You’ve probably seen an expiration date or a best by date stamped on your tea packages, but do they really mean that you can’t drink your favorite blend anymore? Learn more about how long tea leaves last, how to tell if your tea is bad, and how to extend the shelf life of your tea.
Sips by is a personalized tea discovery subscription. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Members receive 4 teas chosen just for them in every box. Learn more here.
SHOP BEST LOOSE LEAF TEA
Discover the best loose leaf teas as rated by Sips by's 600,000 tea-loving Members. Across all tea types, from black tea to green tea to herbal tea and more, these are the best loose leaf teas from different tea brands around the world. Find your favorite loose leaf tea - no matter the type or flavor of loose leaf tea you're searching for, Sips by has options you'll love. Discover your new favorite loose leaf tea, as well as disposable tea bag kits to make brewing loose leaf tea easy.
DOES TEA EXPIRE?
The short answer is yes and no. Most tea doesn’t truly expire but - just like coffee - the freshness of the tea will start to deteriorate beyond the expiration date. In this way, tea bags and loose leaf tea can go bad. While some pure blend teas can be consumed past their expiration date (though it’s not recommended), any blend that contains added perishable ingredients like fruit should be more carefully examined after the expiration date before drinking.
WILL EXPIRED TEA MAKE YOU SICK?
Only in extreme cases will old tea make you sick, but any tea consumed beyond a recommended best by date will start to taste bad and bitter. You can tell if tea is really expired and unsafe to drink if it's been exposed to extreme humidity or liquid and has developed mold, which can make you sick or upset your stomach.
HOW LONG DOES TEA LAST?
When stored properly, tea can retain its original flavor and nutritional benefits for up to 1-2 years. The less fermented and more broken tea leaves are, the faster they expire. As a result, tea bags will expire faster than loose leaf tea because they usually contain broken leaves and tea dust that lead to the deterioration of the tea’s flavor. However, the flavor of individually wrapped tea bags will usually last longer than open tea sachets when stored properly. When kept in an airtight and dark container, loose leaf tea will last longer and retain its flavor even more than tea bags.
Certain types of tea will also expire faster than others. The most oxidized teas will stay fresh the longest, which is why black tea lasts the longest when stored properly. Green tea expires faster than black tea because it’s less oxidized and similar to the more minimally processed teas like white tea and oolong tea. Herbal tea can expire when there are added ingredients like berries and flavoring that can get old. An exception is pu-erh (link), a fermented tea that will only get better with age. Most well kept pu-erhs are aged for 2-10 years, but some can be up to 50 years old!
HOW TO TELL IF TEA IS BAD
We know now that most teas don’t expire, the flavors will just degrade over time. However, some teas can go bad if they’re stored improperly and exposed to humidity, they absorb different flavors, or they get wet and develop mold. You can tell if your tea has gone bad by the smell, taste, and feel of the tea.
Don’t drink your tea if it smells musty because it has become too moist. Or, if it has no scent at all and the flavor of your tea is dull then it is also too far gone.
It might be hard to notice mold on tea leaves at first if you’re not looking for them, but if you’re worried about your tea then start by checking around the tea package, inside tea bags, and on the bottom of tea tins or tea boxes for loose leaf tea. If you think there could be mold, take out a scoop of your loose tea to inspect them on a plate or napkin.
Finally, you can check the texture of your tea leaves to tell if they’re still fresh or not. Fresh tea leaves will feel smooth and strong, while old tea leaves tend to crumble and break up in your hand.
HOW TO KEEP TEA LEAVES FRESH
The key to keep your tea from expiring too soon, and maybe even to extending the freshest flavor of your tea beyond the expiration date, is proper storage. Loose leaf tea, tea sachets, and even individually wrapped tea bags should always be stored in airtight containers like a tea tin, jar, box, or sealable bag. This will protect your tea from getting wet (until you want to steep it!) so it doesn’t develop mold. These should be placed in a dark, cool, and dry area like a cabinet or pantry shelf away from other strong scents like spices.
You should never store your tea bags or loose leaf tea in the fridge or freezer. Tea easily absorbs other scents and is sensitive to moisture. When stored in the fridge or freezer, tea is exposed to a humid environment and other flavors that mingle with the tea leaves and make them go bad prematurely. However, the only exception is if you're cold brewing tea or storing iced tea! Cold brewed tea and iced tea can last 2-5 days in the fridge when stored in an airtight container like a jar or pitcher.
PERFECT USES FOR EXTRA TEA
HOW TO USE UP TEA BEFORE IT EXPIRES
Don't worry if you think your impressive collection of tea is about to expire, it doesn't have to go to waste! Here are a few ways to use up some of your extra tea before it goes bad.
- Throw a tea party. Bake up a few batches of delicious tea cookies or scones, and invite your friends and family (virtually or in person!) for a classic afternoon tea party.
- Plan a mug swap. Tell everyone you invite to bring a mug or teacup and once they arrive let the exchanging begin! Once everyone has a new mug in hand, brew up a few pots of tea so your guests can try them out. You can even make tea goodie bags to send them home with a few new teas to try.
- Send tea care packages, because who doesn't love snail mail and tea!
- Have a crafting day! Drink tea and make your own tea infused candles.
- Embrace summer with all things tea. Learn how to start making tea popsicles and how to turn any tea into a smoothie!
HOW TO USE EXPIRED TEA
Now, tea lovers know the struggle of having overflowing tea cabinets, so it might be time to freshen up your tea storage and clean out all of your expired tea! Don’t worry, your old tea doesn’t have to go to waste though. Here are a few things you can do with expired tea!
- Steep old tea bags in a relaxing and aromatic tea bath.
- DIY your own refreshing tea hair mist for healthy and hydrated hair or make an aromatic DIY tea air freshener for your room or car.
- Use old tea bags to supplement your compost.
- Make your own portable fire starters by dipping old tea bags in melted candle wax.
- Check off every item on this list: 14 Uses for Used Tea Bags.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Now that you've cleared out some old tea, freshen up your tea cabinet with something new!
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About Sips by: We’re a female-founded and led startup that makes discovering tea fun, personalized, and affordable. The Sips by Box is the only multi-brand, personalized tea subscription box. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Based out of Austin, Texas, we are adept at savoring a hot mug even when it’s seasonally inappropriate.