Tips for Organizing and Displaying Your Tea Collection
Every tea collection begins it’s life in the kitchen. This is where normal people keep and prepare food and if you only have a few boxes of tea even small apartment kitchens will have room. Not long after the seed of tea obsession is planted two boxes grows to four and then sixteen. I like to call this the “Ramona Flowers” phase. It’s when tea collections explode in a short time. Tea and teaware consume more and more of a kitchen cabinet until the collection buckles under its own weight and you end up stashing tea with your dish soap. Keep itup and a housemate will demand their cabinet space back. If you’ve ever been in this positon I’d like to offer some of my recommendations for making space for a medium to large tea collection.
Moving Out of the Kitchen
As I mentioned before, the kitchen is just not going to be sustainable for nearly anyone in the long run. Kitchens are one of the strongest smelling rooms in any house. Cooking food, dirty dishes, smelly trash, and the strong melange of two dozen spices in the pantry will find its way into your tea. Teaware left in the kitchen will inevitably follow the tea to the new tea space unless you plan on continuing to make and drink tea tea in the kitchen standing up.
Tea containers come in an inconsistent variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. A lot of high quality vendors will send loose tea in resealable stand up pouches but you could run into metal tins of varying size. I’ve found myself attracted to deep drawers because it allows for almost every tea container to be placed standing up and provides room for smaller tins to be stacked vertically. Empty wardrobe drawers would be perfect, but an easier alternative are foldable storage cubes that fit into shelves.
I’ve long ago given up on the dream of a pristine Marie Kondo style tea drawer. Deep drawers filled with tea from several vendors will never stack perfectly and digging through a jumble of containers is going to always be part of the process. You can cut down on this growing jumble by storing samples and small quantities of tea in a bag together. It will be much easier to find that 25 gram sample of a sheng cake in a bag with all the other samples than spelunking to the bottom corner of the drawer.
As your tea collection grows it would be good to organize by tea type. You’ll probably find you want to consolidate some types like white and green together, or split sub categories like rolled and twisted oolong. When you start to accumulate puer its very important to not think of “puer” as a single category for storage.
A cake of fresh spring sheng puer and a brick of shou puer are wildly different teas that make for bad roommates. Sheng puer will absorb the surrounding odors like a sponge and shou puer is emitting a strong scent as it ages. Special boxes set up just for puer work well for some people in certain climates, but beware that aging tea together like that will lead to each tea’s fragrance melding together.
Teaware Display Shelves
Once you start accumulating smaller tea pots, gaiwans, and one of a kind handmade tea cups the urge to keep them handy is going to run up against the urge to display them. Vacant bookshelves and mantle places are obvious choices and can work well for a lot of people. I was very bad about having a coherent teaware storage system for many years. After my first child was born I had the impetus to get a custom wall-mounted shelf made for me. Shoutout to Reclaimed Goodness, her work is excellent! Wall mounted shelves can be intimidating but I’ve found they offer the best of both display and ease of access. Installing shelves like this in the same room or corner where you prepare and serve tea. I liked it so much I installed another smaller shelf above my desk for my most used teaware.
Don’t Forget to Declutter
Once you’ve grown into your current tea collection we should always keep in mind that tidiness and annual decluttering will go a long way to keep your tea practice enjoyable. Once a year I like to pull out everything and reassess my collection. You don’t have to hold the bag of tea and ask it if it sparks joy, but opening the bag and smelling it for freshness is a good idea. Tea usually ends up in three piles. 1. Tea I know I’m keeping. 2. Tea I know I’m done with. 3. Tea I want to make and see how I feel about it now. The truth is that the third pile usually ends up in pile two by the end.
Life is too short to drink or keep tea out of obligation. Looking back on what you’ve bought and not drank much off is a really valuable practice. You can see how your tastes have evolved and remind yourself of what new purchases should be a priority and which ones to skip. If you are a particularly nostalgic person consider taking a picture of your tea before you discard like a class photo. I took this one during my Ramona Flowers phase almost ten years ago and I’m really glad I did.
I have no idea how all of this fit in my tiny kitchen.
Barry Donnelly, Mad Monk Tea
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