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Thursday, February 18, 2010

How to keep your tea fresh

Even if you buy the highest possible quality tea, if you don't store it well, you will just waste your tea and money because the tea will lose its color, aroma and taste. Why does that happen and how should we store tea properly?

First of all, please allow me to explain some important characteristics of tea.
  • Tea is good at absorbing moisture.
Experiments have been conducted on dry tea leaves left unwrapped indoors. After one day, the water content of the tea was about 7%; five or six days later, it had increased to more than 15%. In another test conducted in rainy weather, the water content in tea left exposed for one hour increased by 1%. If you don't believe me, you can perform your own test: put some dry loose tea in an open space next to a container of water overnight. The next day, you will find that the tea leaves will be more damp. Moreover, when the water content of tea reaches higher than 10% (the water content of good fresh tea is around 3%-5%), the tea will become moldy and lose its value.
  • Tea is good at absorbing odors.
Again, you can test this by leaving your tea next to some ground black pepper, scented soap, or other odiferous things overnight. The following day, your tea will smell like black pepper, soap or something else. When tea loses its fragrance or is polluted by other odors, the value of tea greatly decreases.
  • Tea is easily oxidized (i.e. it is a fresh product that can become stale).
Tea oxidizes naturally during storage. The longer tea is stored, the more its color, fragrance and flavor will change - especially green tea. Tea will oxidize
more quickly at higher temperatures or in a moist environment.

Secondly, let's analyze the factors influencing quality during tea storage.

1. Temperature:

The quality of tea deteriorates more rapidly at higher temperatures. Tests have shown that an increase in temperature of 10℃(50℉) causes an increase of 3-5 times in the rate of discoloration of tea due to oxidation. This is because the chlorophyll in tea easily breaks down when exposed to heat and light. Refrigeration is a good way to prevent this kind of deterioration.

2. Moisture:

When the moisture of tea increases, chemical components such as polyphenols and chlorophyll will break down more rapidly. It also creates an environment more attractive to mold, which of course accelerates decomposition. To prevent this the moisture content of tea should be kept below 5%. Accordingly, if you refrigerate your tea, don't let any moisture (e.g. condensation) inside the package.

3. Oxygen:

Roughly 20% of the air we breathe is oxygen, so if tea is left unsealed, exposure to air will speed up oxidization. Store tea in a container with an airtight seal.

4. Light:

Light also speeds up the chemical reactions in tea; when exposed to sunlight, tea will develop a stale taint and deteriorate more quickly. Tea should be stored in an opaque container.

To summarize, proper storage of tea has two fundamental requirements: first, a dry place; second, a temperature no higher than 5 ℃. The key to keep your tea as fresh as possible is to seal it in an airtight bag or in a jar/container and save it in a clean, dry, cool and dark place. It is good to store tea in the refrigerator (-4℃to 2℃), but you must make certain it is not exposed to other odors inside the refrigerator - this is especially true for a high quality green tea. In addition, a large quantity of tea should be divided into small packages, which can then be vacuum sealed. Black or oolong teas stored in a sealed package at a low temperature will keep for one to two years (although very delicate green teas won't last that long - a year is about the longest they'll last).

Of course, if you drink tea every day like me, you can simply finish it all before it goes bad. :P

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Big Red Robe (Da Hongpao)-Wuyi Cliff Oolong Tea

Recently, I introduced a dark oolong called Big Red Robe (Da Hongpao 大红袍)to my friend. He inspired me a lot with his deep and joyful experience of this tea, so I have decided to share some of the experience of the extraordinary and phenomenal flavor and aftertaste of this tea with you.

Big Red Robe was created more than 350 years ago in the Ming Dynasty and is the most well-known of the Wuyi cliff teas in Fujian. Moreover, its aroma and flavor distinguish it from other famous teas in China.

As I brew the tea, the aroma not only fills my nose and mind, but also travels into the whole room and even all the way from the teashop to my home. This is a real experience which happened one week ago. After preparing Big Red Robe at the teashop, I left without washing my hands and took the bus directly home. After more than one hour of travel on the bus, I finally got home. I put down my backpack and rubbed my nose. Surprisingly, my fingers still held the toasty and orchid aroma of Big Red Robe. I was absolutely amazed by the distinctive powerful aroma, although it is hard to imagine such a nuanced, enduring, smokey, toasty, orchid fragrance was from the dark twisted tea leaves.

Enjoying the beautiful aroma is a great pleasure and an important part of the process when tasting a cup of tea. After that, I sip a little of the velvety amber liquor and the complex flavor permeates my entire mouth. The lush, mellow aftertaste with its slightly syrupy finish was so pleasant. There was none of green tea's bitterness or black tea's astringency. The flavor of the tea was vivid, rich and expansive. It was also a flavor of nature - from an earthy, misty cliffside - and filled my senses in a way I cannot express. Chinese people call this special flavor and aroma yanyun (岩韵). Yan means "cliff"; yun has no exact match in English. Its means that something is harmonious, graceful, delightful and meaningful.

My friend sent me an email about his experience drinking this tea. "The second infusion is even more smooth and more powerful. As I sip the second cup, my soul is filled with strong emotions and my mind is in another world. A world free of earthly stress, negativity and all that exists is warmth and artful beauty," he wrote.

Yes, I was his witness. The inspiring aroma and taste also bring me to a peaceful spot, relax my body, calm my mind, stimulate my passion and purify my soul. In other words, if excitement and passion are fire, while relaxation and calmness are water, then I have both fire and water balanced together at the same time. That's yanyun.

Tea leads me to understand more about human nature and to develop a more embracing spiritual life. Savoring a tea is like understanding a human being. Enjoying tea emphasizes the people you drink with, the atmosphere and environment around you. Drinking tea with a peaceful mind, in a quiet place and with a few close friends is the perfect harmony between human and nature. However, sometimes, I still find it hard to believe how so much power could come from a sip of tea in a tiny Chinese cup.

About Me

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Seattle, WA, United States
I grew up with tea, and it continues to fill my life with so much beauty and discovery, pleasure, peace and friends. It is always leading me toward a greater understanding of culture, nature, myself and others. It is my hope to use this space to share the joy of tea and tea culture with you.