Tiny upper cabinet storage for Tea

linnea56March 12, 2007

On to my next dilemma. Tiny but frustrating, since I can't believe I cannot come up with a solution. In my kitchen is a small upper cabinet above my coffeemaker. This is where I store my recipe box and my tea. My 20 to 25 different kinds of tea, mostly in bags; some loose. These are boxes for the tea bags, mostly of the same size, stacked up every which way. Loose tea is in some 3" diameter cylindrical vintage Japanese tea canisters, which is how tea is sold in Japan. (These were gifts from a friend, kept for sentimental value. Style does not go with my mission kitchen, so they are not on display. They have inner lids so are good for keeping loose tea fresh.) I have to pull out several boxes/canisters to reach the kind I want on any given day.

Help me organize my tea! Sounds silly, doesn't it??

The interior cabinet is only 11" wide, and 8 1/2" deep. Vertically it is 27", divided by 2 shelves spaced evenly.

I looked at some little stacking drawer units in the store, but the drawers were not deep enough to hold the tea boxes. I'd take the tea bags out of the boxes, but many kinds are not individually wrapped, or are tagless, so without the box there is no clue what they are. I am open to storing the tea elsewhere in the kitchen or pantry: perhaps this cabinet is better used for something else. I have drawers but they are all fully occupied by things in constant use. If there is something like a large flat transluscent plastic tea-box holder, that will hold a LOT of boxes; I could put those in the pantry. But I don't know if such a thing is made.

Any ideas? Thanks for your help!

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First, can you adjust the shelf, so that so much space wouldn't be taken up vertically? Maybe three shelves would be more helpful.

I'm visualizing small baskets where you could divide up the type of teas. Our craft stores have lots of small, flat baskets, where the sides are only 2-3" high. I have white plastic divider compartments which are 2 x 3 x 9. I just pulled out my tea and they would hold two boxes without the box. You could clip part of the box and use it as a divider so you would know the type of tea. Kind of this idea http://www.crateandbarrel.com/family.aspx?c=850&f=23549

Since the cylinders are sentimental, could you bag the tea and use the containers elsewhere, like in the bathroom or on your dresser for holding hairpins or something? You would get the pleasure of your friend's gift without the aggrivation.

But before I went to all that effort, I would probably look around and switch things with another cabinet. I find things I need to look over and decide work well in baskets on my corner lazy susans. With 13" between the shelves, I could keep my Tupperware cannisters where I store brown sugar and oatmeal. Do you have some less used items which would easily fit those dimensions?

Here is a link that might be useful: clear tea bag storage container

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 2:43PM
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Do you perhaps have teas that you just drink in the morning or just in the evening? Could you group them in different colored bins or baskets this way? Perhaps by type of tea.. herbal, green, black, flavored, etc? Or maybe the top 3,5 or 10 I drink most often and those I hardly drink but want around.
I have used those white wire components that look like a shelf with legs to break up space between fixed shelves. The one I am using is just high enough for TAZO and STASH tea boxes. You can squish 4 across and 2 deep. For assorted teas that I don't use too often and don't have full boxes of I use old canning(?) jars with the clasp lid. These come in several sizes, are see thru, air tight and stackable. The downside might be that they are glass.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 4:31PM
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Following a remodel a few years ago, I made the discovery that I had a lot of partially filled boxes of tea. It was aggravating to have to dig around to find what I wanted, so I found a box (similar to that shown above). Because a lot of the tea bags didn't have tags on them, I cut a small part of the box with the tea name on it and put it in the front of each section with the corresponding tea. This system has been a great success. When I have a guest, I can pull the box down and let the guest choose.

I don't know how many cylinders you have, but you might find a narrow tray that would hold several canisters so that you can pull them all down at the same time, rather than having to move them around to get to one. I'm thinking those clear acrylic trays you find at BBB or L&T that folks use in their bathroom drawers to sort and store stuff. And of course, I haven't seen your kitchen or the canisters, but the right "vintage Japanese" could mix in quite well with Mission style.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Store Tea Bag Box

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 6:57PM
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you might find a narrow tray that would hold several canisters so that you can pull them all down at the same time, rather than having to move them around to get to one.

This is how I store my spices--in an open-topped box that I can pull down to grab the one I want.

(like a tray, but w/ slightly higher sides; the sides are high enough that they hide the labels, so that's a bad thing, tho I just write the name on the side of the lid; but you want sides high enough that the stuff on the tray/in the box doesn't tip over the edge)

I keep the most-often-used ones in the front, so I can grab them without pulling the entire box down. With one motion, i can reach the stuff way in the back of the shelf without knocking anything over.

