Anatomy of the Ideal Loose Leaf Tea Storage
I have a confession to make, something keeps me up at night... I have yet to find the ideal storage solution for my loose leaf teas. Deterioration looms large. Right now my cabinet is in complete disarray (I keep my loose leaf teas in the resealable pouches they came in, which is not bad but not ideal). You wouldn’t want to stick your hand in there (and neither do I - sigh). Even though I know exactly what’s in there by keeping detailed records in an excel spreadsheet, the pile of pouches doesn’t look good and it’s hard to find what I’m looking for.
Let me start by saying that I don’t have the space nor the equipment to properly store and age puer or oolongs, therefore they are not specifically included in this post (there are many trustworthy resources out there when it comes to aging teas). Matcha is not included in this post either, but if you want to know how to properly store it, read this.
I don’t enjoy old, stale tea (and neither should you), which is why I try to buy limited quantities and drink them as quickly as possible. I like to keep my tea stash to a manageable size. My tea collection includes about 50 teas, some are sample-size, some are 2- or 3-oz pouches and I don’t think I have ever bought more than that in one go. Still, that is not enough to halt deterioration. I’m confident the ideal tea storage solution for my loose leaf teas is out there. Here is what I am looking for:
Tea leaves are best stored without air, in a vacuum. Airtight is not enough, because there is still some air inside any container. Have you ever seen those wine vacuum pumps? Once your wine bottle is open, you can re-seal it, thanks to a special rubber stopper and a small hand-operated pump, so your wine doesn’t lose all its aromas. Same idea can be used for tea. I’ve seen some vacuum containers, but they are all clear (even if they are specifically designed for tea leaves or coffee beans!!!) and usually made of plastic and I really don’t like them, aesthetically.
Since I want something that can block light, I'm steering clear of clear glass or plastic. You wouldn’t believe how many clear tea canisters and jars (vacuum or not) I’ve come across online! Light degrades the tea leaves, so displaying them in clear containers on a shelf or kitchen counter is not a good idea. Visually pleasing, for sure, but a no-no.
I’m looking for non porous and non reactive materials here. Wood and unglazed clay are porous, definitely not ideal, unless you are storing puer tea in a high-quality unglazed yixing clay jar, but that’s another story. Non reactive materials won't interfere with the chemical structure of the tea leaves in a way that changes their look or flavor. Stainless steel, tin and tin-lined copper are non reactive metals. Ceramics is considered non reactive too. Aluminum, copper, iron, and steel (not 'stainless') are reactive. Interestingly, the same applies to cooking pans and utensils. I’m not a big fan of metal tea tins, I don’t think they are easy to clean.
If your tea storage solution vacuum seals your tea leaves inside, moisture shouldn’t be a problem, but you still want to make sure your tea cabinet is in a dry and cool room. The kitchen is not ideal, because it’s a hot and moist place, but if you have to store your tea there (like me, sorry, lack of space!), select a cabinet that is away from the main appliances (which radiate heat) and from the spice rack and other food. Scents and odors are the enemy! My herbal and flavored teas are strictly stored elsewhere, far far away from my high quality, unflavored loose leaf teas. Herbal tea is a nighttime staple for me and I don’t usually drink flavored teas, but sometimes I use them in my recipes. You want to avoid odor and scent contamination at all costs.
Also, if the container is as dark as it should be, you don’t know what’s inside. I dream of a high tech solution which would store my loose leaf teas with info on purchase date, steep temperature and steep time, maybe connected with an app, so I know at all times what’s in my tea cabinet and what teas are getting older and need to be enjoyed sooner rather than later. I dream of something that looks neat and stylish. Maybe a modular system of tea jars that makes each module easy to reach and adaptable to different spaces / cabinets. If you know of any, please let me know. I will be eternally grateful. Otherwise, I guess I’ll have to come up with my own smart loose leaf tea storage system.