Organizing Your Teas
By Christine Rillo
All through my life, I've always been collecting something. The collection in question would grow with every subsequent purchase until it hit the point of near-completion. It would sit displayed, filed, etc until interest was lost then packaged away or left to collect dust. I'm pretty sure many of you can empathize with my situation, and probably have experienced it yourself. It's easy for a collection to get out of control, and this of course includes teas and teaware.
I find that with something like tea, it's easy to hoard and let it grow to uncontrollable numbers. With so many teas out in the world, it's easy to succumb to every leaf of Camilia sinensis you stumble upon. With the holidays you might have been given gifts of tea and teaware, adding more to your growing collection. You find teabags hiding in the strangest of places, half- empty samples left in their tins sitting behind boxes of cereal in your pantry, the rich collection of teas your friend visiting China brought back for you, left in a shoebox, forgotten. OK- so maybe it's not that extreme, but if you don't watch out- it can be! The start to a new year is the perfect time to get organized.
If you recognize that your tea collection is growing out of control, here are some steps to take to claim back your space and really get the best out of your tea collection.
Collect and SortTake a couple hours and try to wrangle all your tea into one area. Make use of a cleared kitchen or dining room table, or a large blanket spread out on the floor. Tell any family members, roommates, cohabitants, etc to leave you alone with your tea so you can concentrate! This includes pets. Designate various corners or sections of your table to the varieties of tea- black, oolong, green, white, flavored, herbal. If you're feeling extra ambitious, assign sub-categories within those. For example, under herbal you might want to include a section for Rooibos and Honeybush teas if you find that you have a lot, or flavored green teas under your green tea category. Also sort the teabags from loose-leaf.
Realize What You Really LikeOnce your sorting is done, take a look at your categories. What categories seem to have the most teas? What is lacking? And is there a reason why? Did you make the mistake of telling your entire family tree you were really into green teas, and now have an exorbitant amount of Lung Ching? Think about the last time you had a particular variety and try to think of what you really enjoy drinking. You can also consider what teas you go through the most, if you have a particular tea regiment throughout the day or week. Figure out what you need and what you can do without- do you really need that crazy Caramel-White Chocolate-Hazelnut-Lavender Silver Needle Rooibos tea? Probably not. However, you might want to hold on to your chamomile stash for after dinner drinking, if you find that you love having that pre-bedtime cup. If you're one to keep a wider variety of teas on hand, narrow the ones in each respective category to the best quality leaves. If you find yourself with a large amount of good quality teabags, instead of tossing them you might want to hold on to some for any entertaining purposes. Adjust and de-clutter according to your uses and needs.
Dump and TossCleaning house is always be fun! If you realize you really don't like white teas, here is your chance. Get rid of all those complimentary teabags you get from take-out or from the hotel breakfast bar- you don't need them! Go through each category and examine each specimen. Take note of freshness too- smell each tea. If the smell isn't there, toss. You might also want to put aside teas in question and cup those to see if they are past their shelf life- set those teas aside. Of course, some people, myself included, can't bear to waste and throw out things willy-nilly. If this is you, put aside a bag of teas that you can possibly share with other tea lovers and other people in your life. This is a great chance to introduce someone to tea. However, be sure you'll either see this person soon or contact them up to pick up some goodies. I find in the past with other things that if I don't get it to the person, the gift stash sits around and inevitably makes its way back into the collection.
Organize and StoreYour work is not over yet! Ensure that all teas are stored properly-check on airtight tins, reseal able bags, and other containers your tea might come in and toss anything that's broken. Invest in any containers you might need. Craft stores are a surprising place to find good tins. If you cannot locate paper/matte reseal able bags, put your teas in a regular plastic zipper top bag, and store in a airtight tin, or colored food container. You don't want to keep tea in clear food containers unless they've been treated with UV coating because any light will cause damage to tealeaves. Label any blank tins. Round up any teabags you have and keep them 'filed' in an appropriate box. There are many teabag containers on the market for this purpose. Lastly, locate an area in your living quarters to arrange your tea collection- it could be a cupboard, counter space, bookshelf, etc. Put the teas you use on a daily basis out front in an area where they are easy to grab. Classify teas by their type and get creative with your system- yours may be different from the next connoisseur's.
If you have a good-sized teaware collection, this is also a great time to organize that as well. This may be very easy, as you might just have a couple of teacups and teapots to content. But if you're a hardcore teaware collector, you will have to devote a good amount of space to display your wares. This may be a good time to examine each piece and get rid of anything that is broken or chipped. Clean each vessel carefully using appropriate methods. Dust your display area and arrange to your liking.
Take a minute to admire your slimmed-down collection and give yourself a pat on the back for your hard work! Great job! Now you have a wonderful collection that is readily accessible and will contain only your favorites and necessities. You can also take this time to make note of teas that you might have been low or tossed due to freshness. Make a wish list of teas you want to stock up on again.
One last tip that may be helpful in ringing in a fresh tea year is to keep a tea journal. Find any appropriate notebook or journal and make pages for each variety you have. Here you can keep an inventory of the teas you have, make tasting notes of all the teas you discover, and keep a 'blacklist' of teas that definitely do not please your palette. You can also record any interesting and meaningful tea stories, keep any discounts or offers from the tea companies you buy from in your tea journal. It'll be useful and insightful to take a look at it come this time next year!
Hopefully this quick guide will provide some insight on how to tackle this tea project- so make up a pot of tea and get cracking!