09 February 2009

Where will my good teas reside?

There are many ways to store tea.  I've seen it stored in plastic sandwich bags, clay jars, Ikea jars, earthenware containers, porcelain urns, metal or tin cans, plastic-like coated foil bags, aluminum foil, silk cloths, bamboo containers, paper boxes....

I've tried several of the above storage methods and although I haven't aged any teas for more than 5 years, I have found that different teas tend to like different environments.  The old rule-of-thumb is to avoid heat, moisture, excessive temperature fluctuations, air and light.  I think this rule can apply to most teas, but some teas, like old puerhs, may do well with some air.  In Taiwan, many of the tea masters store their old vintage teas in clay or earthenware jars that allow the teas to breathe.  Some masters will fire the teas every few years to remove moisture, and some think the teas do fine without more fire.

I've also had very good teas that have been stored for decades in what look like thick, decaying plastic bags.  Still taste good to me.

One mistake that I did make was to store some of my more fired and more recent oolong in a zisha clay jar. The jar was too big with too much room for air, and the properties of the clay allowed the tea to breathe too much.  The result was that after about two months, the tea lost substantial flavor and aroma.  I consulted some teaware suppliers in Taiwan about this dilemma and they agreed that the type of jar that I was using is more suitable for fermented, puerh type teas, and not for oolongs.  Smaller earthenware jars, porcelain jars, or special tin cans would be more appropriate.

I managed to get my hands on some cans that are specially made to store small quantities of good teas.  The cans are not made of any type of metal that gives off its own smell, and it has no coating that will off-gas.  Some tea friends recommended that I get some roasted tea twigs to place inside of the containers for several days in order to absorb any potential odors (supposedly, roasted twigs are very good for this purpose) before I put in my good oolongs. And once they go in, they shouldn't be disturbed too much.

It is inevitable that a tea's taste will change over time, but I want to try to keep the changes as true to nature as possible, with minimal loss or change of flavor due to poor storage conditions.

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