Tea Storage for Optimal Freshness and Shelf Life

Correct tea storage provides the longest shelf life possible. This is important for all tea drinkers as your want your last cup to be as good as your first. So to get this correct, we need some basic understanding of how tea interacts with the environment and what the expected shelf life of tea really is. Then we can figure out where and how to store tea. Below is a chart that lays out the different types of teas and how long they should be good for if given the optimal treatment in the trip to market and then onto your shelves at home.

Tea Type Expected Shelf Live Tea Storage Comments
Black 24 months Since this tea is generally dried longer, it will last longer under the right conditions.
Oolong 12-24 months The darker the oolong the longer the shelf life.
Green and Yellow 6-12 months The British Tea Council advises to drink the green teas before 6 months as the anti-oxidants will break down over time. If taste is more your concern, you are fine going out 12 months for most.
White 6 months Since white tea is made from younger leaves with the least amount of manufacturing, so this is not a tea to keep long.
Blended with Flavoring 6-24 months Extracts have long shelf lives, so it is the tea base that will dictate this shelf life
Blended with spices, flowers, herbs 6-12 months Here the spices more than the tea dictate the shelf life. Cinnamon, mint, and cloves will start to lose their punch after six months. Most flowers add no flavor and will stay as long as the tea.
Blended with Nuts 6 months Nuts go bad quickly, that is why you often don’t find them in tea. If a tea is nut flavored, it is generally through extracts.
Puerh Generally the older the better, some of the best on the market are 20-30 years old, unlike the other tea, this one needs air to improve its flavor Puerh needs air, so if you buy it store it somewhere other than the kitchen to allow for proper air circulation without it picking up the odors from your cooking.
Your favorite antique tea tin may not provide the best tea storage solution.

Your Favorite Tea Storage Tin May Impair Freshness

Tea Storage Conditions

Tea is hygroscopic, which means it will absorb moisture and odor from the air. So it needs an air-tight container, kept away from spices, garlic, onions, and anything else that has strong odors in the kitchen. Tea should also be kept away from heat. Generally in a kitchen, when food is heated it releases steam and the tea will absorb all of it. So never store your tea near or above your oven, cook top, dishwasher, or microwave. By doing that, you are just asking to have your morning tea taste like last night’s dinner. Finally, tea is also light sensitive. Remember, the sun is used to whither the freshly plucked tea leaves. So more sun on the dried tea leaves, will just break them down faster. So its best to stay away from clear containers.

Best Tea Storage Options

Sencha Green Tea in Resealable Pouch for Optimal Tea Storage

Japanese Sencha in an Air-Tight Tea Storage Pouch to Optimize Freshness

If your tea comes in a resealable pouch that is not clear, you have the perfect container to store your tea. For those pesky tea bags in cardboard boxes, get them into a zip lock bag immediately and make sure you are using them regularly as they do not last that long. That is not to say you should not have a metal, plastic or dark glass container to store your tea, if you like those kinds of things. Just keep in mind they have seams and may not be as air-tight as most of the resealable pouches. Also, the flavor of the tea will stay with the container, especially plastic ones, so you have to be willing to constantly drink the same tea to justify having a secondary container for it. Either that or be prepared to wash it well between teas (and expect plastic to still retain the smell of the prior tea or soap used to wash it). Just remember to put your tea in a dark part of the kitchen away from heat, and not in the refrigerator, unless you have the tea in a vacuum sealed container. In closing, to keep your tea as fresh as possible, an air tight container that is dark and placed away from heat and appliances that produce heat or steam is the best solution.

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Electric Kettle Selection – Maximize Flexibility & Keep Everyone Happy

Yellow Electric Tea Kettle

Our First Exposure to an Electric Kettle

Our recent posts have focused on the wide variety of options one could choose from in selecting the perfect teapot. In the midst of writing these posts we received a note from one of our readers (thanks Gerry) asking if we had any thoughts to share on electric kettles. So this week we are going to do just that.

