In today’s fast throw-away world, expiration dates on packages are something we look at all the time. Has it expired? Yes, throw it away!
Going through my pantry recently, I came across a pack of loose leaf tea that was many months old. My first thought was – is this still drinkable? There was no date on the package and I must admit I was a bit uncertain.
After doing some research I have learned that loose leaf tea stays fresh for much longer than one would expect.
In fact, loose leaf teas if properly stored, are still good after 18 to 24 months or even longer. That certainly put my mind at ease and I brewed up a cup and enjoyed it.
How long does loose leaf tea stay fresh?
Under correct storage conditions, loose leaf tea will remain fresh for up to 18 to 24 months. If stored in airtight tins or aluminum foil, it will remain fresh for up to 36 months. Correct storage conditions are dark, cool, dry, average humidity, average temperature, and odor-free places.
Expiration date or best before date
Most loose leaf tea packages do not have an expiration date. This is because they don’t generally expire.
You will, however, probably find a Best Before date on the package.
After the Best Before date, you won’t have to throw the tea away. But, you may notice that the tea loses its aroma, flavor and even becomes stale. That does not mean it is undrinkable. But, it probably won’t give you the taste you desire.
Shelf life of different loose leaf teas
Let’s look more closely at the different types of loose leaf teas and how long you can expect them to stay fresh.
Green tea – Green tea is unfermented and has a shelf life of around 18 months. If you store your green tea in a dark, dry spot away from heat, it will last even longer. For green tea that is kept easily accessible in a less dark spot, use it within 6 months of buying to get the best flavor and aroma.
Black tea – Black tea is fermented and this process gives it a longer shelf life. Black tea can be stored for more than 18 months. If you keep your black tea in airtight containers or aluminum foil, it will last for up to 36 months.
Oolong tea – Oolong tea is semi-fermented. This gives it a longer shelf life than green tea but not as long as black tea. Keep your oolong tea in a dark, dry spot in an airtight container and it will last for 18 to 24 months.
White tea – White tea is a rare tea that is usually only found on the shelves of tea experts. It is often used for its medicinal value. White tea will last for up to 24 months, after which it will start to lose its aroma and flavor. Experts claim that the medicinal value increases with time. Some experts keep white tea for 5 years or more.
Pu er tea – Pu er tea will outdo most teas when it comes to storage. Specialist websites claim that pu er tea gets better and better over decades of time. That translates into 10, 20, or 30 years! Pu er tea does require some air flow in its storage spot, so do not store it in an airtight container. It usually comes in paper or carton packages which will allow for natural airflow.
What causes loose leaf tea to lose its freshness?
Here are a few pointers to ensure that your loose leaf tea stays fresh for as long as possible.
- Light – Store your tea in a dark place. Do not store your teas in direct sunlight. If they are displayed in a decorative container, ensure that sunlight does not fall onto the shelf through an open window.
- Temperature – Average temperatures are best. Do not store your teas in areas that are subject to fluctuating increases or decreases in temperatures. Keep them away from air vents, air conditioners, and heating units. Do not store your tea in a fridge as this will impact the taste and aroma.
- Humidity – Humid conditions can cause mold or mildew to grow on your tea leaves. Ensure that your storage spot is dry.
- Packaging – Keep the original package closed and sealed. Most loose leaf teas stay fresh longer if they are repacked into airtight containers. Storing them in aluminum foil will also add to the shelf life. If you are buying large quantities of loose leaf tea, you can consider vacuum sealing them until needed.
- Odors – Keep your loose tea leaves away from foods, fruits, and veggies with strong odors, Also be aware of storage areas that are close to household cleaners and chemicals with pungent smells. Loose tea leaves quickly absorb odors that will totally change the taste of your tea.
- Wet spoons – It is so easy to use a wet spoon to scoop tea leaves out of their packaging. Don’t do this. The dampness will encourage the growth of mold and bacteria, ruining your tea, and you will probably have to throw it away.
What can I do with loose leaf tea that is not fresh?
Get creative and don’t throw away your old tea leaves. They can be used around the house . Throw them into your garden compost maker or dig them into the soil around your plants. When they decompose, they release loads of nutrients.
- Use old tea leaves to absorb odors in your fridge. Place them into an open container and stand in the fridge.
- Water your plants. Steep old tea leaves in the water you are using for your plants. The nutrients are very beneficial and the plants don’t care what the tea tastes like.
- Make a relaxing bath sachet using green tea leaves. Wrap them up in muslin and allow the sachet to soak in your bath water before stepping in.
- Get creative with the kids and do arts and crafts. Dried tea leaves can be used to decorate cards, scrapbooks and make fabulous art creations.
What happens with tea leaves after the Best Before date?
Unlike many foods, loose leaf tea after the Best Before date is unlikely to cause damage if you do drink it.
You will probably find that the flavor, color, or aroma is not at its peak quality.
Make sure that your tea leaves have not become damp and moldy. That will be a problem and you will have to throw them away. Leaves that are stored in a dry, dark place can be brewed and used.
If you are having guests over and want to impress them with an exotic tea, it is probably better to use tea that has not passed its Best Before date!
Frequently asked questions about how long does loose leaf tea stay fresh
What is the shelf life of loose leaf tea?
Depending on the type of tea and your storage facilities, expect loose leaf tea to have a shelf life of anything from 6 months to 3 years.
Does loose leaf tea go bad?
Tea stored correctly will not go bad. It may lose its flavor, aroma, or color. Tea that is stored in damp and humid spots will go bad if mold or bacteria start to grow on the leaves.