How to Store Loose Leaf Tea: The Complete Guide
Posted by Starwest Botanicals Content Team | Medically Reviewed by Daniel Powers, MS on 07-08-2022
As the night winds down, you put on your coziest socks, light your sweetest candles, fill up your kettle, and place it on the stove to boil. When you open your cabinet, an aromatic wave greets you as you browse through your many loose leaf teas—black currant, chai green tea, cinnamon orange spice.
Brewing loose leaf tea can be a magical experience, and the tea itself is absolutely irresistible. Knowing how to make loose leaf tea can affect the integrity of the tea and is essential to preparing the perfect cup, but what’s the best way to store loose leaf tea?
Generally, you’ll want to store it in a place where it’s not exposed to hot temperatures or moisture. When stored properly, tea can last for a very long time.
For maximum freshness, we’ve put together this quick guide to teach you how to store loose leaf tea properly.
Protecting Your Loose Leaf Tea
The key to long-lasting loose tea leaves is to protect them from anything that can cause them to oxidize. Oxidation is the process of exposing tea leaves to air. This is done intentionally to produce different types and flavor profiles in your cup. However, too much oxidation can lead to tea that tastes bitter, weak, or downright bad.
It’s important to know how to store loose tea vs tea bags to keep it safe from elements that can cause unwanted oxidation, including:
- Moisture – Picture what happens when you pour water over your tea—it steeps. You don’t want your tea to steep until you’re ready to enjoy that tasty cup. Tea can absorb moisture from the air so make sure you store your tea somewhere nice and dry.
- Oxygen – Oxygen exposure is what leads to oxidation. Of course, you can’t prevent all oxygen from getting to your tea leaves. Every time you open the container where you store your tea some oxygen will get in. However, try to limit the amount of oxygen that gets to your tea by sealing your leaves in an airtight container to maintain optimal freshness. Fresh tea is the best tea.
- Light – Direct sunlight can also change the taste of your favorite tea when the leaves are exposed to excessive amounts. This is why you rarely find loose leaf tea packaged in a clear storage container. An opaque container helps protect delicate tea leaves from overexposure to light.
- Heat – Heat contributes to the oxidation process too. Don’t store your loose leaf tea near a heating vent or in an excessively warm room. You can, however, store tea in your refrigerator or freezer as the cold air will prevent oxidation.
- Strong Odors – Tea leaves are like sponges. They’ll absorb the odors of things nearby. Thus, storing your tea near something that has a strong smell will cause your tea to taste odd. Coffee in the morning is wonderful, but coffee in your nightly tea? Not so much.
4 Loose Leaf Tea Storage Tips
Now that you know what to avoid, let’s talk about the best way to store loose leaf tea. In general, you should consider the type of tea, the storage area, and airtight containers.
#1 Store by Type
Tea leaves can be quite sensitive to external elements, especially those varieties that have undergone minimal oxidation in processing. Four of the most common tea varieties include:
- White Tea – White tea is made from young tea leaves and does not undergo any fermentation. This makes it more susceptible to the elements. It’s best not to buy too much white tea at one time because it will lose its delicate flavor more quickly than some of the other varieties.
- Green Tea – Green tea leaves are minimally fermented through heating or steaming. This makes them a little hardier than white tea leaves but only by a small margin. Green tea is easily damaged by heat, moisture, and oxygen so you should always store them in a cool, dry place.
- Oolong Tea – Oolong teas fall between green and black on the fermentation scale. They do best in a cool place where oxidation is reduced. Oolong teas will retain their flavor for longer than white and green when properly stored.
- Black Tea – Black teas are the most fermented and have been oxidized more than the other varieties. This means they will retain their peak flavor and freshness for longer than the lighter types.
#2 Keep Your Tea in the Right Spot in Your Kitchen
Remember the key to tea freshness—preventing oxidation. You can help maintain your tea’s taste and quality by choosing the right place to store it.