Having evolved ourselves, over the years, from teapot on the stove to water boilers and electric kettles, its probably about time for this post. Our first experience with electric kettles came on a trip to France. During a stay at Les Quatre Puits (near Bordeaux), we found using an electric kettle to be so much faster and easier that we bought one right away on returning home and haven’t looked back since.

History of the Electric Kettle

Kettles have been around for thousands of years, though of course electric kettles are relatively new on the scene needing, well…. electricity. The late 1800′s saw the first electric kettle, though initial designs weren’t very efficient, nor safe, as they had no way to shut off when the water boiled or even if they boiled dry. It was Russell Hobbs which developed the first fully automatic electric kettle in 1955. The expertly named (we’re kidding) K1 proved safer and more convenient than boiling water on the stove. It was a radical new design, with a thermostat to automatically turn off the kettle upon boil, greatly reducing the chance of boiling the kettle dry and causing a fire.

Choosing an Electric Kettle

Electric kettles have come a long way since the 1950′s. They have several new safety options, are made from various materials, and some even have options to address various temperatures at which you might want to steep your tea. The following table outlines some of the common features, though a quick Amazon search for tea kettles yields well over 1,000 options so we’ve surely missed some.

Feature Our Take Comments

Primary Material Metal Preferred The jury on plastic may still be out in some minds and not in others. Seems better to be on the safe side and use something with the least amount of plastic possible. And while glass or porcelain are attractive its something else to worry about breaking.

Auto-Shutoff Mandatory This is both a safety and energy usage issue.

Boil-Dry Prevention Optional In theory this is a safety issue, but we can’t see how we would ever put an empty kettle or one with very low water on. The good news is most kettles come with this anyhow.

Cord Concealment Optional This is a safety issue, and in our house with children around this is mandatory for us. For other family situations this will be different. Similar to boil-dry prevention in that most come with this feature anyway.

Variable Temperature Strongly Desired We believe strongly that tea lovers should explore. That means not limiting yourself to one kind of tea. If you drink green, white, yellow, and some oolongs then you are going to need different water temperatures. Its either this, or get a thermometer and practice patience.

Concealed Heating Element Optional We’ve used both, and unless you are going to scrub the inside of your kettle, we aren’t sure this makes a difference. If you have hard water and have to descale appliances often, this might be an issue for you. However, if you have hard water, you would be better served looking at filtration systems.

Keep Warm Strongly Desired We can’t tell you how many times we got the water going, got distracted, and didn’t get back to the kettle right away. This is a must have if you have busy mornings.

Cordless Kettle Mandatory This is a no brainer. Having a kettle still attached to the wall is a safety issue and a major convenience/flexibility issue.

360° Swivel Optional We’ve used both, and frankly could care less either way.  The 360° swivel can be a bit of a pain to land the kettle on. The less expensive Aroma model we used for years, without a swivel base, was actually easier to land the kettle on.

Audible Beeps Strongly Desired Without the beep, we can’t go far and know the water is done. Though if your kettle has a keep warm option this is less of an issue.

Light-Up Buttons or Water Fill Level Optional For the most part this is a weak way to differentiate a product and something else to break.

In Kettle Tea Basket Optional This is more gimmick than practical for us. More parts, more things to break, and unless everyone in the house agrees to the same tea then one person gets the kettle and the other boils water another way or waits, cleans the unit, and prepares their own later.

Electric Kettles and Water Boilers

There is a wide variety of kettles up to and including full water boilers like the 4 Liter Zojirushi at left.

Just a quick note on plastic too. Most electric tea kettles today have some plastic, and while it may be BPA free that certainly doesn’t settle the debate of other chemicals leaching into the water from plastic. Like it or not, our take is that if you use a kettle there will be some contact with plastic though it may be quite small depending on model. We recently upgraded our kettle to Cuisinart CPK-17, which is primarily metal, though we’ve used an inexpensive plastic model for years. Both perform well, and neither give off flavors to the water produced. If you do end up with off flavors and you are sure its not your water then try boiling and discarding several post including a pot of white vinegar and water. If it still has off flavors then return it and don’t look back.

