Research shows that tea is the most popular beverage worldwide, second only to water. However, even regular tea drinkers may be confused about its shelf life. Can tea go bad? If so, what are the signs that you should open a new package?
Tea, whether in loose form or tea bags, does not run out. Although tea does not technically spoil, it loses its aroma, color, and taste over time. It can last up to 2 years when stored properly in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Read on as we discuss how to store tea for long-lasting flavor and if you suspect your tea is unusable.
What is the shelf life of loose tea?
Different types of loose tea leaves (black, oolong, green and white) can last for 1 to 2 years in proper storage after their production. Most tea makers print a “Best By” date on their packaging, which indicates the period during which the loose tea will still be flavorful and enjoyable to drink.
Keep in mind, though, that the “Best By” date is not the same as the expiration date you find on various perishable products. Since loose tea doesn’t really expire, any date on the packaging is just an indication of the tea’s freshness and aroma, which will begin to fade the longer you store it.
How long do tea bags last?
Like loose tea leaves, tea bags last up to 2 years after production and are generally safe to use after the “Best By” date, provided they are stored properly. (More on storage later in the article.)
However, one should note that the mention of a tea as “stable” for a certain period of time refers to its ability to retain its aroma, vibrancy, and taste. Dry tea leaves, even when sealed in a bag, do not expire. However, tea can deteriorate over time when exposed to moisture or heat. Apart from exposure to such unfavorable conditions, tea does not perish or spoil.
If you decide to let a cup of steamed tea made from tea bags sit on your shelf for a long time, you may notice a change in taste. However, the drink will still be fine to drink.
How can you tell if the tea has gone bad?
Even though the tea has not expired, it can go bad. It will not spoil like a perishable item, say a carton of milk. Instead, it will lose its characteristic flavor. However, sometimes there are changes in its appearance as well. Tea spoils when it comes into contact with moisture or heat. There are a few signs to determine if it is good to drink tea in such a case.
Look for changes in color and smell for loose tea leaves. If they look duller than usual, they may not give off their full flavor once drunk. Additionally, if the package comes in contact with a moisture or heat source, there may be mold. For tea bags, any signs of holes in the paper or bag may indicate the presence of moths.
Remember that improper storage can spoil tea even within its “Best By” date. This date only indicates the company’s taste standards regarding beverage quality. However, it does not take into account the conditions in which it is stored.
Even if you don’t see obvious signs of the tea going bad but aren’t sure about drinking it, it’s always better to open a new pack.
How to store tea to retain maximum flavor?
Let’s talk about storage. We have already mentioned several times how storage affects the shelf life of tea leaves and tea bags. Fortunately, storing tea is relatively straightforward. Follow these tips to ensure your tea lasts longer.
Store in a cool place away from light and heat.
After opening the package, you need to make sure that the tea is stored in an airtight container, away from light, heat, and moisture. A cool, dark place like a kitchen cabinet or drawer works best. Keep away from stoves and windows.
Use an opaque airtight container.
While you can use glass and plastic airtight containers (even a zip lock bag for that matter), their transparency allows much more light and heat to pass through than an opaque option like a tin container. So, if you must store tea in mason jars or other transparent containers, store them in a cool, dark place away from a heat source to minimize condensation.
Do not store it in the refrigerator.
Do not refrigerate the tea. While flavor retention may seem like a good idea, the condensation caused by removing the package from the cold unit can affect the overall flavor and shelf life of the tea.
What type of tea stays fresh the longest?
Because black, green, and white teas come from the same plant, they lose their flavor. However, since black tea goes through a full fermentation process, it retains the most flavor, unlike green and white teas. However, the freshness level of dry tea also depends on the freshness of the leaf. As a rule of thumb, the longer the tea, the longer its shelf life. Thus, long-leaf black teas will likely retain their flavor the most.
Does drinking tea after a “best date” make you sick?
Since tea doesn’t really expire, if there’s no smell or signs of mold and mildew, you can go past its “best before” date without worrying about it getting sick. Just make sure you store it properly. Conversely, if you think the tea has gone bad even without symptoms, it’s best to throw away the packet and open a new one.
Any tea that’s past its “best before” date in your pantry probably won’t make you sick. However, it may lose flavor due to the loss of essential flavonoids during long storage. It’s not that steeping the tea longer than necessary won’t make it taste better, just bitter.
Alternative Uses for Old Tea
If you have old tea leaves or tea bags that you no longer intend to drink, you can use them for other creative purposes, such as compost piles or watercolors for paintings. Use of compounds as
Tea does not expire when stored in an airtight (preferably tin) container in a cool, dark place away from moisture and heat. However, tea loses its color, taste, and distinct aroma over time. However, if exposed to moisture, the tea can go rancid. Generally, mold, an odor, or holes in the tea bags indicate that the tea is no longer drinkable.