Most tea products come in a dry-leaf state. This makes an illusion that tea products are “non-perishable” goods that can be stored forever.
This is far from the truth. All teas, in theory, have an expiration day. Some teas, such as white tea, can be aged. But this doesn’t mean packaged aged teas can last forever. Even with careful packaging, most tea products are gradually degrading after the best-before date.
A tea after the best-before date can still be consumed, though you wouldn’t get the best out of it. To get the best out of a tea, we need to enjoy it soon. Nevertheless, the fading of a tea doesn’t happen over night. It’s a progressive process. Therefore, it’s vital to know how to recognize various signs that a tea is losing its momentum. Today, let’s discuss 3 signs that your tea is “fading away”.
The fading of a tea is often associated with oxidization and damp in storage.
Different teas have different oxidization levels. For example, a green tea is not oxidized, and a white tea is slightly oxidized. If a green tea is overexposed in open air, it’d be oxidized. However, an oxidized green tea won’t become a white tea (because oxidization level is only one of many differences between them). It can only become a “bad” tea.
Oolong tea, on the other hand, is roasted. After the roast, oolong teas are packaged and stored in a dry and cool place. Improper storage might cause damp to infiltrate tea leaves. The extra moisture in leaves would have a very negative effect on the roast.
When any of the above occur, a tea would start to show some “tells”.
The most obvious change is that the tea soup tastes “thinner” than normal. A “thin” tea soup means a plain, weak, watery taste. A tea like this is more boring than plain water. Normally, green tea shows this sign the earliest. Green tea has a short lifespan. Most green teas, not matter premium or low-end, start to fade a few months after the harvest (3-6 months). This is why “freshness” is the most crucial when it comes to the quality of green tea.
The other noticeable change is the “drier” tea soup. I have to admit, the “dryness” of the tea soup is an interesting expression. In fact, it describes more about the feeling of the tongue than the “wetness” of the tea soup. This “dryness” often disguises itself as “bitterness”. Commonly, tea soup should have smooth and mellow mouthfeel. When leaves are damp in storage, the levels of tea polyphenols and caffeine increase, and the level of theanine decreases. Both tea polyphenols and caffeine contribute to the dryness and the bitterness of tea. A damp tea unavoidably tastes dry and bitter.
To be honest, when this happens to a tea you’ve just purchased, it’s quite difficult to determine whether this is the result of low quality tea leaves, bad tea-making process or tea’s fading. But, you’d surely recognize this sign if it happens to a tea in your inventory.
Finally, the aromas of the tea soup would feel “diluted”. When enjoying a tea, we actually smell the tea before we can taste. In our tea blogs, we often use the word “refreshing” to describe a tea’s aromas. What we mean here is actually about how sharp the delivery of the aromas is.
For example, Wuyi oolong teas have many distinct layers of aromas. If a Wuyi oolong is over-oxidized or damp in storage, these layers are harder to capture as if they’re all veiled under a silk mask. Also, aromas that usually linger on the lid and the wall of the Gaiwan fade severely.
In Wuyi oolong’s case, if the fade is only in the early stage, you can send it back to a tea maker to re-roast. But for other types of teas, you better finish it soon before it becomes undrinkable.
Even to seasoned tea drinkers, a premium tea is a rare treat. Like wine collectors, many tea lovers like to collect good teas to share with family and friends in the future. This is understandable. But tea products are not nonperishable, and the tastes and the aromas would eventually fade away. It’s a great waste if a tea spends its prime time in storage. To ensure the quality, tea lovers should always check their inventory and look for these signs.
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