When it comes to our kettle upgrade, the big reason we switched to the Cuisinart CPK-17 was the ability to bring water to a specific temperature, and on-line reviews indicating it did indeed bring the water within 1-2 of the desired temp. We drink a wide variety of teas and that targeted temperature makes preparation easier.

One model that stands out is the Breville one-touch tea maker. This kettle is specifically focused on making tea and features an automated basket which is raised and lowered by the tea you are making. On the surface looks like a great solution, though it wasn’t right for us for several reasons. First, its expensive at 2 to 5 times the cost of most other kettles. Second, in our house we rarely agree on the type of tea we are going to drink on any given day so we need hot water and then we go our separate ways. If you make tea in the Breville they recommend washing the jug and basket before changing teas. That’s not going to work for us while heading off to work and juggling getting kids off to school. Finally, we are technology people (we even do some software programming), but feel that more tech equals more parts to break or things to go wrong.

All in all there are plenty of kettles at the low end of the price range. However, if you are open to exploration in the tea world then its well worth the upgrade to a model with variable temperature settings. There is such a thing as too many features, too gimmicky, and even impractical for families with multiple tea drinkers so take care before shelling out for the most expensive kettles. That said, if you want a simple, elegant kettle in touch with history, check out the beautifully simple Legacy Floral Kettle from Russell Hobbs.

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The Perfect Teapot – Part II

Vendor at Chinese Amusement Park

Bigger is not always better in teapot selection. Photo by flickr user gill_penney (CC BY 2.0)

In our last post, The Perfect Teapot – Part I, we discussed the importance of matching the tea to the teapot, the materials the teapots are made of and ultimately how that spills over into the cleaning regimen for the pot. Next we need to talk size, budget, and how the aesthetics of the tea pot should influence your purchase.

Teapot Size

Teapot size is all about personal preference. Here in the US, we typically see teapots that serve 4-6 people. More recently as loose leaf tea has increased in popularity you see the marketing of tea pots for personal use, which typically allow for 12-16 ounces of water. However, the Chinese have had a small teapot, the Yixing teapot, for centuries. By Western standards this is small looks even for one person. However, the Chinese use it for the serving of many people at once in small cups before quickly resteeping again. The kyusu and tetsubin, much like the porcelain and sterling silver teapots, are built for 4-6, and even sometimes 8 people to be served at once. Bigger is sometimes better, but in the world of teapots that is not always the case. The quality of the pot itself and its story is often better than the size and dictates more of the price tag than the size.

Budget and Quality

The price range on teapots can be very large. The price is dictated by age, material it is made out of (Sterling Silver or high end porcelain will cost much more than plain glass), who makes it, and the uniqueness of the teapot. Knowing if you are paying a fair price for more modern tea pots is made relatively easy given the internet. However, your antique teapots and Yixing teapots are another story. Antique teapots can run hundreds to thousands of dollars. So before paying for such treasures, make sure you are getting the real thing and that it is worth the price tag. This will require some research and in the case of the Yixing teapots, having someone who is knowledgeable (not the seller) help you confirm that it is the real thing. There are many frauds in the marketplace, which may be fine if you are not spending big dollars. However, if you are willing spend thousands on a teapot, you should get confirmation that you are getting the real thing.

As a side note, if you are looking at antique porcelain teapots, be careful actually drinking from them. Old glazes were made with lead and other heavy metals that have long been banned from paints and glazes in the United States, because of their tendency to poison humans and cause cancer. If you are serious about actually using the antique teapot, at a minimum you should consider testing the inside with a lead testing kit. An antique Yixing teapot will not have this problem as there are no glazes or dyes used in the real teapots, just high quality clay.

