Does Tea Go Bad? How Long Does it Last?

With many kinds of teas to choose from, you’d surely want to taste every variety you can get from the grocery store. We won’t be surprised that you might already have black, oolong, green, and white tea kept in your storage for months already. With the overwhelming number of tea bags you have, you must be asking yourself: “Does tea go bad?”

Yes, any type of tea will go bad eventually. Whatever tea you have right now, it is expected that the overall quality will decline as time goes by. As long as you have stored your tea leaves in the proper storage condition, the better you can retain their flavor and aroma for a more extended period.

In this article, you will find out the answers to these important questions related to teas:

  • What is the shelf life of tea?
  • Can it go bad? How long does it last?
  • How to tell if tea has gone bad?
  • How to store tea properly?

What Is Tea?

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Teas like green, black, white, and oolong all come from the plant called Camellia sinensis. It’s a type of evergreen shrub of the Theaceae family. This plant species’ leaves and leaf buds are usually used to produce tea.

Green, black, white, and oolong teas may come from the same plant, but each undergoes a different processing method before drying. The longer they are fermented, the more intact the leaves are, the higher they can last longer it can last longer in the storage.  (*)

Tea leaves can be categorized into:

  • whole leaves
  • broken leaves
  • fannings (small pieces of leaves)
  • dust

Whole leaves and broken leaves are more intact compared to fannings and dust. Intact leaves can hold their flavor for a longer time than those inside the tea bags. However, if you’re looking to brew a strong flavored tea, fannings and dust or tea bags will be your option.

What Is the Shelf-Life of Tea?

Generally, the longer the leaves are processed, the better it retains its quality. Any processed tea can maintain its prime from two to four months past its expiration date, provided that you have stored it well.

Black and oolong teas can last for about 12 to 24 months. Green and white teas can only stay for 9 to 12 months.

Whether you have loose leaf tea or tea bags, they can last for one to two years if you keep them in the freezer. Note that loose leaf teas can keep their flavor longer than those in the tea bags.

If your teas are infused with fruits or nuts, they have a shorter shelf life that can last less than six months.

As for brewed or prepared tea, it will last three to five days at room temperature. If kept in the freezer, it can stay for up to eight months maximum.

You’ll notice that most teas have a “best-by” date or expiration date as part of their label. The date will give you an idea of how long your tea leaves can retain their freshness and full flavor. The printed date is not something related to food safety.

How To Tell If Tea Has Gone Bad?

It doesn’t take a tea expert to determine if your tea leaves have gone bad or not yet. But first, you need to basically know what fresh tea looks, smells, and tastes like:

Smell and taste of tea

Good tea holds its unique, distinct and robust aroma and taste. This is how teas are expected to smell and taste like:

  • White tea. Pleasant and fruity.
  • Green tea. Fresh and lightly grassy.
  • Oolong tea. Sweet and fruitywoody, or slightly grassy.
  • Black tea. Sweet, earthy, and floral.

Touch or feel

Good quality tea leaves should feel whole, smooth, and sturdy. It should not easily crumble with careful handling. When steeped, it should feel smooth and slippery when touched.

Signs That Your Tea Is Already Bad For Consumption

Whether you have loose leaves or tea bags, here’s what you need to check to find out if they have gone bad. You can use the tea if they don’t possess any of the following characteristics:

1. Funky smell

Teas are excellent absorbers of odor. If you have left it open for several months, don’t be surprised if it has already picked up some strong smells. You may try to brew it but expect it will more likely taste bad.

2. Pest infestation

This happens if you have left the tea container open. Pantry pests like meal moths, bugs, or beetles are the common pests that you can find living in your tea leaves or tea bags.

3. Mold growth

You might say that teas are dry and have low moisture content! How can there be molds?

Yes, molds can grow in your pack of loose leaf tea or tea bag. As soon as water or any other liquid gets into the package, the sooner it will ruin your tea. Note that tea leaves are organic materials. Molds can grow on your tea leaves when stored in an environment with the ideal humidity, airflow, and temperature.

4. Weak flavor and smell

If you sense that your tea’s flavor and smell are barely noticeable or dull, it indicates that your tea is already old. Weakened taste means that the natural compounds of your tea leaves have already diminished.

Remember that most teas slowly decline in quality. If the flavor of your old tea leaves or tea bags doesn’t quite hit the spot, then it’s time to let go of them. What’s the point of brewing a cup of undesirable-tasting tea?

If you have left your brewed tea at room temperature for more than a day, the taste will no longer be good. You will need to throw that tea instead.

How To Store Tea Properly?

Storing tea is easy! Remember these quick tips on how to keep them correctly:

  1. Place your tea leaves or tea bags in an airtight container. Make sure that your tea container is tightly sealed to avoid pest infestation.
  2. Store your tea leaves or tea bag in a cool and dark place to avoid direct heat, air, and sunlight.
  3. Keep your tea away from any strong odors and seal the container tightly.
  4. Refrigerate your tea leaves if you want to. Just make sure they’re inside an airtight container.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I freeze tea?

Yes, you can. It is indeed uncommon to store tea leaves or tea bags in the freezer. However, keeping them frozen apparently will make it last longer for an extra year.

2. Can I drink expired tea?

Yes, for specific conditions. You can brew your tea leaves or tea bags as long as it looks, smell, and tastes okay and that you have stored them correctly. See to it that there’s no sign of spoilage before you start brewing.

3. What to do with expired, unused tea bags?

It’s genuinely a big waste if you discard a pack of tea that has gone bad. The good news is, you can repurpose it for home use. Here are a few things that you can do with old and unused tea bags:

  1. Damp the old tea bag and place it on your tired and puffy eyes to help relieve the swelling.
  2. Use it as a deodorizer for your fridge, kitchen, storage cabinets, and bathroom.
  3. Put them in your plants as a fertilizer.

4. What’s the difference between white, green, oolong, and black tea?

White tea is identified as the most delicate of all teas as they’re not required to be rolled and crushed throughout the tea-making process. They are harvested at an early growth stage wherein the Camellia sinensis buds are still wrapped by their thin white hairs. White tea is also known for its remarkably low caffeine content.

Green tea involves a shorter oxidation process compared to oolong and black tea. In green tea making, the fresh tea leaves are picked in the morning then brewed at night. The short oxidation period explains why green tea can retain its green color and low caffeine amount (slightly higher than white tea).

Oolong tea is a versatile, partially oxidized tea that is above green tea and below black tea in terms of processing. Ranging from 8-80% oxidation exposure, the taste of oolong tea runs between full and light-bodied.

Black tea (hypernym: English breakfast tea) is the most oxidized of all teas as they need to be entirely withered. The leaves are then rolled and crushed by either manual or mechanical means. Once this happens, that’s when the oxidation begins. After oxidization, the leaves will turn black. Lastly, the leaves are fired in the oven to stop oxidation.

5. What Can I Do If I Have Too Many Teas?

  1. Hold a tea party.
  2. Give them as gifts.
  3. Try adding them to your baked goodies.
  4. Include them in your smoothies.
  5. Make an ice-cold tea drink.

Conclusion

To keep your tea leaves from going bad, you have to keep them in a cool, dry, and dark place. Ensure that no heat, water, light, or air will infiltrate the package or container.

The longer you keep your tea in storage, the quality will decline as well. That’s why it is best to use your tea before the printed date if you are after it for its best flavor and aroma.

Overall, if your judgment says that your tea leaves do not possess any spoilage characteristics, feel free to heat your water and prepare for some good brewing.

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Up Next: Does Ginger Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

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