I do this also with the medicines, though I keep them in a plastic shoe-box-sized box I scrounged--oddly enough, it held sour strips at BJ's or Costco, and someone brought them to work. Its EXACTLY the right size to fit in my cabinets end-in. I spent some time grabbing every container I saw and testing it to see if it would fit inside my cabinets.

If push came to shove, you could use Bainbridge board (mat cardboard) and wide tape to make a tray for yourself. Cover it with wallpaper or something if you'd like.

Also, I like the idea of getting an extra shelf and spacing the shelves closer. Sort of "end in" versions of cubbyholes--as long as you can reach all the way to the back smoothly, as w/ tommeca's suggestion of the tray.

For the bags, you could stand a flattish box on its edge; I did that for a while, too. (that box needed a lid, though)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 10:07PM
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I'm thinking more and more about just not using this cabinet for this purpose anymore. It's just so narrow; I should be keeping small things in there. If I can fit a turntable in there I could put small things in there, like my little bottles of baking extracts and such.

Has anyone seen a larger lidded plastic box that would hold a lot more tea? Either with the original tea boxes or without! Those ones at Crate and Barrel or the Container store are just too small. It would be so easy to just pull down a big shallow box and be able to choose. Maybe 3 of them.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 11:21PM
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The container store also had a larger wooden tea chest. I didn't take a long look at it. Stash tea also sells a tea chest, though possibly only full of tea. (stashtea.com)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 12:01AM
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It's just so narrow; I should be keeping small things in there.

I disagree.

In fact, you *are* trying to keep small things in there, and it's not working. What are those tea bags and canisters, if not small things?

I think this is one of those places where the counterintuitive approach is actually the successful one. "tiny cabinet" does NOT actually need to equal "tiny stuff inside"

I have a couple of similarly narrow cabinets--9" wide, but frameless cabinetry, so I bet my opening is much the same as yours.

I keep only a few things in there, and usually things are are wide enough to completely fill the shelf. Things like the tea kettle on one shelf; or the espresso machine on a shelf by itself.

The most I store on a single shelf is 2 bottles of oil and 1 salt&pepper mill. This only works because the salt&pepper mill is so short, I can easily reach over it, and the two oil bottle can stand side-by-side (this cabinet is right next to the stove, so that's why this stuff is there)

It's so narrow that it's actually *harder* to store small stuff in there, bcs there's no room to push one thing out of the way of another.

Try to think of those shelves as cubbyholes--not shelves.

In the other skinny 9" cabinet, I store rice--all mostly the same kind of rice, lying on its side, end in, on a single shelf. and ONLY rice on that shelf; no mixing. As if that's the "rice cubbyhole." I can reach in and grab just one, a single motion.

Similarly, I have pasta all on one shelf. It helps that the few times stuff is in front of something else, it's actually sort of bulky--containerized--so I can move the stuff in front, out of the way, with a SINGLE motion. I don't have to pick up 6 spice bottles; I just pick up one cardboard box of granola bars.

As for the box: measure your shelf and door opening, and write down the dimensions. Tell us, and also carry it around in your purse. Check the containers you run into in all sort of weird places. It doesn't have to be something specifically for tea.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 9:55AM
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I know what you mean by thinking of the shelves as "cubbies". I've done that with a couple of other small cabinets.

Plus, it's only habit that had led to all the tea boxes being there; and that's not working, due to having to take multiple things down when rooting around in there. Mine is right over the coffeemaker: I should be storing the coffee mugs there! And the tea mugs/glasses. Both of those are on the other side of the room from the stove and the coffeemaker! Makes a lot of sense, right? Now why couldn't I think of this before!? Something about posting a question seems to shake up the mindset.

I think I am going to unload the tea stuff and put it in a plastic tub for now: walk it around the kitchen and see where it will work. Wish I had more drawers near the stove. But since I don't drink more than 1 kind a day, I can walk across the room to get a tea bag. My most commonly used kind IS in a ceramic jar near the stove!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 12:54PM
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For the time being, why can't you put an assortment of teas into the ceramic jar near the stove? When they get finished, you can just fill up the jar again. Or does it pose a problem to the tea when you mix different tea bags together?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 1:17PM
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Many of my teas are tagless! So once out of the box they are totally anonymous! Some eco-conscious companies try to reduce any excess packaging: that even means tags or the tiny staples and strings to attach them. I understand why, but it's harder for me. To put an assortment out would be so much easier. Mostly a problem when I want a no-caffeine herb tea at bedtime. Can't get that aspect, with caffeine and without, mixed up.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 1:40PM
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I used to have my teas in a small narrow cabinet, but we shifted where we kept the electric kettle and so the tea moved too. The narrow cabinet now holds all my tupperware - which used to take up a cabinet twice as wide. Amazingly, it all fit in the narrow cabinet quite nicely as long as we stack things by shape.

