When you invest time and gather tea leaves you may want them to last for a while. The quick decay of leaves is a major problem. How do you preserve tea leaves?
Tea leaves are most commonly preserved by dry storage. Removing the moisture from the leaves prevents the growth of micro-organisms like mold and bacteria. If you store the dried tea leaves in a dark, cold and dry environment, they will be good for years. Even teas that are decades-old can be great.
SHORT ANSWER – How Do You Dry Out Tea?
Drying out tea can be done through various means. Tea leaves can be dried by the air, in the sun, in the oven and even in a microwave! These methods have different effects on the tea leaves. Slower methods conserve more of the flavor while the faster methods prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.
This article delivers quick guides for all four methods mentioned. But first, the necessity of drying tea leaves is discussed. Afterward, the four variations on how to dry tea plant leaves are described.
Do The Leaves Really Need To Be Dried?
Tea leaves are dried for two main reasons. The first one is about preservation and shelf-life. Fresh tea leaves have a shelf-life of only a few days, which does not allow for trade or long-term storage. For tea leaves to be storable, they have to be dried.
The second reason is less obvious and applies to traditional tea production only. Tea leaves from Camellia Sinensis are quite hard when plucked and will easily break when handled. Therefore a drying process is used to soften the leaves.
The loss of moisture allows the leaves to bend and be handled without breaking. This is an essential step in tea production. and without it, no frying or roasting could be done by the tea masters.
If you want to find out more about why tea leaves need to be dried and if you can brew a good cup of tea from fresh tea leaves, have a look at this article.
How Long Do Tea Leaves Need To Dry?
With more traditional methods that rely on airflow to dry the tea leaves, the drying process will take between one and a few days. This largely depends on the temperature and relative humidity.
Lower relative humidity allows the air to take up more water in a shorter time. If the air is too dry, the leaves may become brittle, though. A humidity below 30-40% is not desired.
Higher temperatures allow for more water to evaporate from the leaves. With higher temperatures the risk for brittle, overdried leaves increases, too. Temperatures above 90 °F (30 °C) over prolonged time will damage your tea leaves.
Faster methods with more modern tools allow you to complete the drying process within one hour. Drying tea leaves the quickest can be done within minutes (!) utilizing a microwave. Just be careful not to overdo and destroy your tea.
1. How To Dry Tea Leaves In The Sun
Drying tea leaves outside in the sun is one of two more low-tech and traditional methods described in this article. Sun-drying revolves around placing the leaves on a drying screen or hang them from a drying rack and placing them outside.
Drying tea leaves in the sun is a weather dependent method. With relative humidity below 70% and temperatures above 70 °F (20 °C), this method works great. The leaves are placed on a drying screen or hang from a drying rack. You should avoid too much direct sunlight, as this will damage the leaves.
Furthermore, you need to be careful with smells outside. Plant material is prone to absorbing unwanted smells especially when dried. If done correctly this method will not take longer than a few hours and save you the electricity bill of more modern methods.
2. Drying Leaves In Bundles
Another traditional method is the drying of herbs and leaves indoors. For this method, the leaves are bound to bundles and are hung up on the ceiling or walls of an odorless room. This method can take between one and a few days but will retain most flavor in the leaves.
With a string (one that does not smell!), the stems must be bound tightly. Keep in mind that the stems will reduce in volume when drying. Retightening the string is often necessary when using this method.
With this method, you will still need to check for humidity. High humidities greatly increase the risk of mold development or bacteria growth. Most houses and flats rarely exceed 70% relative humidity when ventilated regularly.
3. How Do You Dry Tea Leaves In The Oven?
The first of the more modern options is the oven. The three factors, relative humidity, temperature, and airflow, are found in every household’s oven. Being careful with the settings and time, your tea leaves will be dry in under one hour.
Drying tea leaves in an oven should not be done at high temperatures. Tea leaves are supposed to dry at 100 °F (38 °C) or below. Higher temperatures can cause the decay of compounds in the leaves. Adjust the temperature by letting the oven cool below the minimum temperature and dry for one hour.
The leaves should be placed on a screen or towel. Since the temperature is below 100 °F (38 °C), neither your hand nor any towel will get burned. I recommend checking the temperature before putting in the leaves.
4. Dry Leaves Quickly
The absolute quickest tool for drying tea leaves is the microwave. Microwaves directly heat water molecules inside your food – or your tea leaves. The water is turned into steam and leaves the leaves.
You need to place the tea leaves without any stems between to pieces of kitchen towel. The paper towel will absorb the water that is turned into steam. Also, the semi-wet paper towels will prevent certain leaves to burn before others have dried.
Place the paper towels with the leaves on the rotating disc of your microwave and set the microwave to one minute on high heat. Afterward, wait for 45 seconds. Turn on the high heat for 30 seconds and wait for another 30-45 seconds.
Repeating this process the tea leaves should properly dry within 8-15 minutes. This method can go wrong quite easily and I recommend using one of the traditional methods if you have enough time to do so.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.