how to store tea | converting a dojo into a storage house

The early months at Obubu were spent not on tea, but on construction. This may sound odd, but at the time the company was in a transitional phase. The Japanese tea company was then operating out of a one-room office above a confectionary. Still, I can hear the thud, thud, thud of the machinery below as it pounded rice powder dough into glutinous mochi. The sweet smell of azuki beans wafting through the wooden floor boards.

If memory serves me right, the office moved into the new house during the month of March. I'm not kidding when I say house, Obubu literally bought a whole house. You can imagine the upgrade as nothing less than joyous. Additional rooms, space to maneuver, and of course storage for tea. Let me paint you a picture, there were the house, a sizable building with multiple rooms, two floors, and even a balcony. Adjacent and to the left was a smaller, 2-storey, building and left adjacent to it was a dojo. That's right, the tea farm bought a dojo to store tea. It was pretty awesome.

The ol'dojo. Full of warrior spirit and lizards. Seriously, the lizards were everywhere.

The ol'dojo. Full of warrior spirit and lizards. Seriously, the lizards were everywhere.

Now, the office kept to the house and this left the remaining two buildings as places of storage. The small 2-storey building was soon to be filled with racks and refrigerators.  On the second floor, if I recall correctly there was minimal tea storage space as the summers in Japan were hot and humid. This goes double for rooms with little ventilation. The tea would degrade much too fast and no tea garden is going to let that happen.

The small building continues to this day to serve as a temporary storage unit. Equipped with refrigeration units it can keep the teas at a much cooler temperature. Keep in mind that the majority of these teas are green and arguably will not keep for over a year. Green tea it seems loses its vigor quickly. Keeping the tea in a cool and dry place is a wise decision and when it comes to properly storing tea, this is the move to make.

The interior was spacious but dusty. Time to put in new floors and pad the walls.

The interior was spacious but dusty. Time to put in new floors and pad the walls.

On to the dojo. It was once used for kendo, Japanese swordsmanship, and even came with an old and weathered mask, pads, and broken bamboo sword. When the office finally transitioned over, considerable time was spent renovating the building into something more suitable. The floorboards were warped, damaged, and the dojo really needed some upgrading. I spent several weeks helping to strip the entire unit and replace the floors while reinforcing the walls. Quite the undertaking, but not without its rewards.

The dojo is no longer a dojo but served as a storage unit for the recent harvests of teas. In fact, it is exactly where we stored the kyobancha I had mentioned in a previous article. Of course, the bags of kyobancha were much larger than anything you or I would every purchase, weighing substantially more than they looked. These would be kept until they were auctioned off or sold off in smaller allotments and needed to be divided proportionally.  Where the dojo benefited is in its space (an entire year's harvest wouldn't fill the unit) and that it could provide a dry environment. Fans were set up to move the air and humidity which resulted in longer storing potential for the leaves.

Seriously though, I wasn't allowed to wear shoes. I had to work in sandals. Got to love Japan.

Seriously though, I wasn't allowed to wear shoes. I had to work in sandals. Got to love Japan.

Today, the dojo has been reconfigured into an apartment. A lot had changed in the three years since I left but it does make for a cozy home. Half the dojo is still utilized as a storage unit with bags of tea piled neatly along racks.

Bags of kyobancha needed room and space. We also needed to avoid the humidity.

Bags of kyobancha needed room and space. We also needed to avoid the humidity.

I've hinted at several proper storage techniques throughout the article and notably, they include a dry place, away from sunlight, and away from humidity and heat. For green tea these are a great rule of thumb to follow. One step better that I don't see recommended outside of the coffee trade would be to hinder the gaseous exchange of the leaves. This ability is afforded by vacuum sealing your teas and while not available for large-scale storage, can easily be done for smaller increments. During the World Tea Expo 2017 I came across a company that provided such a service.  Tightvac's Teavac would be a container of interest to those who wish to preserve their delicate leaves. Halting the gaseous exchange by creating a vacuum means that the flavour and integrity of the leaves are greatly lengthened. 

Of course, the world of tea is not so simple. As a matter of fact, many teas enjoy a good amount of air, heat, and humidity. Pu'er is one such tea. Perhaps one day I'll write about the topic but for now, I'll recommend you read both TeaDB and Marshaln to learn how everything I said above is turned upside down when it comes to storing your pu'er cakes.  

Overall, while you may not need to invest in repurposing a dojo to store your tea, keep in mind that, unless you're storing for the long haul (>1 year) you can get away with keeping your tea in a cool and dark place and under a tight seal.