Storing tea in the fridge – the experts weigh in
Life's too short to drink bad tea (or wine, or anything for that matter). So you invest in high quality loose leaf tea. I'm with you. How do you make sure you preserve its goodness over time? How do you store it properly? Drying is one of the tea processing stages, therefore tea leaves are dry, so one would assume that tea is not a perishable product. This is what most people get wrong.
Let me give you an example from my personal experience. I keep my gyokuro (one of Japan's finest) green tea leaves in the fridge. I was kindly instructed to do so when I got it at O5 Tea Bar in Vancouver. My gyokuro is still as fresh and flavorful as when I bought it a few months ago and I couldn't be happier. I couldn't help but wonder, if it works so well for gyokuro, why can't this storage hack be used for other teas too?
What do experts think of this? Is fridge storage only recommended for green tea or can you store any type of tea this way? What is the correct way of storing tea in the fridge? Some tea professionals from around the world decided to help me out and answer my questions.
Ian Chun, co-founder and CEO of Matcha Latte Media, Yunomi
"Refrigerated storage should be for long term: 2 months or longer. But there is a huge danger in that all the other food in your refrigerator will contaminate your open bag of matcha or gyokuro (or any bag at all) ... I know people who have triple sealed their tea in plastic bags, and still get aromas from the refrigerator seep through. More than anything that will ruin your tea. If you have a dedicated refrigerator for storing tea, the most important thing is that you remove the package from the refrigerator and allow it to adjust to room temperature ... I usually wait one day before opening the bag. If you open it too quickly, the humidity in the air will condense and damage the tea leaves or matcha. Just look on the outside of a package that is removed from the refrigerator, and you will see that it is a little wet. Of course there is always a little air inside the bag too, so frequently removing a bag even with the above step will damage the tea leaves."
Carlotta Mariani, Tea blogger, Five O clock
"I store matcha and some high quality teas in the fridge, like Tie Guan Yin (harvested in October), Long Jing (top grade) and sencha. I think they keep better in the fridge and they better retain their aroma and freshness when stored this way."
Andrew Goodman, Smacha
"I know many Chinese keep their Bi Liu Chun refrigerated as well. It is a very delicate tea. The key is not letting any moisture from condensation get into the tea. For those teas and other very delicate ones it is good until the teas are finished. I know from personal experience that vacuum packed rolled oolongs like Tie Kuan Yin can be refrigerated for storage until the bag is opened."
Darius Moghaddam, Teance
"I never like to put my tea in the fridge. I feel like the fridge sucks a lot of the goodness out of the tea. The only tea I would store in the fridge is matcha."
When it comes to matcha, our tea experts unanimously agree. It belongs in the fridge. Why? What is the reason behind that? I asked a tea professional who knows his matcha very well and discovered some interesting details.
Fabio Angelo Pellò, founder and manager, Lovely Matcha
"Storing matcha in the fridge is essential. If you want to store it for longer periods of time, you can even keep it in the freezer, as long as it is properly stored in a high quality tea canister or container. This applies to fridge storage too. The tea leaves that are processed into matcha powder are harvested only in the summer. Some tea farmers start harvesting in April and keep on harvesting until October, some tea farmers harvest between May and September. According to tradition, harvest should start 88 days after the beginning of spring. Since the tea leaves used to make matcha are harvested only once a year, storing matcha properly is as important as the quality of the tea leaves used to make it.
Humidity and temperature are two important parameters to consider when storing matcha. Matcha has a very low humidity level, which should remain as stable as possible. In order to keep its humidity level constantly low, it should come in contact with air as little as possible. A good way to do so is to keep it in a good quality metal container / canister fitted with a rubber ring inside the lid, which helps keep it tightly sealed. When matcha is exposed to air, it absorbs a lot of humidity really quickly (like a sponge) and odors too. Our culinary grade matcha, which is usually stored by restaurants and customers in their kitchens, is packaged in an aluminium tin which is sealed (a little like canned tuna). The matcha powder itself is in an additional aluminium foil bag.
The other parameter is temperature. In Japan, a tea store that sells 50 tins of matcha on a daily basis, can have its tins on display on the shelves (they are not going to sit there for a long time), as long as they have been correctly stored in their warehouse. Customers consume that matcha really quickly so they don't have to worry too much about storage. But there are stores that sell 2-5 tins of matcha a week and keep 20 tins of matcha in their warehouse for months. The temperature in the store and in the warehouse are most definitely not ideal. Thanks to its low humidity, matcha can be easily stored in the freezer because it does not freeze. It has to be kept in an appropriate air-tight canister, as mentioned above. Temperature is very important in the processing of the tea leaves too. Grinding matcha in a stone mill is a very slow process that lasts hours because a faster grinding would increase temperature and spoil the final product. Same thing with mechanical grinding, it's super fast to avoid high temperatures. It's a little like the way pesto sauce is made in Italy. The mortar where basil is ground is kept in an ice bath to prevent it from getting warm, which would result in the leaves turning brown. Some retailers pay a lot of money to get the best matcha on the market and then they carelessly store it for months at 77 F (25 C). This doesn't make any sense. Our farmers keep their matcha at temperatures below 32 F (0 C), they ship it to us quickly so that we can get it within a few days, we keep it at that temperature until we ship it to our customers, who get it within 24-48 hours. They know they should keep it in the fridge. Since it is sealed and it is a plant product, it's not like meat or fish, we don't need to keep it below 32 F (0 C) all along but temperature is controlled to preserve it the best possible way."
What are your thoughts? Do you store your tea leaves or matcha in the fridge? I am looking forward to reading your comments!
A heartfelt thank you to the tea professionals who so kindly contributed to this blog post.