Does Tea Go Bad [The Ultimate Tea Guide]

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

How long does tea last? Do teas expire? Can you drink expired tea? Is it safe? In this article, we will explore the shelf life of tea, and factors that can cause the tea to "go bad". We will even explain a lesser-known way that tea can spoil that is not so obvious.

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Tea is one of the most popular drinks worldwide. It is a brewed drink made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, steeped in hot water, and often flavored with cardamom or ginger.

Does tea go bad? Tea doesn’t go bad but may lose its taste over time. The leaves in the tea package can deteriorate over time from exposure to light and heat while sitting on store shelves or waiting at the factory. A pouch of tea will bear an expiration date for the best taste and beverage quality. This is usually one year from packaging. Since it varies by manufacturer, check your package’s label for the specific shelf life.

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How To Store Tea For A Longer Shelf Life

The process of storing tea is an essential step in maintaining its quality. Teabags are not recommended because they may contain preservatives that can alter the flavor and odor of the tea.

Store In A Place With Medium Humidity

You want to keep your tea in a place with medium humidity. This is because the tea will absorb any extra water present, leading to mold growth.

If there’s any ambient moisture in the air, it shouldn’t be an issue. Still, when storing whole leaf teas, we recommend keeping them in something air-tight like an air-tight glass jar or air-tight plastic container.

tea storage

Don’t Store Your Tea Near Aromatics

You also don’t want to store your tea near aromatics, such as food items, spices, perfumes, etc. The heat from the oxidization process (during the oxidation stage of processing) causes aromatic qualities to develop within the leaves.

For instance, you’d notice that green tea, which has been stored for a while, tends to have an onion or garlic-like scent. With black teas, as the leaves oxidize, they tend to take on more of a smoky, woody aroma characteristic. The reason behind this is the firing process they go through when being processed into black tea (Traditional Chinese style production).

Don’t Store Tea For Too Long

Tea will eventually lose its flavor and unique nuances that make it exceptional if stored for too long. So you don’t want to keep your tea around for years as it will be no longer worth drinking. We recommend using up all of your tea within 3-6 months after having received them. If you are unable to do then feel free to store your tea.

Always Check The “Best-Before” Date

The “best before” date is usually printed on the package or on the actual container itself. Just store your teas according to how they were produced.

You can tell from their packaging date, as each type of tea has its characteristics, giving them different flavor profiles. Example: oolong tea should be kept for a maximum of 3 years after purchase. And green tea only up to 2 years, while black teas would last indefinitely if appropriately stored but no longer than 3-4 years. Black teas are more stable than their counterparts, with many high-quality ones like Pu’er lasting significantly longer with good storage conditions.

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Understand The Type Of Tea

The type of tea can tell you how long it takes to expire. For instance, for young production pu-erh teas from the early 2000s would last around 15 years or more, while most varieties would have a short shelf life of only 1 to 2 years.

You’d notice that fermented teas like puer and black tea do not go bad quickly, even when stored improperly. Still, they will lose their potency and flavor faster, so keeping them in ideal temperatures is essential.

Check The Temperature

When storing your tea, avoid places with high temperatures, such as next to a heat source (computer, TV, heater).

Don’t put your tea in the fridge or freezer unless you can regulate the temperature, so it does not go below freezing point (0 C/32 F), and if you do, then don’t freeze them for more than a week.

You also want to avoid direct exposure to sunlight and high humidity conditions. The ideal environment is somewhere with constant room temperature at about 15-25 degrees Celsius (60-75 degrees Fahrenheit) but not much higher.

Also, please keep away from allergenic substances that haven’t been appropriately stored. For example, cookies or pastries where flour mites could survive until they reach your tea will eat into its quality after getting into contact with it via airflow transported.

Check The Airflow Circulation Of The Shelf

If you store your tea on a shelf, then make sure circulation is built-in for airflow. Such as having them stacked up one with the other or side-by-side, then leave about 1-2 inches of space between each box (of tea bags) and ensure that they aren’t blocked off from airflow.

Use Air-Tight Container For Storing Tea

If storing loose tea leaves, we suggest keeping them in an air-tight container (zip-lock bag or the like). This will keep out any outdoor contaminants present in your home, such as bugs, dust particles, etc.

Check The Moisture & Seal Of The Container

Ensure no moisture gets inside the packaging and check the seal of the respective container for oil stains or rust, which means it has been compromised by water.

The tea should not be consumed until it is appropriately stored again. And if this happens, then use a new container or have been adequately cleaned with soap and water to store the tea.

Keep Out Air From The Zip-Lock Bag

If storing in a zip-lock bag, keep out as much air as possible while folding over the top slightly with two fingers (to create an air-tight seal) before closing it. Do this for all of your other bags, too.

If there is room between each bag, we would suggest putting some paper or thin cloth between them. So that they don’t touch, which could potentially cause cross-contamination.

Also, avoid leaving it next to foods or drinks like hot chocolate, coffee, or any acidic beverages which can eat into your tea.

Don’t Smoke Near Your Tea Storage Area

If you have sensitive tea and want to store it, then make sure no smoking is done near it because the nicotine will accelerate its aging process.

Also, avoid storing your tea next to bathroom products because their powerful smells will stain and discolor the tea (they are powerful enough to make plastic things yellow).