Some good options to consider include:
- Kitchen Cabinet – If you don’t live in an area that has extremely hot or humid conditions, your kitchen cabinets are probably perfectly fine choices for tea storage. Just make sure to keep your tea away from any strong-smelling spices or other products as tea can absorb these odors.
- Tea Drawer – If you have an empty kitchen drawer or even a drawer on your coffee cart, make it a tea drawer. A drawer is a convenient storage place. When you open it, you’ll easily see all of your tea options and can select the one you’re in the mood for.
- Refrigerator or Freezer – Some green, white, and light-colored oolong teas can be stored in your refrigerator or freezer. However, you must be careful to only take out what you need before putting the rest of your tea back in the fridge. The temperature change between the cool fridge and warm kitchen can lead to condensation, which will seep into your tea leaves.
#3 Make Sure Your Tea Is Sealed In an Airtight Container
The container your loose leaf tea comes in when you purchase it might be fine to keep it in—as long as it can be kept sealed in your cabinet or fridge. However, often foil or plastic packets can’t be resealed perfectly once you’ve opened them.
No need to fret, though. There are many alternatives for storing loose leaf tea, including:
- Cute tea tins
- Clay jars with a tight seal
- Opaque glass jars
Your container of choice should have the following features to ensure the tea stays fresh and free from oxidation promoting elements:
- An airtight lid that doesn’t allow oxygen in
- Opaque sides so no light can seep in
This means a clear glass or translucent plastic container isn’t a good option. Nor are permeable paper or plastic bags.
#4 Always Mark Your Tea Containers Clearly
Finally, because you’re storing your tea in containers through which you cannot see what’s inside, you should mark them clearly. Stick-on labels work perfectly and they can be removed so you can reuse the container later.
Consider including the following information on each label:
- Type of tea the container holds
- The date you put the tea in the container
- Ideal water temperature and steeping time
This will make it easy to quickly scan your tea cabinet or drawer for the exact brew you want without having to open the containers and expose the teas to oxygen.
How Long Can You Store Loose Leaf Tea?
Proper loose leaf tea storage can help your tea last for a long time. While tea doesn’t necessarily ever go bad, over time it may:
- Begin to lose the health-boosting antioxidants present in the leaves
- Become less flavorful
- Contain less caffeine
That being said, anecdotal evidence suggests that tea can be stored between 18 and 24 months without losing any of its desirable qualities.
Does Tea Ever Expire?
In short, no, tea does not expire. However, you can do a quality check to test for freshness if you’ve had your tea for quite some time. For this, enlist your senses:
- Look for visible mold due to moisture exposure and, if you see any, throw your tea out
- Brew a cup and evaluate the taste—if it’s weak, then the tea isn’t fresh
- Smell the brewed tea for that rich, tea scent that indicates quality and freshness
Outside of moldy tea, which should be thrown away immediately, a lack of flavor or aroma isn’t harmful to your health.
Top Off Your Loose Leaf Tea With Starwest Botanicals
With its sweet, spicy, or earthy aroma wafting into your nostrils as you take your first sip, a steaming cup of loose leaf tea can’t be beaten. To keep your tea time a quality one, you must store your leaves properly to protect them from heat, light, moisture, oxygen, and strong odors.
For high-quality tea from the first pour, look to Starwest Botanicals. We strongly believe that the perfect cup is brewed with organic, fair-trade-certified tea leaves. Our bulk teas come in a variety of flavors—from passion fruit to lemon ginger—as well as matcha powder.
You can complement your tea-drinking experience with our assortment of tea accessories, too. To root yourself in traditional techniques, use our bamboo whisk to blend your matcha or a bamboo strainer to brew your loose leaf teas. We also offer a variety of mesh ball infusers for effortless brewing, perfect for any tea lover.
Shop for quality with Starwest Botanicals.
Harvard School of Public Health. Tea. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/tea/
PubMed. Recommended Storage Temperature for Green Tea Based on Sensory Quality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6706524/