How time flies! It’s been years since my last tea blog. The past 3 years have been, well, unexpected. We went through a pandemic, hate crime incidents, difficult landlord situation, moving to a new location etc. At the same time, I’m very grateful for our kind customers who’ve been supporting us all along. We met great people, made new friends, and have more interesting stories to tell. With the reopening of our tea store in DuPont Circle (now in The Ven at Embassy Row Hotel at 2015 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC), I’m finally able to better continue this tea blog and share my thoughts on questions which I am frequently asked.
One common question our customers have is “how long does a tea last”. This is usually a tricky question because there is no one universal answer. We must understand a lot more about the basics of tea-making and processing.
First, we must recognize that as a food product, tea has an “expiration date” and a “best before date”. In this blog, we’ll primarily focus on the “best before date” because I believe tea should be a cultured enjoyment. A good cup of tea should not be anything but perfect.
The rule of thumb is that for teas that cannot be aged, a higher fermentation level means a longer shelf life. This simple principle applies to green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. For tea products that can be aged (e.g. white tea and dark tea), we’ll discuss them at the end of the blog.
Green Tea Should Be Enjoyed As Soon As Possible
Premium green tea products should be finished within 3 months since the day of the harvest (not the day of purchase). Even with vacuum packaging and low temperature storage, green tea products wouldn’t last more than 6 to 12 months. All processed herbal beverages that have green tea mixed in should also follow this guidance.
Green tea is a non-fermented tea category. For this reason, green tea should always be enjoyed when it’s the freshest. Seasoned tea lovers would know that fresh green tea products have the best lively fresh aroma. As time goes on, green tea loses its freshness, aroma, and taste.
The loss of freshness is the result of oxidization. As a less-processed tea, green tea is easily affected by the overall storage environment.
There is no such thing as an “aged green tea”. Once in a while, I come across some online posts claiming they’ve tried some “aged” green tea products. But unfortunately, those are just very very old, expired tea products. The belief that anything “aged” is better is merely a misunderstanding of tea and tea-making. Not everything can be aged and not all aged things are automatically better.
Most Oolong Tea and Black Tea Have A Shelf Life Between 1 to 3 Years
Oolong tea and black tea products are more processed, but it doesn’t mean they will last forever.
Oolong tea and black tea have a longer shelf life than green tea is because they have more complex tea-making steps that can transform more nutrients into stable compounds.
Lower moisture content in oolong tea and black tea products also help prolong the shelf life of tea leaves.
For example, oolong tea has a unique tea-making step called “roasting”. Heavier the roasting, lower the moisture content; lower the moisture content, longer the shelf life.
Despite these more processed tea products have a lower moisture content, it doesn’t mean that they’re immune to moisture elsewhere. For instance, if we store tea in a humid kitchen, all leaves would eventually get damp and expire.
Aged White Tea and Dark Tea, Will They Last Forever?
Finally, let’s talk about tea categories that can be aged.
In our previous blogs, we’ve focused on aged white tea and briefly talked about aged dark teas (such as Pu Er tea).
Aged teas can deliver a thicker and richer experience. One example is that 3-year-old white tea. It still preserves the new tea “fresh”, but its tea soup tastes much thicker. White tea older than 3 years would have an even thicker mouthfeel, but they’d lose the refreshing taste. After that, there won’t be a dramatic change in the overall experience.
In recent years, more and more white tea lovers start wondering just how long can an aged tea last? 20 years? 50 years? 100 years? Or in perpetuity?
My honest answer is that it certainly won’t last forever. Moreover, given it’s a food product, we should be more careful what we consume. There’re just too many things that can happen during a long-term storage. Tea leaves can become damp, oxidized, affected by foreign smell. In fact, there’re very few aged products that can last over 10 years. It’s even rarer that an aged tea can last over 20 years.
If aging a tea is your particular interest, I recommend try a small part of it once in a while to make sure that everything is going fine.
We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!
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