Drink Magazine

Musings on the Freshness and Storage of Green Tea

By Dchew78 @peonyts

For those who know how to appreciate green (and yellow) teas, it tastes best fresh.

That is to say the briskness and sweetness of green tea, coupled with the huigan delivers a soothing, refreshing experience.

Of course if your idea of appreciating green tea is picking out the obscure flavors that elude everyone, move along. Even stale green tea can provide a complex, diverse spectrum of notes, in fact sometimes more.

(Read this post on downplaying the importance of taste in tea tasting)

Storage of green tea is delicate and finicky; I have thrown away more green tea than any other sort of tea combined due to lack of freshness.

Thanks to modern technology though, freshness is not merely restricted to harvest date. Through various methods, we can slow down the degradation of green tea.

If well-stored and handled, green tea can maintain its quality approximately 24 months from harvest.

That is with a big caveat of ‘if well-stored and handled’.

‘Well stored and handled’

For example, at point of writing, our 2012 green teas are still as enjoyable as it was virtually a year ago.

This is due to a combination of the following:

i)   Air-flown

As I have mentioned before, green tea should be stored below room temperature (of course this is Singapore our ambient temperature is circa 28⁰C, if you are from Alaska, feel free to scoff).

Unless you are shipping in refer containers, transit time is time away from the fridge.

Our policy for shipping green tea is very simple- air flown.

How this is achieved in practice is one of the following methods:

a)   Hand-carry

Musings on the Freshness and Storage of Green Tea
On the second last day of our trip (we usually take the morning to noon flights), the producers will pack and seal the teas for us.

Then the next day, we hand-carry it back to Singapore and we will send it into the fridge the same day.

b)   Express services

Generally 2-3 days, upon receipt, into the fridge it goes.

This is not a means of self-trumpeting- best of my knowledge the major tea vendors in Singapore do the same.

ii)   Storage

As mentioned, it is stored below room temperature- circa 4-8⁰C. The teas are only removed from the fridge just before we ship it.

If we go to an event, we either bring an ice-box or if the scale justifies it, we rent a fridge to store our green teas.

iii)   Packaging

Our green teas are double-sealed in air-tight water proof packaging with a desiccant and oxygen-absorber to preserve its freshness.

Musings on the Freshness and Storage of Green Tea
When we break the seal of any packaging, we bring it out from the fridge and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. This is to bring the tea packet back to room temperature and prevent moisture from condensing on the inside of the packet when opened.

As this last step is somewhat time consuming, for teas that are currently consumed, I don’t place them back in the fridge but store them in my tea cupboard.

My observation is that generally within 2 months of opening, there is degradation in the taste of tea. It starts with a declined briskness and my mouth feels drier after consumption. Then the aroma fades and subsequently there are other smells and flavors.

Hence it was to my great surprise that the ‘experts’ outside of China and Chinese communities virtually universally reject storage in a fridge.

That went against my observations on green tea storage both as a vendor and as a green tea lover for more than 10 years. Also, every single Chinese green tea seller I have met stores it in the fridge.

I am not the sort to pretend my observations are irrefutable truths and I scoured numerous texts for an answer (yes I am a firm believer of book learning).

Without fail, reliable Chinese texts- including those published by Chinese agricultural universities or tea research institutes laud the benefits of storing green tea below room temperature.

Initially I toyed with the idea that it was because it’s the northern hemisphere’s ambient temperatures. However that doesn’t explain the fact that the months that the spring harvest arrive states side are preceded by the hottest months around, which in many cases are no less hot than our equator temperatures.

Besides, I have read- not bought any tea there personally since it’s not a tea place- that in Beijing vendors place green tea in fridges as well. Beijing would be closer to New York than Singapore in terms of climate, I reckon.

Musings on the Freshness and Storage of Green Tea
My conclusion is that it boils down to 2 factors:

i)   Appreciation of green tea

ii)   Shipping of green tea

Earlier, I have written about the most important descriptors of tea quality and they have nothing to do with flavors.

Simply put, if you go looking for lima beans, elderberry, hibiscus or other flavors in green tea (or any type of tea for that matter), you are missing out on the whole point.

For a novice tea drinker who is busy looking for flavors as opposed to mouth feel, texture, body, briskness and of course huigan, freshness of green tea matters little.

As mentioned earlier, poorly stored green tea first degrades in the mouth feel and briskness. If that is an afterthought to you, it matters little whether the tea is fresh.

Secondly, the transit time of green tea.

Not having shipped anything from China to the US before, I went to a popular courier company’s website which provided an instant code.

Using Hangzhou (where Dragon Well comes from) as the origin and Los Angeles as the destination, I used 30 kg (which would be a fair estimation of a batch of spring tea purchase of smaller size retailers) and based on a Global Priority (2-4 days) service, the freight cost approximately US $5 per 50g excluding VAT.

Without going into too much detail I reckon it is quite unlikely that freight rates of any retail product will cost more than 20% of the retail price and that works out to $25 per 50g of green tea.

A look at the retail prices of most American ‘specialty tea shops’ will turn up prices much lower than that.

Hence it is more likely that these would go via sea.

Transit time from Shanghai to Long Beach is about 13 days. Add about 1-2 days transit from Hangzhou to Shanghai, 4 days inspection for export plus 7 days clearance, a retailer in LA would take delivery of the green tea circa 26 days after leaving the Hangzhou fridge. Considering 2 months is my observed ideal consumption period for green tea outside of the fridge, 26 days is significant.

Not to mention LA is the nearest gateway, you can add almost a week for New York.

Given that it reaches consumers in the northern hemisphere in a sub-optimal state to begin with, it would not be a stretch to suggest consumers would not notice the further degradation as much.

Not to mention most vendors practice what they preach and not shove the tea into fridges, one can only imagine how the green tea would taste like when it reaches the consumer.

Small wonder green tea is only lauded as the ‘health tea’ not the gourmet one.

See more articles on Tea Appreciation here

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