Does Tea Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

Have you recently taken an interest in teas? Perhaps you’ve had a stash for the longest time and now you are wondering ‘does tea go bad?’ We did some research and what we found out about the shelf life of tea might surprise you. Read on to find out how long your loose tea can last.

Does Tea Go Bad?

Does Tea Go Bad
Image: Lucky Belly

Tea does not go bad in the literal sense of the word. In fact, dried tea leaves have a relatively long shelf life.

With time though, tea loses its flavor and aroma but will still be safe to consume as long as it is uncontaminated. As the flavonoids in tea degrade, the tea will become less and less fresh.

That said, improper storage will cause tea leaves to become stale. Tea will lose its peak quality if it is exposed to oxygen, moisture, heat, and/or light.

We’ll find out how to tell if the tea has gone bad. Right now, let’s talk about the shelf life of tea.

How Long Does Tea Last?

How Long Does Tea Last
Image: Lucky Belly

Dried tea has quite a long shelf life. Exactly how long tea lasts will depend on several factors including the type of tea, processing method, and even the storage method.

To be sure, tea does not expire, so you will not see an expiry date on the package. Tea will however lose its flavor and aroma as time goes by.

On the package is a best-by date, which is only an indication of how long the tea will retain its peak freshness. Tea can last past the best-by date but it will not be as tasty or as aromatic as it was when it was first packed.

Compared to black and white teas, green teas have the shortest shelf life. The more fermented the tea, the longer it will last. Black tea and oolong tea go through a longer fermentation process and therefore last longer than lesser-fermented teas such as the white and green variety.

So, how long can tea really last? As long as it is stored away from moisture, air, heat, and light, tea can last at least 2 years past the best-by date.

Here’s a quick summary of how long you can expect tea to last depending on how it is stored.

Tea Shelf Life

 

Pantry Refrigerator/freezer
Opened loose tea 6months-1 year

1-2 years

Unopened loose tea

2+ years1-2years
Brewed tea

1-3  days

 

Next, let’s take a look at how to check if tea has gone bad and some tips on how you can store your tea to keep it fresher for longer.

3 Tips To Tell If Tea Has Gone Bad

3 Tips To Tell If Tea Has Gone Bad
Image: Lucky Belly

Dried tea leaves do not go bad in the way of rotting or becoming rancid. Tea will however become stale and here are some signs to keep an eye on:

1. Aroma

The distinct herbal, woodsy smell makes tea such a popular beverage. However, with time and exposure to oxygen, tea will oxidize and lose its unique aroma. To check for freshness, take a whiff of the tea. If you are struggling to catch the usual herbal smell, the tea is no longer fresh.

2. Taste

Just like its smell, tea also has a unique taste. A box of tealeaves that is no longer fresh will produce a weak brew. The color of the beverage will also look dull. Some people describe the taste of tea that has gone bad as ‘flat and ‘tasting like cardboard.’

3. Appearance

Mold is a clear sign that tea has gone bad. Mold spores will grow on tea that has been exposed to moisture. If you notice traces of mold, that is your cue to throw out that bag of tea leaves.

Apart from mold spores, tea that is no longer fresh will lose its deep, rich, and vibrant color with black tea turning gray and green teas turning yellowish.

As you can see, it doesn’t take a great deal to check the freshness of tea. Trust your senses here. If the tea tastes, smells, or looks off, in all likelihood, it has lost its freshness.

As long as it doesn’t have mold, you can still go ahead and brew the tea but you will probably miss out on the deep, rich flavors of fresh tea leaves.

4 Tips For Storing Tea

Storing tea to preserve its freshness is really simple. Here are some smart tips to try:

1. Store in bulk

Oxygen is the number one enemy of loose tea. A good way to slow down oxidation is to pack the tea tightly in the storage container. Storing just a small amount of tea in the container leaves plenty of space for air to fill.

Keep your tea fresher for longer by filling the storage container to the brim. As you fill it, shake the container to create more space and continue to add more tea until you cannot pack any more tea in there.

Packing the tea tightly also has the benefit of preventing it from absorbing the smells of surrounding food products.

2. Keep away from heat

Tea doesn’t do well in heat either. We recommend not only storing your tea in an airtight container but also away from any sources of heat.

Avoid keeping jars of tea on the kitchen countertop or a shelf above the oven or cooker. A cool place such as the pantry or a kitchen cabinet is a good choice.

If you have bulk tea or delicate yellow, purple, or green teas, you might consider storing them in the refrigerator or freezer. The cold temperatures will minimize oxidation and keep the tea in peak quality for longer.

If you choose to refrigerate your tea, be careful not to expose it to moisture. A smart idea is to package and store the tea in smaller packets for one-time use to avoid exposing the entire amount to oxygen and moisture every time you want to use it.

What is really important to remember is that once you remove the packet of tea from cold storage, you should wait for it to reach room temperature. This will slow down condensation and possible spoilage due to exposure to moisture.

3. Prevent photo-degradation

When tea is exposed to light, it undergoes chemical changes that strip it of its flavor. This is why we insist on storing tea in an enclosed place such as the pantry.

You might want to show off your collection of teas but be careful not to place the containers in the way of direct light. If possible, opt for dark glass containers to store your tea. Glass is a great option because it will protect your tea from odors from surrounding materials and the dark variety will block light.

4. Store away from strong odors

Lose tea will quickly pick up surrounding scents, which can degrade the taste and smell of the tea. To preserve the distinct flavor and smell of your tea there are two things you should do: store the tea away from items or foods with strong smells and choose a container that does not have a strong smell either. Some containers have such a strong scent that can spoil the taste and aroma of your tea.

The Risk of Consuming Expired Tea

The Risk of Consuming Expired Tea
Image: Lucky Belly

As we have seen, tea does not expire but it can become stale. You can drink tea that is one or even two years past its expiration date. This in itself will not make you sick. The only downside is that the tea will have lost its refreshing flavor and aroma.

That said, you should be careful with tea that has any mold growth on it. Some types of mold produce mycotoxins, which are harmful bacteria that can cause symptoms such as nausea, fever, stomach ache, and vomiting.

Throw away tea that shows clear signs of spoilage including color change, off-taste and smell, and of course mold.

Can You Freeze Tea?

The freezer might seem like the best place to store tea and protect it from light and heat but don’t forget that there is also moisture in there. Your tea will go stale and worse, become moldy at the slightest contact with water.

So, can you freeze tea? Yes, you can but we do not recommend this storage method. A better alternative is to store your teas in solid, airtight containers and place them in a cool, dark place such as the pantry or kitchen cabinet.

If you really must freeze your tea, make sure that no air or water seeps through. Here are a few tips:

  • Place loose tea in re-sealable freezer-friendly bags. Squeeze out as much air as possible before freezing.
  • Lay the freezer bags flat and stack them one on top of the other to maximize freezer space.
  • Alternatively, pour tea leaves into an airtight container. Cover the mouth of the container with plastic wrap before replacing the lead.
  • Wrap the entire container with another layer of plastic wrap to guard against moisture and odors from surrounding foods.

A rule of thumb when freezing tea is to ‘store once and use once.’ So, try as much as possible to use up all the tea you take out from the freezer.

Summary

Tea is a versatile beverage and even the most basic of its variety, for example, loose black tea, will serve you for years if stored properly. All teas will eventually lose their flavor but you can greatly slow down this process by storing yours in a cool, dry place and the pantry is the perfect spot.

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