After finally getting that bag of your favorite loose-leaf tea, you most certainly don’t want to waste it.
Sipping fresh hot tea is incredibly pleasant, with all of the subtle tastes at their peak. As the tea gets older it starts tasting flat and stale. To get the most out of your drinking experience, you want to store tea correctly, so that it lasts as long as possible. How long is too long though?
Well, depending on how you store loose-leaf tea, it can last for years. The shelf life of tea bags is not as long, because the tea that’s put in them is ground into dust. Frankly, it’s often already stale when you buy them.
However, does loose-leaf tea expire, and if so when, and what happens to it? How exactly should loose tea be stored to extend its life? Keep reading to find out. You’ll also learn about the unique qualities of different tea types as well as some ideas on how to use up your aging tea.
Does tea expire?
The good news is tea does not expire. However, it does get stale. Biology Researcher Selena Ahmed talks about tea’s health benefits in her article.
Ahmed says phytochemicals in tea leaves go through several reactions during storage as the leaves interact with oxygen and moisture and respond to fluctuations in light and temperature. With that, “catechin levels are reduced significantly within six months of production.”
So, you won’t be enjoying a nutrient-dense cup of green tea after a year of it sitting on your kitchen counter.
How long can dry tea last?
It’s best to look at the tea’s packaging. Whatever the “best before” date is, you can usually add at least one full year onto that. Once you open a bag of loose-leaf tea, it will last about one year.
However, how long the shelf life of tea is, depends on what type of tea it is. All teas, including white tea and Oolong tea, come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Each type of tea goes through an oxidation process in varying degrees. It is an enzymatic reaction that turns a tea leaf brown after harvest.
Amy Covey of the Red Blossom Tea Company writes “this reaction occurs when the cell walls are broken, and polyphenol oxidase is exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere.”
Tea leaves are heated to stop the oxidation process, which in turn, halts the browning process. But, some loose-leaf teas are more susceptible to degradation over time than others.
Black tea leaves are allowed to fully oxidize so they turn brown before roasting. Because it is fully oxidized, it can stay fresh for up to 18 months. And if it’s stored properly, black tea can have a longer shelf life of up to 3 years.
White tea is non-oxidized. It has minimal processing and is considered to be one of the most delicate teas available. After the tea leaves are plucked, they are made to dry quickly to prevent oxidation. White tea is at its freshest for 6 months, but it can still be good to drink for up to a year when stored properly.
Green tea is non-oxidized, however, some oxidation happens naturally during processing. It is best consumed within 6 months but can last for more than a year with proper storage.
Oolong tea falls in between black and green tea in terms of its oxidation levels. During its processing, the leaves are closely monitored, so that the chemical reaction can be stopped at the desired level. Light oolong teas have a shelf life of up to a year. If it’s roasted oolong, then it can last for up to 2 years.
Matcha is a form of green tea that’s made by crushing barely oxidized tea leaves and grinding them into a bright green powder. It loses its freshness faster because of its high surface area. Also, it continues to oxidize in powder form as it is exposed to air. Matcha is at its best for 3 months, but when stored correctly, it can last for up to 6 months.
Pu-erh tea is prepared by fermenting tea leaves and aging them. This means that the leaves are specifically broken down through a microbial activity process. These teas can be aged from a few months to several years and generally, are considered to get better with age.
Unlike other teas, Pu-erh tea should be stored in an open place. It does not expire. However, keep it away from moisture as it may start to grow mold.
Tea bags contain fannings and dust. These small pieces brew quickly but are highly affected by oxidation processes, because of their high surface area. Tea bags lose their freshness quickly. Tea bags can last for up to a year with proper storage.
Though keep in mind that the cardboard box that they come in is not a good place to store tea bags.
Herbal tea and fruit tea can be made with fresh or dried flowers, fruit, leaves, seeds, or roots. Same as with regular loose tea, the answer to the question “does herbal tea expire?” is not really.
Herbal tea may lose its freshness, aroma, and taste after a while, but with proper storage, it can last for 8-12 months. If it’s ground into fine dust and put into tea bags, it won’t stay fresh as long.
How long can brewed tea last
So you made a cup of tea and then forgot about it?
Well, if you want to enjoy hot, fresh tea, that’s full of nutrients, then it’s best to just make another cup. Properly stored brewed tea can last up to 5 days in the fridge.
Also, keep the tea in an airtight container. This will prevent it from absorbing any smells or flavors of other foods and drinks in the fridge, as well as stop bacteria from growing.
Even better, put your brewed tea in the freezer. Not only can you enjoy iced tea any time, but frozen brewed tea can stay fresh for up to six months.
Food safety experts say iced tea should only be kept in the fridge for eight hours. This is due to the sugar in the iced tea, which can slowly cause fermentation.
How to tell if tea is still good?
Once your teas are a year old, you will need to rely on your senses to tell if tea is still fresh.
- Smell: Is the aroma still strong? Has it changed since you first bought it?
- Taste: Is the tea still flavorful and rich? Old tea can taste stale and dull.
- Looks: Is the tea still bright and colorful? When tea leaves are exposed to heat or light, they can darken or change color.
Can you drink expired tea?