What your teapot says about your tea philosophy

Painted Yixing Teapot

Decorated Yixing Teapot – More for Decoration Than Making Tea photo by flickr user Rob Chant (CC BY 2.0)

One cannot end a discussion on teapots without looking back in time at the philosophy on teapots from the Chinese and Japanese. For the Chinese, a teapot was to be simple, reflect nature and the exercise of focusing on the tea. Teapots were never considered formal. Many Yixing teapots have no decoration at all, yet their shape has meaning for the owner. More modern ones have Chinese characters, which often reference nature and harmony. The painted porcelain teapots usually depicted nature and man’s interaction with nature.

For the Japanese, tea was about ceremony and formality. The kyusu handle had the purpose for allowing for a graceful pour and the pictures on the teapot are placed to allow for view by the guest when pouring. While the Japanese are more formal they share in common with the Chinese the use of pictures of nature and symbols referencing nature and harmony. Fast forward to Europe and the teapot was a symbol of wealth and generosity. This translated into the more ornate, the better.

So as you venture into the market place to find your next teapot, don’t forget to balance your philosophy on tea with your budget and your willingness to care for the teapot in the fashion it requires. There are many choices and many reasons to own and use more than one perfect teapot.

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The Perfect Teapot – Part I

Traditional teapot, cups, and tray.

Teapot and Cups at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland Oregon – Photo © Dominion Tea 2015

Much like tea, there are many different tea pots on the market. So determining which one to use can be overwhelming. So to help you find the perfect teapot, we outline items that should be considered when making your purchase.

Here are the five things you should consider in purchasing the perfect teapot for you:

  1. What type of tea do you wish to serve in the teapot.
  2. Your willingness to clean your new teapot by hand.
  3. How many servings you are hoping to have from a pot of tea.
  4. How the teapot reflects your view of tea.
  5. Your budget. (Yes, a teapot can be a budget buster.)

These considerations require more knowledge about the history of the tea and subsequently make for a rather long blog, so I am going to be breaking this up into two blogs and initially focus on matching your teapot to your tea and what it means for your future hand washing duties.

Matching Tea to The Perfect Teapot

Knowing what kind of tea you wish to drink from your teapot is the most important consideration. Yes, that implies that you may need more than one teapot if you are to drink your tea correctly. I don’t see a problem with that, especially once you learn the history of some of these teapots. They too have stories that rival those of the tea steeped inside. Below is a quick chart showing the traditional tea that goes with the teapot. This is not to say you cannot brew some other tea in the pot, just be aware that some of the features of the pot may not work well with other teas.

 

Teapot Type Historical Tea Care Needed

Ceramic Teapot, unglazed – Yixing (also known as I-Hsing) All types of tea, but only one teapot per type since the flavor of the tea is absorbed by the clay Leaves should be removed from the pot when done and the pot left out to dry. No soap should be used as it will be absorbed by the teapot and your next cup may have bubbles!

Ceramic Teapot, glazed – Kyusu Matcha and Gykoro More modern ones can go through the dishwasher on the top shelf. Older ones require hand washing as the glaze may be damaged.

Cast Iron Teapot – Tetsubin Sencha Like other cast iron cookware, the dishwasher is not allowed and soap will ruin it. Rinse lightly with water and towel dry.

Sterling Silver Teapot All types, joints in the pot will stain over time. Sterling silver is never put in the dishwasher, but it does require polishing. Dry the inside completely after rinsing with water to prevent permanent staining.

Porcelain Teapot, glazed All types, the glaze allows for using of different types of teas with the same pot. However, black teas will most certainly stain the interior of the pot over time and heavily flavored teas may leave residual oils and flavors behind. Some of these may be dishwasher safe, some not. It depends on the age and the thickness of the porcelain. Soap is easily usable on more modern teapots but may damage the glaze on older.

Glass Teapot Flowering and balled teas. The glass allows the drinker to enjoy the unraveling of the leaves, and for the flowering teas the final work of art of the tied tea leaves. Watch the spouts on these, as they are wider so smaller leaf teas will pour right out of the pot. Most glass teapots can be cleaned on the top shelf of the dishwasher (Experience suggests don’t put the top in the dishwasher, they are too fragile.)

