A question we get often is how long does loose-leaf tea last? And as with most subjects, our answer is: it depends on the tea. And it also depends on the method of storage. With tea, it always seems to depend; there's no one easy blanket answer.
We broke it all down for you, so you can get the most out of any tea you purchase. In general, tea doesn't go "bad." Drinking tea past its prime shouldn't hurt you in any way, it will just lessen in taste and aroma. But, by learning these basic guidelines, you can aim to enjoy your tea at its prime. Note, that if your tea seems to be moldy or smell of mildew or chemicals, we don't recommend ingesting it at any age!
Each category of tea is processed differently, which effects freshness. Teas with higher oxidation levels (think dark teas, black teas) will generally hold longer shelf lives than those with lesser or no oxidation (think greens, low oxidized oolongs).
Green Tea: With no oxidation in its processing, green tea has the shortest shelf life. Generally speaking, you'll get the most flavor out of a green tea within its first six months to a year after harvesting. This shorter shelf life is due to the increased amount of enzymes retained from the leaf. We tend to keep our green teas in the fridge for storage, to maximize freshness.
Oolong Tea: Since oolongs range so widely in oxidation, so does their shelf-life. "Greener" oolongs, so less oxidized oolongs tend to lose their flavor faster than deep roasted, or highly oxidized oolongs.
Black Tea: The most oxidized of the bunch, black tea has the hardiest shelf life. Historically, it was created to be this way to survive the long boat trip from China to Great Britain years ago.
Puer: Many people collect and age Raw Puers because the flavors are known to advance and grow in complexity as the tea matures. So, in this category of tea, time is your friend. It's like aging wine. You want to start with a high-quality product and make sure it's stored in a temperate, dry place, wrapped in a breathable fabric, like cloth. There are multiple ways to save puers, and this is our easy go-to way. Ripe Puers also can age, but their changes over time are less noticeable than Raws.
White Tea: In contrary to popular belief, not all white teas should be aged. Recently, many producers are starting to press and age their white teas, but you need to be careful of this. Sun-dried white teas will develop more complex flavors and deepen, but heat-dried white teas will not age.
Herbals: Herbals are a mixture of dried herbs, fruits, and flowers. Similar to the Camilla Sinensis leaf, they lose flavor and aroma over time but do not expire.
To maximize a teas potential, proper storage is critical. Moisture & light are the two biggest enemies of tea. Keeping your tea in an airtight sealed, dark container is ideal, as to not allow either of these elements the opportunity to reach your tea. Most people store tea in their pantry or kitchen, which is an ideal spot for ease of use. We recommend making sure you're not keeping your tea near smelly items, or your tea will absorb and change due to it.
We hope this article was helpful and you have a better grasp on how to maximize your tea collection. Do you have any other storage tips of your own or questions? Leave them in the comments below!
*All of this information pertains to loose leaf tea, not pre-bagged tea.