Expired tea is usually safe to drink. An expiration date tells you the tea is no longer fresh, but it won’t make you sick. However, it will taste flat, so why not just get a fresh pack of tea? You want to enjoy those special moments with tea that you can savor.
How to prevent tea from going bad?
Diane McKay, an expert in antioxidant foods, writes “dried tea leaves that are kept dry will not spoil.” She says storing them away from heat, water, light, and air will maintain the flavor and phytochemical content for up to two years.
Humidity, in particular, speeds up the oxidation and fermentation of tea leaves. Keep your tea leaves dry particularly if you are in living in a humid country or environment. Consider buying humidity packs, to keep moisture out.
So, if you want to preserve the freshness of packaged teas, store tea in a dark cupboard away from the stove.
And according to Harvard’s Nutrition Source, “tea tends to absorb odors from food and even other strongly scented teas, so keep them separate.” All teas will eventually lose their bright flavor and their phytochemicals will degrade.
Properly stored tea will last longer and taste a whole lot better.
Storing tea correctly
Keep these important tips in mind when putting away your teas:
- Not in the fridge – the moisture that can result from freezing and refrigerating can degrade tea. Also, teas tend to absorb the aromas from other refrigerated foods.
- A dark place, no direct sunlight – According to Harvard’s Nutrition Source, tea bags should be stored in their original packages or put in sealed plastic bins. Loose tea should be kept in airtight plastic, ceramic, or tin containers. Glass containers are okay too, but they should be tucked away in dark cupboards at a “consistent room temperature.” A sealable pouch will keep the air out as well.
- Away from smells and spices – avoid placing your teas around the stove or sink. Don’t put them near your other strong spices.
- Room temperature – not too hot or too cold, so as to avoid further oxidation.
Because tea has a fairly long shelf life, it’s not necessary to buy a stockpile of tea. If you buy more than you can drink in a short period of time, it has the likelihood of being exposed to elements that will ruin its freshness.
A better idea is to buy small samples, especially the flavors you haven’t tried yet. That way you have a chance to savor the tea before it goes stale. The amount of tea in sample packets, anywhere from 10g to 20g, is usually enough for about two to five pots.
Yes, samples are more expensive than buying the regular-sized packages, but they end up being affordable considering you may dislike a particular flavor and never finish it.
Get a subscription box
If you want to ensure you’re drinking the freshest tea possible, a subscription box is a sensible option.
A subscription offers a new batch of aromatic and flavourful tea every month. You can either choose to order your favorite tea or discover a new tea. The best boxes offer a wide variety of teas including loose-leaf or tea bags to try and you get several different choices sent to you every month.
What to do with expired tea?
So, what are you supposed to do with tea that has lost its richness and flavor? There are a number of ways you can recycle that old chamomile tea or your expired tea leaves.
- Spruce up your carpets. Old tea leaves make great herbal deodorizers. You can cut open a tea bag or crunch loose-leaf tea into a cup of baking soda, then sprinkle it onto your carpets just before a thorough vacuum.
- Spice up your meals. You can sprinkle tea leaves onto fresh meat before baking or pan-frying.
- Scent absorber. Use old tea in a laundry bag or place a dried tea bag in your closet to keep clothes and shoes smelling fresh. Put it in your cat’s litter box.
- Compost your loose-leaf tea and tea bags (if they are compostable).
- Mix in with your plant soil.
- Brunette hair rinse. Boil several bags of black tea. When it has thoroughly cooled, pour it over your hair and leave it in for 15 minutes. Then rinse out.
- Hair treatment. Boil peppermint tea leaves. Let cool and pour over your hair in the shower. Shampoo out.
- Fix puffy eyes by putting refrigerated tea bags on each eyelid for 10 minutes.
- Arts and crafts. Mix old matcha tea powder with water and use it as green paint.
- Boil black tea and use it as fabric dye once it cools.
And remember, expired tea doesn’t mean you can’t drink it. Its natural flavor will no longer spark your taste buds, but as long as you are prepared for that, it’s okay.
It’s hard to give an exact number for how long the tea stays fresh, but generally, the finer and the less oxidized the tea is the quicker it will go stale:
- Black tea is usually good for up to 18 months. if unopened it can stay fresh for 2-3 years.
- Oolong tea is usually good for a year, while roasted oolong can last up to 2 years.
- Green tea is usually good for up to a year.
- Matcha and other powdered teas stay fresh for 3-6 months.
- Pu-erh tea may actually develop its taste as it ages.
However, tea gets stale, but it does not go bad. It is best fresh, and over time will start losing its aroma and subtle notes. It will start tasting flat, but it won’t make you sick if it was stored properly. If there’s no molding or foul smell, your tea is most likely safe to drink.
To ensure your tea lasts as long as possible, keep your teas in airtight containers or pouches and away from heat, light, and moisture. To save yourself from wasting tea, consider buying samples or subscription boxes. At Viston Tea, there’s no time to waste drinking bad tea, so you have a unique selection of the finest teas.
“Store tea correctly” is one of the tips I gave for making the perfect cup of tea – there are 6 more. Read the article on my blog to discover them.
Let me know in the comments – how many different teas do you have in your kitchen?