Effects of Freezing on Tea
I have heard that you are not supposed to freeze tea, and I was wondering what happens to it if you do.
I have been ordering a bit of tea online lately, and due to the local weather (It’s winter. I’m in Maine.), I’m concerned that it may freeze during transit or in my mailbox.
If it were to freeze on its way to me, what should I expect the effect to be on the tea once I’m ready to brew it?
Depends a little on the tea and how it was stored before freezing. I don’t have a LOT of experience with this, but some. The issue has mostly to do with the moisture content of the tea. Tea is never completely dry, and, in general, changing the temperature has an adverse effect on the tea due to the resulting changes in the moisture content.
If you are dealing with a less oxidized tea, such as a white, green, or yellow tea (and some lightly-oxidized oolongs), it will be less tolerant. Your more oxidized teas will be more tolerant, except in the case of compressed teas, such as pu-erh, which would take some special treatment to mitigate freezing damage.
You can’t do anything about damage done before it reaches your hands, so basically, the trick is in how the tea is brought to room temperature. Resist the urge to open the tea right away. I trust that it was sent in an airtight container (tins are not typically airtight by themselves). As long as the container remains airtight while being slowly brought up to room temperature, the effects will be minimized. Turn the bag/container from time to time to prevent moisture condensation concentrating in certain parts.
I would allow about 24 hours before opening the tea if you suspect it was frozen. And, do not refrigerate the tea, as some people do to extend its life. Refrigeration is a bit (but only a little bit) tricky to do without damaging the tea, but once the tea has been refrigerated once and brought back to room temperature, repeating that cycle without damaging the tea is something I haven’t seen done.
Thank you, Brent! That’s really helpful!