Anyway, the tea is now with the cups in the wide cabinet - teapots fit there too and it's nice to have all in one space. I have no nice tea canisters, so the bags or boxes are stuffed into some skinny tuperware containers - like the ones meant to hold cereal, but they are a smaller size than that. The boxes get a bit mangled, but everything is still in it's box so I know what's what. The tea bags I use the most are in a small glass canister, also residing in the same cabinet.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 3:38PM
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Linnea56 did you move your tea? Could you find a container the is divided to put am/pm tea in for your countertop? Perhaps a second container for your countertop for pm tea? I am pretty anti countertop clutter. If you have the countertop space and it wouldn't drive you crazy maybe it would work for you.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 8:05AM
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Everybody's ideas are great. First, I'm curious, how long does tea last? I would think unless you drink massive amounts that 25 kinds of tea is enough choices and enough tea that some of it has to be stale and existing like old too small sweaters in the closet.

Confession: pre-renovation I kept 25 kinds of tea in a big basket on my counter. Informal groups came in the kitchen and chose their tea next to the hot water. Or I took the basket to the table and let guests choose. When I moved back in I realized I'd had some of those teas for years. No good tea smell at all. I downsized.

I now have 7 kinds a two baggies of assorted individually wrapped bag-caff-free and reg. I label baqgies with no tags. Teas fit in a wooden Container Store box that I lift down from a cabinet. (It happens to be the same color as my cabineets which makes me feel I have a custom tea solution.) My dimensions wouldn't work for you but there has to be some Contaqiner Store solution that would.

One thing I have been doing which saves space is take any individually wrapped tea bags out of their box and put them into snack baggies. I have reduced my large basket to a volume of 6" by 12"by 7" tall. I don't miss the other 17 tea choices. Maybe after thinking about this post I will even throw out the tea that I haven't used up in a year.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 6:03PM
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I still have not done it. Got sidetracked by work and deadlines! I plan to go out to the Container store when I can justify the drive: need to make a big shopping list first. I am working on organizing other rooms so plan to make one swoop. The wooden box appeals to me, but I'm sure they would have something else too. I would not want anything else on the counter. I am trying to reduce counter stuff as it is, even putting little things in a shallow basket so it looks more "together".

Truth be told, probably some of the tea IS stale. But I will force myself to drink it as punishment for trying out too many kinds. (Well, maybe not.) Too bad you can't sample one bag at a time! Once I unload the cabinet I will do tea triage.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 6:45PM
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LOL! I was just thinking today about what others do with the mistakes or excesses. Do we force ourselves to use up a product (TEA) even if we don't like it (or it is stale) because we spent GOOD money on it? Or, do we toss it , feel guilty about the waste and relieved about getting out of our house? I fight this all the time!
Have fun at the Container Store. It is a 2 hour drive for me. I love wandering up and down the aisles when I'm in the area.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 7:56PM
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It's probably a good thing I'm nowhere near a Container Store. I could spend hours in one of those.

Tre3, you bring up good points of why we tend to hold onto things even if they are mistakes. My downfall are items for the kitchen and on many of them, I find myself buying more than one should they be utensils. Very bad habit, I know.

But on other parts of the house, I hardly ever buy stuff. At the moment, there is a very unique vase that I love being sold at the local drugstore. They only have one and it's $28.00 but I'm reluctant to buy it. I don't think I've ever purchased a vase for myself so why do I rethink this when I'll purchase drawers and kitchen stuff without too much hesitation.

I didn't mean to change the subject but this got me thinking as well.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 8:17PM
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It's an interesting train of thought. We allow ourselves certain things, perhaps because they have a "function", but not those without, perhaps, a function we can justify.

Can you allow yourself to have the vase if you promise yourself something else? Buy the vase now (while it's still available); then declare a moratorium on buying kitchen utensils for one year (unless one breaks).

Do you have flowers to put in the vase? I could justify that myself because I garden and want to bring them inside. Or is it the kind that looks good empty, without any flowers? I have both kinds and plenty of them. Some may have a hurdle over anything without a real function.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 9:08PM
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I don't have flowers to put in the vase but it is such an odd shape that I could even put it out without the flowers. It is painted gold and has an ancient look to it. I could get some dried flowers, I guess. I'm going to buy it for myself. My birthday is in 2 weeks and this could be a birthday present to myself. Amazing how I still have to justify buying it when it serves no necessary purpose except that I like it.

I could never go a year without buying something for the kitchen. Although I have gotten better recently. And when I do buy something it's usually something odd and on sale at a place like Marshall's.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 10:49PM
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I had the same problem. I took all the tea bags, sorted them into flavors and put each variety in its own zip top plastic bag. All the bags are in an unwanted basket that I can easily take down so I or guests can choose a flavor. Works for me.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 2:27PM
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