 

 

Short, Red, Cast Iron Teapot

Japanese Tetsubin – Photo by Flickr user Irene2005 – CC BY-2.0

The materials used in the creation of the teapot will affect the final taste of the tea. In the case of the metal and un-glazed ceramic, the effect is most pronounced. The Tetsubin, cast iron teapot, was supposedly created in response to Japanese tea drinkers not liking the flavor of the water coming from the traditional Japanese copper pots that were also used for boiling water for cooking. In the end there is really no right or wrong material for the perfect teapot, just one of personal preference.

In our next part, we will discuss size, budgets and how the shape and color of a teapot should influence your purchase. On to The Perfect Teapot – Part II

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Chinese Tea: Hubei Province

In our last post we focused on Anhui Province, its people, and some of its famous teas. In this post we shift next door to look at neighboring Hubei Province which has many similarities yet is home to distinct Chinese teas of its own.

Hubei Province – Land and People

Ancient tower in China

Yellow Crane Tower in Hubei Province China (by Flicr user Meraj Chhaya, CC BY-2.0)

At a macro level Hubei, like Anhui, has a large population especially by comparison to US States of similar size. Hubei has approximately 57 Million people in an area of 186,000 sq km (71,815 sq mi). This is roughly equivalent to the size of Washington State, which has a much smaller population at only 7 million people. Instead, consider that Hubei’s 57 million is the equivalent of the populations of California and New York combined, all within the land area of Washington State. The population is made up of a large number of minority ethnic groups in a province said to be the origin of the Chinese people.

From a geography perspective, Hubei is a land locked province located along about the same latitude as southern Texas, Louisiana, and Florida though its land features range from lowlands to highly mountainous. The province is also traversed by the well known Yangtze River, features the Enshi Grand Canyon (1/16th the size of ours but very lush), Three Gorges, Yellow Tower, and more.

Like its geography and its people Hubei province has a wide range industries and business activities ranging from agricultural to finance and high tech.

Hubei Province Tea

Statue of Lu Yu

Lu Yu – In Xi’an on the grounds of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda
Nat Krause
July 26, 2005, CC – 2.0

Home to the birthplace of Yu Lu, author of the Classic of Tea, Hubei boasts a number of great teas. Though its teas are perhaps overlooked due to teas like Dragon Well, Keemun, and many others from surrounding provinces, it is home to its own unique tea. The major tea producing region of Hubei is found in the southwest mountains of the province in the Enshi region. Its an extremely mountainous region with very rugged terrain,and not surprisingly is quite rural by comparison to other parts of the province. The land here is heavily forested and known for rich soils high in selenium. As a result of both history and the high selenium content of its soils, Hubei produces a number of unique teas. The most famous of its teas is actually Enshi Yu Lu, also known as Jade Dew. What makes this unique is its close similarity to another ‘Jade Dew’ tea, Gyokuro from Japan. The Enshi Yu Lu green tea, like that of its close relative from Japan, uses steaming to halt oxidation of the leaf, which is a production method generally not used in other parts of China. Like its Japanese counterpart, Enshi Yu Lu has long dark green leaves that look to be needle shaped and tends to have a very vegetal flavor.

Additional teas include Wujiatai Tribute Tea, Hefeng Tea, Mapo Tea, and increasingly teas focused on perceived health benefits of selenium like Enshi Selenium Enriched Tea. The high selenium content of the soils, in fact, has led a number of companies in the region to seek trademarks on many different health related names of teas (though selenium deficiency is considered rare in the United States). Given the rich history of tea production in the region, its unique processing methods, the role in culture, and its own particular terrior, this region like many others (starting with Champagne, France) is pursuing Geographic Identification status as a way to highlight and protect its tea products.

Sources
Geographical Indication Characteristics and Agricultural Intellectual Property Protection of the tea in Enshi Prefecture, Asian Agricultural Research 2015, http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/174939/2/24.PDF

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