Stale tea

Last weekend we spring-cleaned the kitchen (we are late for 2013 spring cleaning not early for 2014!). In the process, I found some very old matcha, which makes for an interesting comparison with the fresh matcha that I bought last week.

Matcha - Fresh and StaleHere are the photos. You can see that the fresh matcha is striking bright green but the old one is a dull, grey-green. Tea doesn’t spoil with time but it does loose its flavour and colour especially if exposed to air. Matcha is one of the brisker tea on the fading process. Ideally it should be used within a few weeks of opening but keeping it in an airtight container in the fridge can extend this a little. I’m ashamed to say that the old matcha was not in an airtight container, not in the fridge and has probably been on the shelf for well over a year. In other words, a perfect storm of matcha degradation!


The old matcha still has a strong vegetal aroma but it doesn’t form the nice froth and the taste is unpleasant and slightly sour.

Brewed Matcha - Fresh and Stale

Not all the examples of stale tea are as obvious as matcha and of course it varies with vacuum sealing, conditions etc. but here are the general rules that I use:  greens: within 4/5 months (of the harvest date), light oolongs and early Darjeeling: within 6/7 months, black tea (apart from Darjeeling) within 12-18 months, pu-ehr and heavily roasted oolongs: whenever they’re ready – both improve with age.

For the teas that don’t age, I have a terrible habit of not drinking them quickly enough. When I find a tea that I love, I sometimes wait until I can make enough time to really enjoy it, or the right occasion, or someone to share it with. Some fine teas have been lost in this way and the matcha was a good reminder. From now on, I am going to be dedicated in keeping my tea list updated with the date of purchase/harvest. That might sound nerdy but it’s nothing compared to the plans I have for rules in excel and automatic colour coding depending on the best time to drink ;-).

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7 Responses to Stale tea

  1. Nice pictures! I’ve been wanting to show stale matcha too, but unfortunately I consume it very quickly : )

  2. Breda says:

    Consumed quickly is exactly what we should all be doing with matcha Ricardo! Not my proudest moment to have let this perfectly good matcha go to waste.

  3. Marian says:

    Breda, that’s a very handy tip, which reminds me I must buy matcha again soon!

  4. The O'Dore says:

    Hi there,
    So following from your article…. I have come across a number of small cafes nearby that had Macha on their menu. The question is: considering that they’re very unlikely to prepare more than a handful of cups a week, should I assume that their Macha will almost certainly be stale? I suppose I could ask them to show me a small amount of the powder to see if it is sufficiently fresh (your photos really help, thanks!)
    Keep on the good work!

    • Breda says:

      Oh dear! I’m very sorry Theo. I didn’t see this comment until just now. It’s not like I’m bombarded with comments so I have no excuse ;-).
      I would guess that most places that go to the bother of selling matcha will know that it should be kept cool and used pretty quickly. Also, matcha is usually sold in small quantities (usually 30g) so even if there is just one order a day, that will be enough to keep a good turnover.
      If you do get a stale matcha it will be very obvious from the colour, lack of foam, smell and taste (as I mentioned in the article). The method of protest that follows is up to you!!

  5. Hi Breda,
    I hope you didn’t throw the “stale” Matcha away! You can still use the stale Matcha for culinary use. I have a popcorn topper recipe on my site and there are some good recipes available online for Matcha shortbread cookies. I’ve also added it to salad dressing for a little tangy healthiness. I’m enjoying your posts!

    • Breda says:

      I did throw it out Linda but your comment could not have come at a better time. Last month I bought a large tin of matcha in London and found it was stale when I brought it home. I’m starting to give up hope of the promised refund so your matcha popcorn and some shortbread cookies might salvage the situation. Thank you!