examples are just a general guideline on the shelf life of tea.
Loose teas should be kept in dry, cool and dark locations. Opaque tins are ideal for storing your loose tea. Generally speaking, loose teas have a longer shelf life than (non-foil-wrapped) bagged tea. Bagged tea usually loses its flavor within 3 months or less, especially if it is only packaged in paper wrapping. After making sure that sunlight can’t touch your tea leaves, and after putting them in a cool dry place, loose teas should last on average from one to two years. However this also varies in the type of tea leaves you are storing.
Some teas, such as tea bricks and Pu-erh teas are not only designed to keep fresh longer, but they actually improve with age, like wine. In fact the wine analogy is indeed very apt, as Pu-erh teas are sorted by vintage, and some older Pu-erh teas can sell for thousands of dollars. So those teas are especially meant for long storage, following the same rules as above.
Other than Pu-erh tea, black teas usually carry the longest shelf life, and most properly stored black teas will last from one to two years. Oolongs are generally good for up to a year depending on oxidization level. Finally, green and white teas have the shortest shelf life, keeping for up to 6 months. Herbal tisanes vary greatly, however herbs generally lose their potency quickly after being dried.
And don’t forget the time it takes to ship the teas from the grower to the wholesaler, from the wholesaler to the suppliers and from the suppliers to the stores. It’s very helpful to know when your tea was picked to ensure the freshness of the leaves, and it’s always a good idea to date your teas when you first receive them.
Overall, it’s a good idea to throw away any teas over 2 years old unless they are Pu-erh, or of some other value to you. When you see the leaves starting to lose their color, and the scent starts to leave, it’s definitely time to toss those teas out!
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