Blog 66: White Tea Storage and Oxidization
I remember that when I was a kid, one of the biggest national regret in China was the archaeological excavation of Mawangdui (Chinese: 马王堆, click here for more info), the tomb of a Han dynasty (206 BC - 9 AD) aristocratic family.
The excavation took place in early 1970s. During the excavation, many colorful thousand-year-old artifacts like silks and arts were discovered. Unfortunately, due to the lack of technology and awareness, these precious artifacts were exposed to air and severely oxidized. All exquisite paintings and patterns suddenly loss all colors in a visible pace.
The lesson of Mawangdui shows us how powerful oxidization can be. Just like modern archaeologists, in tea-making, we also need to consider the influence of oxidization. All teas need to face the consequences of oxidization. Oolong tea, for example, is sensitive to oxidization. If a oolong tea is stored for more than 2 years, it has to be re-roasted. White tea, on the other hand, is aged through oxidization. A proper oxidization can make a premium white tea even better. Today, let’s look into how we should correctly store a white tea for the purpose of a better aging process through oxidization.
Oxidization is the most important part in white tea’s limited tea-making process, and the oxidization will carry on during storage. (for previous blogs on white tea, please click here). On the internet, some people suggest that white tea show be packaged in vacuum bags for storage because this the best way to maintain the quality of a food product.
However, this is absolutely wrong. White tea cannot be stored in an airless environment.
The aging of white tea requires oxidization, and oxidization requires air. In white tea aging, we say “one year tea, three year medicine and seven year treasure” (click here for detail). A proper storage can make a good white tea more valuable over time.
The correct way to store white tea is to put white tea in a dry, odorless, cool environment. Most loose leaf white tea products are already in sealed packages. Our white tea products are all packaged into per-serving bags. The advantage of small package is that you won’t disturb the aging process because you only open the bag of tea that you’re going to drink. For bags that contains more than 2 oz of white tea, you have to keep opening and closing the bag. This might affect the quality of the aging due to multiple rapid changes of oxygen levels.
Although white tea cannot be stored in an airless environment, it doesn’t mean that white tea can just sit in open air. I’ve seen some tea stores use clay jars to store white tea products. The reason for such a choice is that they learned clay jars are ideal for storing Pu Er teas. While clay jars might be a heaven for Pu Er tea, it’s truly a hell for white tea. Clay jars have an excellent breathability, but they don’t offer airtightness. If we use clay jars to store white tea, the water in the air would infiltrate and damp tea leaves inside.
If you want to age a large quantity of white tea (more than 5 pounds), the best way is to use a “three-layer wrap”. A three-layer wrap includes a light-blocking cardboard box, a sealable plastic bag and a aluminum foil bag. To package tea, simply put white tea leaves in the aluminum foil bag and fasten the bag; then, put the aluminum foil bag in a larger plastic bag/wrap and also fasten the bag; finally, put all bags into the box and tape the box.
Of course, you can always take some white tea out of the storage and enjoy it. Just remember to tightly seal all bags and boxes again and avoid unnecessary opening that might disrupt the aging process.
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