This is one of the most frequently asked questions from tea drinks and tea vendors.
Just like crops, tea is an agricultural product. Different teas have different harvest seasons and dormant seasons, and thus different storing method to preserve its freshness. Gaining a basic understanding of these seasons and storing methods can help you to get the most desired teas possible.
Green tea is one of the most consumed teas and its harvest season is restricted to spring only. In China, the most freshly picked green tea happens before Qinming, which is a season on the traditional Chinese calendar and thus referred as ‘Before Qiming tea’. Once before Qiming green tea is picked, it’s better to consume as soon as possible since green tea is all about freshness. For this very reason, green tea is typically recommended for spring and early summer season consumption, but less into fall and winter as we approach the end of year, thus less fresh. The best way to preserve green tea is storing it in refrigerator, but since tea has a natural tendency to absorb other scents, it’s recommended to wrap the product in some kind of food preservation bag, to prevent such accident that will damage the natural aroma of tea. Unlike white tea and Pu Er, green tea is not suitable for long term collection since its fragrance and taste will only fade away as time passes by.
It’s known for being the most exotic tea; Chinese white tea’s harvest season generally has three, spring, fall and winter. The most well known ones, such as silver needle and Bai Mu Dan are both picked in spring, the less well known Shou Mei is picked at the end of spring after Bai Mu Dan. Shou Mei then can also be picked in fall, and a winter version of Shou Mei is known as Han Lu, which usually has darker green leaves and fresher floral aroma. What’s intriguing about white teas is they all hold a collective value to become aged teas, since the aromatic compounds change with time and polyphenols (known for antioxidant) increase with time. Hence, whether to consume Silver Needle, Bai Mu Dan or Shou Mei right after their harvest seasons really depends on individual’s preferences. Generally, the fresh picked teas have more floral note in them while the aged white teas have a more sophisticated flavor combination of flower, dates, herb, mint and even woody sometimes, just like Shou Mei cake from 2015. People tend to buy Shou Mei and not to drink it until two or three years later for its dramatic change in both appearance and flavor, and our 2016 Shou Mei loose leaf is a great example of such initial change. Therefore, white tea can be consumed at any point of the year, but aged white tea is more recommended for colder season because of its anti-inflammatory health benefit. In general, 6 years plus aged white tea can be brewed through decoction, such as Shou Mei cake 2013, which is ideal for your crave of a hot drink in winter. White tea doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but keep it in a dry, cool, clean air and ventilated space is the key.
Oolong tea has a large variety in terms of its harvest season because Oolong has many different plantation regions. Even though the general harvest seasons are spring, fall and winter, different region and different altitude play major roles. For example, our Phoenix Dan Cong is picked in spring, fall and winter (a rarity known as Snowflake). However, its plucking point during spring season is so much later than green teas and it usually happens at the end of April to the beginning of May. This is because green teas emphasizes on picking buds and young leaves, while Oolong is normally fully-grown leaves. Phoenix teas that grow at a high altitude level of Phoenix Mountain grow relatively slower due to colder temperature, however still faster than the high altitude grown oolong teas from Taiwan, and that’s because temperature in Canton province (where Phoenix Mountain is) is generally higher all year around. Another example is our High Mountain Honey Oolong from Taiwan, which is actually harvested in summer since that’s when the green leaf hoppers come to chew the leaves, and thanks to them, such teas produce a type a chemical compound as a self-defense mechanism which end up giving that exquisite high floral and fruity note. Oolong is Serene Tea’s favorite choice of tea not just for its health benefits, but also for its craftsmanship, its highly diverse aromas and highly distinguishable complex flavors. Oolong can also be consumed at any point of the year and it can be stored up to a year and a half to two years before losing its prime time. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but keep it in a dry, cool, clean air and ventilated space is the key.
Black tea is simple and easy. Because it’s the most oxidized tea at its production already, more time and more oxidization won’t do anymore change to it. Black teas are usually recommended to consume in colder seasons such as fall and winter because of its malty, sweeter flavor and mellow texture, for example, the Golden Lily black tea has a sweet note that mimics caramel and sweet potato. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but keep it in a dry, clean air and ventilated space is the key.
Pu Erh Tea
We love Pu Erh not just for its health benefits, but also for its one of a kind earthy woody note. Nowadays, many variety of Pu Er start to show up on the market, from the traditional Pu Er cake, to loose leave, to Pu Er wrapped in dry Lyokan or Pu Er wrapped in dry lime, Pu Er has gained a lot of popularity with no doubt. It’s not difficult to store Pu Er at all since it’s all about aging! However, it doesn’t necessarily mean the longer the better as people misunderstand sometimes, generally speaking between 15 and 20 years would be an aging Pu Erh’s prime time. Because it’s a naturally fermented tea, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated or requires special care, but keep it in a dry, clean air, cool and ventilated space is the key. In China however, a lot of people will store their Pu Erh tea in a big clay jar since those are easy to find and storing Pu Erh tea in them is a common practice in Chinese tea culture.
The only tea we didn't talk about here is Yellow tea. Even though Yellow tea is not common and it's relatively less popular, it's slightly more oxidized compared to green tea while very similar to it. Thus it's recommended to drink yellow tea sooner than later and while it's not completely necessary to store it in the fridge, it's reasonable to do so.
Hope this piece will help everyone to decide what tea to drink based on the season as well as how to store your favorite tea properly!