Tea is one of the most frequently enjoyed beverages in the world. People everywhere consume it both hot and cold for its flavor, health benefits, and low cost. If you’re a tea lover and have packages of tea stored in your pantry or freezer, you may be wondering whether they’ll ever expire or how long they can stay fresh.
Tea bags can usually last between 1 and 2 years, meaning they’re drinkable even after their “best by” date. They can go bad if not properly stored. Since different teas have different shelf lives depending on the type, always check the tea’s label.
In this article, I’ll examine how long you can store tea and whether it can expire or not. I’ll also discuss the oxidation process, how to store your tea bags to prevent them from becoming stale quickly, and several other uses for old tea bags. Keep reading to learn how to keep your tea tasting fresh for longer.
Does Tea Expire or Go Bad?
Tea doesn’t usually “expire,” but it can go bad if stored for too long. When this happens, the tea loses its flavor, thus tasting bland. Tea becomes stale and less flavorful when exposed to air and has undergone oxidation.
Typically, dry tea leaves can last a long time as long as they’re kept free from moisture and other elements. They may lose their taste or flavor after a while, but they’re usually safe to drink unless you notice mold or mildew in the tea.
What Is Oxidation?
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs when an atom or compound loses one or more electrons. It’s either encouraged or discouraged in tea production, depending on what category of tea is being processed.
When tea leaves are plucked or otherwise damaged, oxidation occurs, which creates the flavor of the tea. After the tea has been processed, it’ll continue to oxidize when exposed to the air. When further oxidation occurs, the tea may lose its luster or flavor. For fresher tea, you should store it properly to prevent further oxidation.
What Is the Shelf Life for Tea Bags?
The shelf life for teabags is usually between 1 and 2 years if unopened. Always check the “best by” date stamped on the tea package. Different tea brands/types have different shelf lives. Once opened, the tea must be stored properly, preferably in an airtight container.
Since the brand and type of tea bags will determine how long your tea can stay fresh, you want to refer to the tea’s “best by” date to get an idea of how long you may be able to keep your tea.
For example, you can safely and tastily brew most Lipton tea bags up to 18 months from the production date. On the other hand, Teavana teas may stay fresh for up to 3 years if stored correctly.
You Can Drink Tea Past Its “Best By” Date
Tea usually has a “best by” or “best before” date and not an expiration date. The “best by” date is the manufacturer’s recommended date that the product will retain its original or best quality. You may consume food and beverages after the “best by” date.
The “best by” date on the package is a measure of quality and not safety. It’s safe to consume it after the stamped date, although it may lose flavor or richness and be blander the longer it has been on your shelf.
To preserve the taste and richness of your tea, you should always store it properly to prevent the leaves from losing flavor and becoming stale.
Different Tea Brands Have Different “Best By” Dates
You’ll usually see a stamped date on the outside of the package of the tea. It may be a series of numbers without spaces or punctuation or printed in a month/day/year format. Each brand has its specific recommendations for the “best by” date of its tea.
If you’ve thrown the box away or can’t find it, you can perform a smell test on your tea bags to help determine whether to keep them or throw them out. If the tea smells fresh, it probably is. However, if its scent is a little “off,” don’t hesitate to throw it away. If you see mold, mildew, or bugs, throw the tea bags away immediately.
Old tea may breed coliform, salmonella, and other bacteria or pathogens, which could cause minor intestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. However, adequately stored tea shouldn’t give you a problem.
How Should I Store Tea Bags for a Long Shelf Life?
You can store tea bags for a long shelf life by storing them in an airtight container or in the freezer. Both of these methods will keep the taste and integrity of the tea bags and help them to last longer.
Below are tips on how you can store your tea bags the right way:
- Store them in an airtight container. Use a tightly sealed container or tin to store your tea bags. Be sure the container is in a cool, dry place away from direct light.
- Store the tea bags in the freezer. You may freeze your tea bags, as there’s little water content to interrupt the freezing process. If done correctly, freezing your tea may even enrich its flavor.
How Long Does Tea Last if Stored Properly?
Proper storage is the most critical factor in keeping your tea fresh.
Packaged tea, if stored properly, can last 6 to 12 months past the date stamped if stored in the pantry and 1 to 2 years past the date stamped if stored in the freezer.
Like wine, some teas get better with time. Oolongs and Reds are examples of teas that have long shelf lives and improve with age. Most teas, however, will lose their flavor and become less tasty as time goes by.
Check out the Imozai Oolong Tea (available on Amazon.com). Not only does it taste good, but since it also promotes weight loss, it’s especially good for people who want to lose weight. The tea is 100% natural and doesn’t contain artificial flavors or preservatives.
What To Do With Old Tea Bags
There are many ways to recycle or repurpose your old tea bags if they seem stale and flavorless or if you don’t want to take a chance with brewing them. Some interesting uses for old tea include the following:
- First aid: Old tea bags can be soothing when used on burns or scratches.
- Compost: The acid content in tea helps break down other materials and enriches the soil.
- Garden: Brewed tea, when poured over your garden, can make an excellent fertilizer.
- Hair treatment: You can brew tea bags, pour the tea into your hair, leave for 10 minutes, and rinse out. This treatment will yield softer and shinier hair.
- Puffy eyes treatment: After brewing, use the tea bag to reduce swelling or puffiness in the eyes. You can refrigerate the brewed bags or use them at room temperature.
- Eliminate odor: Tea can decrease unpleasant smells in the home. Place a bag in smelly areas or even in shoes to eliminate odor.