Why Those Tea Tins Are a Bad Idea for Storing Your Teas

by Little Yellow Teapot (a tea steeping marvel and occasional contributing author)

The other day on Twitter I saw this photos of tea tins posted by The Tea Smith. Gorgeous image. Horrible tea storage idea. I don’t think they were recommending these tins, just using this photo as an attention getter. But it did get this little teapot fired up to counsel you humans on the ins and outs of tea storage, showing you along the way why these tins are a bad idea. TOOOT!

Key Features in Tea Storage Containers

There are lots of tea storage containers on the market, making it hard to decide which ones you need for keeping your teas at their best. Simplify the decision by knowing their ins and outs.

Basically, some things should be kept IN these containers and some things should be kept OUT of them. Of course, your tea storage container also needs a fairly easy way to get tea in and out of it.

What should go IN a tea storage container:

  • Tea (of course, it has to be able to come OUT, too!)

What should stay OUT of a tea storage container:

  • Air (specifically Oxygen)
  • Moisture/Humidity
  • Odors
  • Light
  • Temperature extremes

As long as you keep these basics in mind, you won’t go wrong in your selection. Of course, how to store tea depends on the type of tea being stored. (Say that three times fast!) It also depends on whether you are talking long- or short-term storage.

Proper Storage Elements

Delicate teas, especially higher-quality greens, need special attention to store them and have them taste as good as when you received them. Exposure to humidity and oxygen can make these teas start to oxidize and lose nutrients, heat speeds up this process, while light turns them yellow-brown/black, takes away their aroma, and darkens the tea liquid. Properly stored, white, green, and the more greenish oolong teas can stay pretty fresh for about a year, while the dark oolongs and black teas will be fine for 12 to 18 months.

Teas with strong flavorings added, especially mint and cinnamon, need to be stored away from other teas, or they will all take on those flavors. Some samples I had received awhile back were like that. The cinnamony chai aroma dominated when I opened the shipping box, and all the teas needed to be set aside for awhile so the aroma would fade.

Comparing Different Types of Storage Containers

When researching storage containers, I kept coming across statements like, “The best way to store tea is at room temperature in an airtight tea tin.” The problem is that even a tea tin with a special seal around the lid doesn’t keep air out, nor humidity. Some comes in through the seams, which are usually not soldered, and some stays in the tin every time you open and close it. (Nature abhors a vacuum, meaning that the part of the interior of the tea tin not filled with tea is filled with — you guessed it! — air. Unlike plastic pouches, you can’t squeeze that air out before putting the lid back on, so it stays in the tea tin, attacking your tea.) That makes these tins unsuitable for long-term storage, especially of white and green teas. Not too good for the greener oolongs either.

A mostly empty plastic pouch rolled up to squeeze out air.
A mostly empty plastic pouch rolled up to squeeze out air.

Lots of glass containers are available, but, unless they are totally opaque like milk glass, they don’t keep out light. The better glass containers have special seals around the lid to help prevent air flow, but like the tins, there will still be air and humidity inside them. Ditto for ceramic tea canisters, even with a silicone gasket.

You could always use tins, glass containers, and canisters to put small (50 g) foil pouches of teas in as a short-term storage option.

Plastic sandwich bags can serve in a pinch, but not for long-term storage. They are usually clear, letting in light, and they aren’t all that airtight, letting in odors and oxygen. Sometimes after opening a foil tea pack, I fold it closed, put on a paperclip, and then put it in a plastic baggie as a temporary measure. For better long-term storage, many tea vendors are using heat-sealed polyfoil laminate, the only true seal according to some tea consultants. Buying the higher-end teas in smaller quantities and sealed in foil laminate pouches will help, too.

Final Thoughts

You can assure having a decent tea when dining out by carrying a few of your favorites with you in a tea wallet. It’s made for bagged teas, but that’s better than settling for those restaurant grade teas. Also, you will want to have those individually wrapped teabags like Twining’s and Mighty Leaf offer. Keep your wallet stocked so you can grab it quickly when you head out to breakfast, lunch, or dinner at your favorite eatery.

Fresh ideas for your teas!

[Note: some of this information was in one of my articles posted on another blog.]

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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