Often I’m asked “how long does tea last?” There are many qualifications and exceptions, but generally you should enjoy your tea within 12 months of purchase, and for some teas, like the delicate greens and aromatic high-mountain oolongs, within 6 months of purchase.
Occasionally this question comes up when the inquirer has received a gift of tea from an Asian friend or business associate and, having been told that the tea is very special, are reluctant to drink the tea. They may be saving it for a special occasion or to serve to guests. My feeling is that tea should be enjoyed as soon as you receive or buy it and it’s a great opportunity to just call people to come over and try it with you. Waiting for the right occasion might mean forgetting you even have the tea and then before you know it, a year has gone by and it may not be as fabulous as it once was.
Tea doesn’t actually go “bad” unless moisture is unknowingly introduced and mold is allowed to grow. It’s more about age which causes tea to lose its freshness and character (the exception of course is pu’erh which improves with exposure to air). The worst enemies of white, green, oolong and black tea are light and air so I always advise people to keep their good loose-leaf tea in air-tight and light-tight containers.
This brings up another question and subject altogether: “this is the same tea I bought last time, but it doesn’t taste the same—why is that?” I’ll write about this subject in my next blog.