For many people tea is a drink of convenience analogous to instant coffee. You take a bag out of a box, pour on boiling water, remove the bag and go about your daily business. Tea has been marketed this way so successfully that leaf tea and tea bags are now two completely different products, one of which is an easy everyday drink and the other a complicated luxury requiring time and equipment.
It is easy to forget that, even in its cheapest and most convenient form, tea is nothing more or less than the carefully dried leaves of a plant and, just like any other plant matter, it breaks down over time. Given the wrong conditions, you eventually end up with dust or leaf litter, fit for nothing but compost.
You wouldn’t expect a product that was historically stored in bricks and tossed around on ocean voyages to be particularly fragile to the ravages of the average store cupboard but, if you want to get the absolute best out of your tea, then you do need to think about proper storage. Tempting as it is to just leave teas in the box they came in out on the kitchen counter, just a little bit more thought will dramatically extend the lifespan of your tea.
Your first step towards proper tea care is to try to exclude heat and light which accelerate the rate at which your tea degrades. Also, look out for moisture and strong odour, both of which can be absorbed by tea leaves, damaging them and changing their flavour. Thinking about where all of these problem conditions can be found in the average home you can see that a kitchen counter is one of the worst possible homes for a box of tea.
The best place for your leaves is in an airtight container in a cool cupboard. Green tea is more prone to deterioration than black tea and, if you live in a hot climate, then careful refrigeration is a good idea.
It’s a quick and easy thing to transfer your tea into a suitable container and find it a good home, and I urge you to do it. If not, those wonderful flavours will start to disappear, cup by cup. When you find a tea worth savouring, look after it properly, and you can savour it for months to come.
For more tea storage tips, see Ins and Outs of Tea Storage Containers and other articles on this blog.
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