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Jun 7, 2009 02:21 PM

Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea, Shelf Life

Does anyone have solid info on how long longjing tea lasts (i.e. how long it's good for before the flavor starts to deteriorate) in a metal tea tin after it's been opened? I'm not entirely certain I got a straight answer from the folks I bought it from, who assured me that I should come back for new tea every few months and drink what I have within three months.

What kind of puzzles me is that if the shelf life is so short, how do tea sellers have fresh (or "fresh"?) tea throughout the year, when the stuff is only harvested in the spring? Do they freeze it? And if so, does it really not have any effect on the flavor to freeze the leaves? (Coffee tastes distinctly worse to me after the beans have been frozen.)

Help me clear up these mysteries, please!

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  1. Stored in a cool and dry environment, green teas like Longjing can stay fresh for up to 2, maybe 3, years.

    1. The things that will decrease the shelf-life of your tea leaves are air, heat and light. So when thinking about storing your leaves, airtight canisters are great if the bag you purchase the tea in does not seal well. You will want to store the tea in a dark cool area. There's no need to freeze the tea leaves. And if you follow these steps, your leaves will stay fresh for 2 years.

      1. thanks so much, ipse and anne! i could've sworn that the tea sellers told me that the tea would begin to deteriorate within months, unless vacuum sealed, though i'm sure it remains drinkable for a long time, after. any thoughts on the window of time for ideal consumption, when the flavor is at its "brightest"? my guess is that it's somewhere between three months and three years!

        2 Replies
        1. re: cimui

          Not sure there is such a thing as an ideal time for consumption, and even if there were, I'm not sure one would be able to discern a difference.

          After all, consider the fact that really good Longjing tea leaves can be steeped several times. So if you think there is any deterioration in your tea leaves, steep only once and you'll still get a great cup of tea.

          1. re: cimui

            More and more I'm thinking the vacuum brick method of tea (or coffee) isn't good for the tea, but that remains to be tested. For sure, the "brightest" flavor for the tea would be the first time you open the vacuum pack. Then it goes down hill from there. Not too different from how roasted coffee beans are, where unless you have them in 1/2 lb or less bags, the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the beans will be stale by the time you get there.

            By the way, if you've been to those tea places where they store samples in clear glass jars, take some time and smell each one. Chances are they'll all smell pretty much the same. Most often the leaves have been exposed to light by being in the clear glass jar. It sort of defeats the purpose of being "samples" unless you're just going to look at them. But again, there, too, I wonder if glass is also to blame, or just the exposure to light.

            In any case, I've not had good luck with purchased longjin tea. In fact they all have that generic taste and smell of the "glass jar "effect. I have had really good longjin tea that tea vendors made for me from their private stash. Very good Japanese Matcha, too. Short of drinking it at the estate where the tea was made, these experiences helps in determining how fresh your purchase is, and also how they could actually taste.

          2. Like any other vegetable product, the flavor begins deteriorating the moment it is picked. The important thing is how long it takes you to notice that the flavor has begun to deteriorate. I highly doubt even the most distinguished palate can detect a difference after only three months (three months from picking, not from purchase). Except with certain teas, I can't tell a difference with properly stored tea until close to a year - I have noticed an enormous difference in teas consumed within a few hours of drying, but am not sure if that is a real flavor difference, or simply the impact of drinking the tea at the estate. Many old tea manuals suggest doubling the amount of leaves used when tea is over a year old, though these are from an era of less than ideal storage practices.
            Freezing tea would make it degrade more quickly.
            Tea is not picked just in the spring, but nearly year round. Northern Hemisphere teas are picked from March to November; Southern Hemisphere teas are picked from September to February. Obviously, specific varieties of tea are often limited to a particular region and picking season. This is why tea should be treated as a seasonal product. Not only will buying it seasonally mean you are buying a fresher product, but the various teas picked during each season were selected for that season because the flavor is appropriate to the weather.

            1. One especial concern for green teas is oxidation, and is pretty easy to notice, by the change in the colour of the leaves, from a vibrant green to a dull, darker colour. Dragonwell is a bit less sensitive to oxidation than, say a green high mountain oolong from Taiwan, probably because it's been wok roasted a bit more.

              Store in a cool dry place in an air tight container, one year is a good rule of thumb. If you want an ongoing status test, a great way to very rapidly figure out the flavour/condition of the tea is to put a single whole leaf in your mouth and taste it without breaking the leaf.

              I tend to change teas every 4-6months, simply because I prefer drinking cooler teas in the warmer months and hotter teas in the colder months. I'm now on a pu-erh cycle, drinking the raw green version at the moment, after having had a robust cooked one over the winter.