Does Tea Expire? What You Need to Know About the Shelf Life of Tea
For most of us, tea is a staple in our cupboards and in our lives. However, despite what we might want to believe, tea does not last forever. When it comes to the question "does tea expire", the answer is a resounding yes.
Tea does not expire in the traditional ways that fresh food might. Instead, your tea leaves will lose their flavour and complexity if they are left too long collecting dust at the back of your cupboard. Remember to store tea properly and keep an eye out for the telltale signs your tea is past its peak.
When Does Tea Expire?
Tea is a dried product, so it doesn't go bad in the same way that fresh foods do. However, your tea can go stale if it has not been stored properly or if it has been left on the shelf too long. In most cases, it is still 100% safe to drink but the natural oils in the tea leaves will have evaporated. This results in a bland, flavourless cup of hot tea.
In some rare cases, your tea may exhibit visible decomposition or smell musty if it has been exposed to excess moisture. In this case, err on the side of caution and toss the leaves.
Shelf Life of Tea
All types of tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant and are processed differently which gives each type its unique flavour profile. Black teas are fully oxidised while white teas are un-oxidized and green teas fall somewhere in between. Herbal teas don't actually contain any Camellia sinensis leaves and are instead made from infusions of dried fruits, flowers, and herbs.
The shelf life of tea depends on the type of tea you have and how it's stored. Black teas will last the longest while green teas have the shortest shelf life.
When Does Black Tea Expire?
The oxidation process of black tea means it is the longest lasting variety. It will remain fresh for up to 24 months in an unopened package and up to 12 months when the package has been opened.
In fact, the long shelf life of black tea made it possible for merchants to introduce tea to European countries during the 16th century. Only black tea could withstand the long sailing times involved in ancient trade. Merchants could not transport green tea or other tea types so easily because they would expire at a faster rate.
When Does Green Tea Expire?
Green tea is appreciated for its delicate taste which is a result of its preparation methods. Thanks, in part to this, it has the shortest shelf life of any other tea. Most tea experts recommend consuming unopened green tea within 12 months and opened packages within 3-6 months.
When Does White Tea Expire?
White teas can retain their freshness for 6 to 12 months if the package is open and from one year to 18 months if the package is not opened. However, there are some white teas and pur'eh varieties that are said to get better as they age. These white tea enthusiasts argue that ageing particular white tea and pur'eh varieties will enhance their medicinal properties.
When Does Herbal Tea Expire?
Herbal tea is any tea that is made from herbs, spices, or other plants. It does not come from the Camellia sinensis plant, like white, black or green tea. Popular varieties include chamomile, lavender, mint, and ginger and thus each blend contains different ingredients.
Typically, herbal tea will reach its expiration date at 6 to 12 months if the package is open and from one year to 18 months if the package is not opened. This is the same timeframe as white tea.
When Do Loose Leaf Teas vs Tea Bags Expire?
In some cases, tea bags may expire at a faster rate than loose leaf teas. This is because tea bags often contain smaller fragments of tea than loose leaf tea. The large loose leaf tea leaves will hold onto their natural oils longer than tea bags, which gives them a longer shelf life (and also a more robust flavour).
Your package of tea will have an expiry date on it. This is a "best before" suggestion. Like we mentioned, your loose leaf tea or tea bags will still be safe to drink in most cases but not at its peak flavour and complexity after this time.
Overall, a general rule of thumb should be to drink your loose leaf tea within 6-12 months.
Signs Your Tea Has Expired
Fresh tea typically has a bright aroma, sturdy leaves and a vibrant colour. If you do not know how long your tea has been in your cupboard there are some telltale signs to determine whether or not your tea has reached its expiration date.
Toss your tea if it gives off an unpleasant odour, smells rancid or musty. If the colour appears faded, it is possible that it has been exposed to heat or light. However, that doesn't mean it is undrinkable.
If you brew a cup and the flavour is weak or tasteless, then the tea is past its peak and it is time to restock. A fresh cup of tea should have a distinct flavour and smell. Don't waste your time drinking tea that is expired when there are so many delicious loose leaf tea varieties out there.
To extend the shelf life of your loose leaf teas and tea bags, store tea in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and moisture. An opaque, airtight container will help keep your tea fresh. If it is stored improperly, expect your tea to deteriorate rapidly.
Some people like to store their tea in the freezer to keep it fresh but a cupboard will also suffice. Avoid leaving it on the counter close to heat sources or in the line of direct sunlight, as well as away from strongly scented tea or spices. Tea can absorb odours, so storing different teas in the same tin can influence the flavour of each tea.
Tea can be kept in a glass or plastic container like a mason jar or tupperware but it is not ideal. This is because they can expose the tea leaves to light and heat which is very damaging and can speed up the time it takes for your tea to expire.
When scooping out your tea ensure you are using a dry measuring spoon, so you don't expose your tea leaves to unnecessary moisture. Also only open your tea as often as you need to – even if it does smell great. You'll want to expose it to as little air as possible.
Besides storing tea properly, you can also try buying tea in smaller quantities to ensure you are getting the freshest cup each time you go to drink tea. At Clearview, we offer convenient 80 gram pouches of tea which can be resealed to lock in freshness so you don't have to worry about large batches of tea left to go bad.
You can also experiment with storing your tea in smaller tins. This will mean you don't expose the tea to air as often as if you stored all your tea in one airtight container.
What to Do With Old Tea
Old tea can be repurposed in a variety of ways. You can use it as compost or as a fertiliser for your garden, or repurpose it as a deodorizer. Since tea is very absorbent it can neutralise bad odours. You can add a handful of it to your fridge in the same way you would baking soda or arrange it out in the open with scented oils, in the same way you would potpourri.
Tea is often used in skin or self care rituals. People often place tea bags under their eyes to combat undereye circles and puffiness, as well as add green tea or chamomile tea to their bath. Tea has become a popular ingredient in mainstream beauty products for its antioxidizing properties.
For centuries, tea has also been used as a natural dye. You can leverage this age old practice to dye clothing or to create art. Each type of tea will have a different colour, and the longer you steep your tea bags for dye the deeper the shade will become.
Expired Tea Leaves
No one wants to brew a cup of tasteless tea. If you suspect you've brewed tea that is past the expiration date, you won't get sick but you certainly won't enjoy it in the same way you would fresh tea.
At Clearview, we offer a wide variety of black and green tea, white tea and herbal blends to restock on what your tea leaves expire. We are uncompromising in our pursuit of quality and want you to have the best experience possible.
Remember to store your tea properly to extend its shelf life and if you're ever unsure if it's still good, trust your senses! If it smells bad, tastes off or bland, it's time to get rid of it. Life is too short to drink expired tea.