Not all teas can be stored. Pu-erh is an exception when it comes to storing. Still, other types like green, white, black, and oolong should be consumed right away or put in a freezer.

If you plan on buying more, then you can consume. Just avoid putting any loose leaves into the freezer because they will freeze together and break apart when moved around, leading to them being wasted.

How Long Does Tea Last?

The answer to this question is relative. It depends on several factors, including what type of tea it is.

Black teas have an indefinite shelf life so long as they are stored in an air-tight container. They can be kept in the pantry or refrigerator for added freshness. Remember, they always taste better with time but not too old!

Green teas should be consumed within 1-2 years after purchase if unopened – 2 months if opened and 3-4 days once brewed; refrigeration does not extend shelf time significantly, so avoid storage in hot locations like attics you run the risk of flavor deterioration.

Japanese green teas, including matcha (powdered) and tencha (tea leaves), are best consumed within 2 years or 1 year for vacuum-sealed premium products. 

Herbal tisanes (decoctions) such as rooibos, chamomile, peppermint, hibiscus, and more should not be stored for longer than 1 year in an air-tight container. If kept refrigerated, they may last up to 2 years – but again, for the best flavor, drink it as soon as possible!

How To Tell If Your Tea Has Gone Bad?

The type of tea usually determines the shelf life of a tea. Most teas will keep fresh for 1-2 years after opening, give or take, depending on the dryness of your storage area. If you are unsure if your tea is still good to drink, follow these signs:

Aging: All teas will eventually age into something more exciting and complex with time, but some are better at this than others. Teas that have been rolled or crushed, such as Pu-erh, tend to age better than those with intact leaves. Oolongs are also much better at picking up exciting flavors and aromas with time than black or green teas. However, this varies widely from one oolong to the next.

Darkening: Some varieties of tea will darken with age and develop golden or brown tones. This is almost always a sign that the tea is getting better (particularly true for black teas). However, some blends are light in colors, such as White Peony or Silver Needles. If your white or green tea is turning color, you probably don’t want to drink it anymore (unless you like the color, of course).

Phony Tea: Keep in mind that some teas are made from broken leaves or stems and then sold as actual tea. These tend not to be very good regardless of age. The best way to identify this false tea is to look at the shape of your leaf. If the shape looks like an insect has been sitting on it, throwing it away is probably the best thing you can do.

One way to get rid of oxidized tea is to brew it in a pot of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. After this, your tea should be fresher but may still have lost some taste. To preserve the flavor of your tea longer:

  1. Try not to open any more than one or two tins at once (even better: buy smaller quantities).
  2. If you want to store your tea for longer than a couple of months, put it in an opaque container (like a jar) and keep it in a cool, dry place.
  3. Do not refrigerate or freeze your tea!

Frequently Asked Questions About Tea

Can expired tea make you sick?

Yes, expired tea can make you sick. Moldy or rotten tea has some dangerous bacteria in it, which can cause food poisoning. Moldy or rotten tea may have harmful bacterial spores. These often contain toxins such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin A, leading to acute liver damage.

Can tea go bad if not refrigerated?

Yes. If you’re an avid tea drinker, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a reliable electric kettle and store your white, green, or black tea in the fridge. Tea can sour if it’s exposed to light, heat, and air for too long, but as soon as the leaves are put into water, they’ll re-release their flavor. If you want your cup of leafy goodness to taste even sweeter—and cut that astringent edge—add some milk before boiling.

Is Loose Leaf better than tea bags?

Yes. The term “Loose Leaf” refers to the tea leaves NOT contained within a bag. Generally, these are less processed than bags and contain more natural fibers from the leaves and other particles, which lend to unique taste and flavor profiles. Bags can be helpful if you need instant gratification. Still, a loose leaf will have fresher flavors and produce considerably less waste with no hassle of filters or scoops.

Does tea dehydrate you?

Yes, especially black tea with any caffeine.
A person can drink up to 800ml of water an hour and still be dehydrated! This is because we are thirsty for liquids and electrolytes (magnesium, sodium, potassium). Processed drinks even contain similar amounts of sugar as fruit juices, which cause dehydration. So if you’re hanging out at coffee shops all day with your cup o’ joe – you better order the water next time!

What does expired tea taste like?

Expired canned or bottled teas often have an unpleasant taste and sometimes harmful microbes as well.
Old tea leaves will contribute a more tart flavor to their final brewed product. For some people, this can make for an interesting brew! The flavor won’t be overpowering, though.

Can tea bags grow mold?

Yes. If a tea bag spends too much time in the water, the bag’s surface will start to detach from the tea leaves and start to show mold.

Summary

The best way to store your tea is in an air-tight container or sealed plastic bag. So it’s not exposed to excessive humidity that can lead to the growth of mold or bacteria. Please also note that filtered water should never be used for storage as tap water often has higher levels of contaminants, which can cause health problems like liver disease and cancer with prolonged exposure.

Also, keep your favorite mug and towel clean—for them not to get muddled with any residual dust from the cupboard! A microfiber cloth works well because they’re lint-free and can’t scratch the inside of your cup.

References:

  1. https://now.tufts.edu/articles/tea-storage-length-time-fresh-nutrients
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229962289_Flavors_of_green_tea_change_little_during_storage
  3. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.271.2672&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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