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Getting Fresh with Tea, Part I

It’s time to get fresh with tea. Freshness is very important in some teas and can affect taste and beneficial properties. In fact, some teas (the “short-termers”) should be enjoyed within a few weeks of harvesting and processing. When they get old and stale, these teas not only don’t have a lively flavor but lose a lot of the elements needed to contribute to your well-being (vitamins, flavonoids, polyphenols, catechins, etc.). Most of us don’t live near where these teas are grown, so what to do?

Pu-erh Tea

Short of pulling up stakes and moving lock, stock, and barrel to China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, or other tea-producing countries, you need some information and answers to a few questions, such as: “Which teas can last on the shelf?” and “Which teas are ‘short-termers’ and need to be consumed quickly?” You also need a good tea vendor who has such information readily available on their Website and/or product packaging. A few good storage containers and the proper storage conditions are also essential.

Teas with long shelf-lives:

  • Pu-erh Teas — Longest storage potential (some have been stored for decades) since, like wine, this tea can improve with age. It should be stored differently than other teas, though.
  • Black Teas — About 1 year to as much as 3 years under ideal storage conditions. The tea leaves are oxidized, increasing caffeine levels, giving a stronger taste, and making the tea able to be stored dry longer and retain flavor.
  • Oolong Teas — From 6 months to a year (though some sources say as little as 2 months and as long as 3 years). Dragonwell is one such tea.
  • Rolled-leaf Green Teas — About 6 months (some studies show that catechin content in green tea can last as long as 3 years). Jasmine Pearls is a good example.

Teas that are “short-termers”:

  • White Teas — 1 to 6 months (though some say up to a year)
  • Flat-leaf Green Teas — 1 to 6 months (though some say up to a year)
  • Powdered Teas — 1 to 3 months (though some say up to 6 months)
  • Decaffeinated Teas — The process has been shown to decrease catechins by 20-25%, so storing them long-term will be inadvisable if you are hoping for any benefit from them other than a tasty beverage.
  • Shincha Teas — 1 month or less. This is a type of sencha green tea produced from the first harvest of the season (late April to early May), consisting of new leaves that are processed (usually steamed to halt oxidation) immediately for sale. This tea is not meant to be stored and is usually sold out by the end of July.
Sencha Green Tea

If you like “short-termer” teas, be sure to buy them in quantities small enough to consume before they go stale. I have a few I’ve been saving but am now thinking of drinking them up soon. Even teas with longer shelf-lives need to be stored properly, so don’t miss Part II.

Lots of time, expertise, and labor go into growing, processing, packaging, and vending teas. Get the most of them by preserving their freshness, flavor, and fragrance as long as possible. It’s also a great way to get the most of your tea dollars. Ka-ching!

Stay tuned for Part II, coming your way tomorrow! And in the meantime, stop by A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, and pay her a visit!

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