There is no such thing as too much tea, or is there? Tea lovers often find themselves battling the dilemma of either not having enough tea or not knowing what to do with their impressive collection of tea leaves.
What is even more daunting is when your eyes land on that tiny date printed on the beautiful packaging of your favorite tea leaves. There is nothing worse than tea that is soon to expire other than tea that is expired.
How Long Does Tea Last?
On average, most tea leaves are good to use for up to 6-12 months. However, some can last longer than others. While tea leaves don’t exactly spoil, they drop in quality. Fermented tea leaves last longer than any other tea leaves.
When Does Tea Expire?
There is no fixed date for one tea leaf that determines that the tea leaves are spoiled. The date given on your packaging is just an indicator of the best before.
This often means the tea leaves are still safe to consume after their expiration date has passed. However, it does not retain the same taste or aroma. If you are puzzled as to whether your tea is still fresh, there are a few sure signs that can help.
Consider the taste of the tea leaves you suspect are expired when you pour yourself a cup of tea. If your suspicion is indeed true, you will notice a change of flavor and a slight staleness that lingers.
Other than the taste, you should rely on your sense of smell to be an indicator. Should the tea leaves smell differently than they did before or there is a foul odor, discard the tea immediately.
How to Store Tea to Maintain its Freshness?
Packaged and unopened tea leaves last in your pantry for 6-12 months. Storing the same tea in a freezer increases the shelf-life between 1-2 years.
Storing your tea in an air-tight container will also drastically increase its self-life. Moreover, protecting your leaves from direct sunlight, moisture, air, and light will also help retain the tea leaves’ freshness longer.
The best ways to store tea to maintain its freshness are in a Ziploc bag, a container with double lids, or in a silicon pouch.
Note that tea bags already come sealed in a pouch, but this does not keep them from going stale since the bags are porous and can invite unwanted moisture.
Do Tea Bags Expire Faster Than Tea Leaves?
Tea bags usually expire faster than loose leaf tea, and there’s a range of reasons for that. Tea bags contain smaller particles of tea leaves, which accelerates the expiring process. Also, tea bag packaging exposes the tea to the elements such as light, air, and moisture, making it expire earlier.
It is all relative when it comes down to debating whether tea bags will expire faster than tea leaves.
Most would argue that tea leaves expire faster than tea bags since they do not come in pre-packed pouches.
However, according to facts, tea bags only taste better longer because they have already lost their freshness.
In reality, we only seem to think otherwise because once tea bags have lost their original taste and aroma, there is nothing to compare them to.
Another important factor to note is that the smaller the tea leaves, the faster they will go bad, adding another reason as to why tea bags expire faster.
Additionally, tea bags come packaged in pouches that allow moisture, light, and air to come in contact with the tea leaves, therefore, accelerating the arrival of its expiration date.
What Is the Shelf Life of Some of the Most Popular Tea?
No two tea leaves are the same. Hence no two tea leaves would have the same expiration window. Fermented tea lasts longer than any other tea type you will come across, often crossing decades.
Since fermented tea is already aged and enjoyed for its fermented aroma and taste, the tea can be brewed for many years before it would be considered expired. Such is the case with ripe pu’erh.
Not only does the tea have a long shelf-life, but it is also easy to store.
On the other hand, unfermented tea leaves, like white tea, do not have a particularly long shelf-life. The maximum you could push using the tea leaves without any change in taste or aroma would be 6 months.
Green tea, which is one of the most popular kinds of tea thanks to its many health benefits, can last anywhere between 6 months to 18 months. It is also an unfermented tea hence the key to the longevity of tea leaves relies strongly upon the storage method.
Besides fermented and unfermented teas, there is a third category of partially fermented tea leaves. Oolong tea falls in this category now as suggested the tea leaves are not completely fermented. Hence there is a large variety to be seen in terms of shelf-life in this category.
Lightly oxidized teas will have a similar shelf-life to green tea or white tea, whereas heavily oxidized teas like black tea can last up to 2 years.
What Can Be Done With Expired Tea?
It is a shame seeing your tea leaves going to waste once you have determined they are no longer fresh enough to be used.
However, rather than discarding the tea, there are some nifty ways you can utilize the tea other than for consumption.
The most common use for tea leaves is as compost for indoor plants. It boosts the nitrogen in the soil and helps your plant thrive. You can also use tea leaves as odor absorbers by placing a pouch in your cupboards.
Lastly, you can use tea bags for beauty care. If you have puffy or swollen eyes, all you have to do is get two tea bags, soak them lightly and place them on your eyes.
For added benefits, you can place the wet tea bags into the fridge or freezer to cool them before use.
Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Does Tea Last
Does brewed tea last longer?
Brewed tea does not last longer than unbrewed tea. The longest you can keep brewed tea consumables is 3-5 days in the fridge and 6-8 months in the freezer.
Does drinking an expired cup of tea make you sick?
Expired tea is never unsafe to consume unless it has been in contact with moisture allowing bacteria or mold to grow.