How to store 100 teas
Which teas age better, what are the basics to keep your favourites well, and will chai survive the lockdown?
Funnily enough, tea doesn’t really come with a use-by date although most packets will say use within one year. Fresh tea is not the same as fresh fish or fresh produce because tea leaves are processed. And this involves various mechanisms that actually enhance tea’s keeping powers.
I asked tea friends whose stores have a hundred or more teas at any given time how they take care of their tea. In a nutshell, moisture, sunlight, temperature and oxygen are factors to address. Most tea comes in foil-lined, vacuum-sealed packets. This takes away oxygen and insulates the tea from heat and light.
Once you open a packet, transfer the tea into an opaque, airtight container. Metal or ceramic tea canisters with airtight double lids are ideal. A cool, dry shelf that’s not occupied by spices or other odorous foods is necessary. Tea tends to absorb odours and flavours, so give it the dark corner in your pantry, and the company of non-odorous items.
Tea veteran Dan Bolton says the standard of excellence is vacuum-packed teas that are then double packaged in compostable containers. “Certainly tasty for a year and more…," he writes. Tea scientist Prof. Gurmeet Singh stores his collection of 100-plus teas in airtight plastic tubs lined with brown paper to cut down the light. He keeps them in a room with the least amount of sunlight.
Bengaluru’s dry weather, says Prof. Singh, does help keep the tea longer. But, he adds: “No matter how you store the tea, delicate notes will disappear. A Darjeeling tea tastes best in the garden."
Both Bolton and Prof. Singh agree that white, green and yellow tea should be treated as produce: They are seasonal, delicate, and owing to the way they are processed, sensitive to even slight variations in humidity. In other words, they are harder to preserve for long.
On the other hand, oolongs and blacks are hardy, capable of long periods of storage because processing significantly reduces their moisture content. Some insist that oolongs are the best teas to age, with the flavour improving with time. But this is best left to connoisseurs who know what to look for and how to preserve them well.
For those of us who rely on a few good cups of tea every day, there’s good news: Our chai and black tea is naturally suited to keep for a long time. The flavour and colour will reduce over time but even a stale tea can be salvaged by blending it with a newer/ fresher/ better tea. Since tea accommodates other flavours, you can also add complementary ingredients, even spices to make a masala chai.
Look at your tea collection. If there are delicate teas like green or white, get through them sooner.
But rest assured, tea is known to keep well, certainly a year or two. And some, I am told, even a hundred years... but that’s another story, for another day.
Amazon has a variety of tea canisters to choose from. Do look for airtight lids and opaque jars.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.
FIRST PUBLISHED18.04.2020 | 10:00 AM IST