Sunday, March 10, 2013

Expired Tea

Oh dear, I realized I have few oolong tins  that are past their expiry dates stated on the tins. The use of expiry dates on food is important in that it protects the customer from eating food or drink that may not in an optimal state of consumption on due date.  It may be less serious if you opened a can of fruits that is a month overdue, but consuming a cup of yogurt that is 2 weeks overdue may not be altogether a pleasant experience.

The date on this 'Sea Dyke' Ti Kuan Yin (see pix above) stated the expiry date as 13 Oct 2011.  This meant that the production date of this tea was 3 years before due date, i.e. Oct 2008.  There is now a trend for some tea collectors to go to tea and grocery shops looking to buy such expired tinned teas, as these tea drinkers believe these teas are more mellow than the new tins.  I myself came across a Guangzhou tea shop that sells such expired tinned teas for a premium and yes, these teas sells well.

Now the main issue is - Does tea have an expiry date?  Answer : It depends ( I often use this phrase when I answer my Economics questions and it is more often correct). But seriously -  It depends, because of the type of tea you have purchased and how you have stored your tea. Green teas like Long Jing,  and Japanese powered green tea (matcha) are usually consumed within a year.  Greener oolongs (meaning light roast) like Taiwan high mountain tea also fall in this category.    Green teas are generally appreciated and consumed for their fresh and invigorating taste.  Serious green tea drinkers are particularly concerned in preserving the freshness, taking extra steps in storing their green teas in vacuum sealed packs and containers, and even resorting to refrigerating their green teas.  If these teas are not store properly, the taste and aroma would somewhat be diminished.  The tea leaves may also turn brownish and would be quite unpleasant to drink.  

Some teas can keep for a long time.  Pu erh tea which I enjoy drinking is a tea that will age to wonderful tea with a pleasing aroma and taste.  Other teas that will age well include  Liu Bao and Liu Ann tea.  Highly roasted oolongs like the above Ti Kuan Yin will keep well, with some tea lovers attesting that these tea will taste  mellow with age.  

Be mindful that there are also oolongs; that are lightly roasted and the tea leaves appear greenish especially when observed after a brewing session. Such tea would not keep well over time.  Some teashops may 'reroast' such green oolongs when they notice the tea has lost its aroma.  It is a practice that is not condone by me.

So, is there an expiry date to teas like pu erh and liu bao?  Chan Kam Pong in his book "First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea" answered "Every tea has a climax - a peak time when it is best appreciated.  Generally speaking, Puerh tea aged for 30 years is already very good."  My Guangzhou tea master friend thinks that puerh tea will reach an optimal level after 25-30 years and may even taper off after further storage.  

For me, drink your green teas fast, preferably within a year and refrigerate your tea  if possible.  For teas like pu erh and liu bao - yes, these tea will keep and age well, but with an important caveat - proper storage.

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