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How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Were they “getting organized” or “downsizing”? When it comes to tea, I am probably not the person to ask for advice.

I confess, not only do I have an entire drawer filled with tea, I also have a tea box in the basement, an assortment of odd tins in the cupboard, 9 tins on a special rack, and 2 tins on the counter. Even though I tend to drink at least 1-2 large cups of specialty tea a day, it would take me over a year to finish all this. And with the cost of my most decadent delights (albeit still not the most expensive options out there), I tend to hoard for special occasions or very sad days.

But I’m actually doing myself a disservice. Tea is meant to be savoured at its best, and like our female figures, it doesn’t stay the same forever!

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.

Doronty Parker

Black tea is meant to last a reasonably long time, generally up to 2 years from when it is opened. Sure, it will lose some flavour over that time, but significantly less so if it’s stored properly. There are three exceptions: pu’erh tea, oolong tea, and green tea. Green tea is fired for less time, and therefore should be used in less than 1 year. Pu’erh and oolnog are best enjoyed fresh!

Tins, boxes, foil bags, paper or plastic sachets. Tea comes in all sorts of containers, but not all containers are equal.

First, tea should be stored in a dark area. My kitchen counter may not be the best option! Sunlight and the warmth it brings can damage tea leaves, altering both its taste, colour and texture. Clear glass jars in particular are the worst choice because even inside a cupboard, tea leaves can be exposed to light.

Second, tea should be stored where it’scool and dry. Humidity and moisture can encourage the growth of bacteria, so storing tea near your cooking element isn’t the best option. Don’t forget heat rises and can be trapped along the ceiling, so an upper shelf is at higher risk of warmer temperatures. And if you’re someone who cooks or bakes a lot, you may want to consider storing completely out of your kitchen. If you suspect your tea has been compromised (and usually you can smell mold), it’s better to toss it than risk tossing your digestion.

Third, and probably most importantly, is an airtight container. This elimates both issues of humidity and loss of flavour. Airflow, over time, literally steals flavour from tea, coffee and those spices in your cupboard. Always squeeze out as much air as possible when you are resealing your container. A double layer provides more protection. For example, if your sachets are individually sealed, store them in the cardboard box or carton they came in. Metal tins often have 2 layers on the lid or a rubber seal around the edges. And those cartons with a foil seal – don’t toss the seal. Instead, press it down on top of the tea bags for extra protection. Metal tins are your best bet!

It’s a given, but don’t store different flavours in the same container. I know it saves space, but do you really want to risk compromising the flavours. Some spices, like cinnamon and clove, are especially overpowering. I wouldn’t want a delicate floral tea to be overpowered by cinnamon! Tea leaves are meant to absorb the perfumes with which they are combined, like jasmine pearls, or cinnamon bark. Keep in mind, therefore, that they can absorb other flavours too – like cedar from the wooden box you are storing them in, or the deep fryer you keep next to the box. Strong flavours can also imprint the container they are stored in, even tin ones, so it’s important to use the same container always, or wash and allow plenty of time to air out before adding something else.

Here’s another pickle. Buying large amounts means tea may sit around longer and start to lose flavour. Buying in small amounts means it’s in small company, so it may start to lose flavour. Use your discretion when purchasing. I tend to purchase small amounts of a new flavour so that I’m not wasting any if it’s not to my satisfaction, while I keep a larger stash of my favourites because I know I will use them.

Consider sharing! Two years ago, Big Guy’s friend and I exchanged a few teas. Not only did we each get to try something new, but it was a good opportunity to organize our stash and toss out a few teas that were way past their prime!

You never know what you have….until you clean your room!