Dust to Dust: Does Tea Expire?

August 5, 2022

If you don’t drink tea frequently, you may end up with tea bags or loose tea leaves that are rather old.

However, you will have noticed that tea doesn’t spoil like other foods. This begs the question: does tea expire?

If so, is it still safe to drink? And, how do you know when the tea has gone bad? 

Does Dried Tea Leaves Expire?

When you think of expired foods, you think of spoiled foods – those that are no longer fit for consumption.

Well, dried tea leaves don’t actually spoil. They have lost most of their moisture during the drying process and are unlikely to go bad.

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Do Tea Bags Expire?

So, what does this mean for tea bags? Do tea bags go bad?

Not really. Since tea bags also consist of dried tea leaves, they technically don’t expire either.

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Do Tea Leaves Get Old?

Although tea leaves may not expire in the traditional sense, they do get old.

When tea leaves or tea bags are stored for an extended period, the phytochemicals in the leaves will begin to degrade.

Now, these phytochemicals are flavonoids that give the leaves their flavor.

Once they begin to degrade, the leaves will begin to lose their flavor.

At this point, the tea isn't worth drinking.

dried tea leaves

Does Herbal Tea Expire?

Herbal tea, like true teas, don’t expire.

They can begin to degrade and lose their flavor, but technically don’t go bad.

At the same time, it is important to realize that herbal teas can vary quite a bit.

Some blends are made up of a multitude of flowers, stems, and other plant parts.

Due to this, you should follow the manufacturer’s advice when determining whether or not your herbal tea is safe to drink.

What Do The Expiration / Best By Dates Mean?

You will often find that branded teas have expiration or best-by dates printed on the packaging.

If tea leaves don’t expire, what do these dates mean?

Well, these dates give you an idea of how long the tea leaves will stay fresh.

Past this date, there is a greater chance that the tea leaves will begin to degrade.

However, the tea leaves may be still considered safe past these dates.

In case you are trying to identify how long are tea bags are good for, the expiration or best-by dates will give you a good idea.

Herbal teas

Decoding the Lifespan of Teas

If teas don’t have traditional expiration dates, how do you know when to stop drinking it?

You will discover that most teas have a lifespan of about 6 to 12 months after they have been opened.

For the best taste and health benefits, it is best to stick to the best by dates provided by the manufacturer.

Can Expired Tea Make You Sick?

If you have discovered a batch of old tea, you may be wondering if you can still safely drink it.

After all, you don’t want the tea to go to waste, do you?

At the same time, you may be trying to figure out can you drink expired tea without getting sick.

Now, if your tea is simply old, then you can still drink the tea. There may be an odd or diluted taste to the leaves, but it is still safe to consume.

If it appears that the tea leaves have grown mold, though, you will need to toss the leaves out.

If the tea leaves are exposed to humidity and moisture, they may begin to grow mold. At this point, they aren't all that safe to drink.

If you think that your tea leaves have been near water or have been improperly stored, give the leaves a miss.

You should also carefully examine the tea to determine if any spores or fuzz are growing on the leaves.

Do Some Teas Lose Their Flavor Faster Than Others?

Now, let’s dive into the question of whether one type of tea can last longer than others.

For instance, does black tea “expire” sooner or later than other true teas?

Well, the level of processing does come into play here.

As you may be aware, black tea is the most processed of true teas. This is what gives the leaves its dark color and robust taste.

Due to this, black teas have a longer shelf-life than less processed teas.

Nevertheless, the quality of tea can play a role here as well.

More often than not, you will find that a good-quality minimally processed tea like green tea will last a lot longer than a poor quality black tea.

cup of black tea

When to Toss Your Tea Out?

Apart from the best by date, are there other ways to know that it is time to throw your tea out?

Yes, there are a few signs that you can follow in determining if your tea is too old:

  • A dank or pungent odor (probably means your tea has become moldy)
  • The tea leaves lack a distinct aroma
  • Once brewed, the tea has little to no flavor
  • The tea packaging has been left open for many months

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How to Store Your Tea to Last Longer

The good news is that there are ways to make your tea leaves last longer.

If they are stored properly, they can last for up to a year, perhaps even longer!

Here is the best way to store your tea leaves:

Keep Out of Sunlight

UV rays in sunlight can cause tea leaves to degrade more quickly.

Thus, you should make it a point to store the leaves away from direct sunlight.

If you keep the tea leaves out on the counter, use an opaque container to block the light from hitting the leaves.

Store Away from Heat

At the same time, make it a point to keep the leaves away from areas that are prone to high temperatures.

This includes stoves, ovens, or any other heated appliances.

Avoid Moist or Humid Environments

As mentioned, moisture can cause mold growth.

So, keep it in a dry environment.

Also, place the leaves away from dishwasher vents, refrigerators, and other appliances that may create a humid environment.

Use an Airtight Container

Tea leaves are capable of drawing moisture from the air. Thus, to prevent it from going bad, place the tea leaves in an airtight container.

Don’t store the tea leaves in bags or a similar kind of packaging as it is possible to trap air with the leaves when you close it up.

Keep Away from Strong Smelling Foods or Ingredients

Tea leaves will readily absorb odors and flavors from other foods.

Naturally, this will disrupt the existing flavors of the tea leaves.

To prevent this from happening, keep the tea leaves away from spices, herbs, or other foods that have a particularly strong smell.

As you can see, tea doesn’t expire in the traditional sense. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that you can drink tea that is many years old, either.

About the Author
Dr. Dheena Sadik
Dr. Dheena Sadik is a consultant Nutritionist and Dietician. She has over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry.
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