Does Tea Expire? Tea Varieties, Shelf Life, and Storage Tips
Does tea expire? There’s no harm in brewing a cup of tea even beyond its best-by date, as long as it’s free of moisture and other contaminants, but the flavor and efficacy diminish over time.
Let’s explore different types of tea and how to maximize their shelf life.
Does tea go bad?
It does when it meets with moisture. Tea storage is all about keeping it dry.
Loose-leaf tea and tea bags do have a best-by date indicating how long the tea will maintain its peak taste. Once that date lapses, the tea will gradually begin to lose its flavor.
Suppose you find some tea that has been hanging around in your cupboard for some time, no longer in its original packaging with the best-by date. See if it’s dry and still smells fresh. If you spot any mold, mites, dank smells, or sticky leaves, toss it.
Does tea expire and how long does tea last after the best-before date?
As a general rule of thumb, tea bags and loose-leaf tea can last for six to twelve months beyond their best-before date if stored in the pantry and one to two years if stored in the freezer.
Brewed iced tea can last three to five days in the refrigerator. It should be kept in an airtight container to prevent it from absorbing the odors of other foods or beverages and to keep bacteria at bay.
If you add sugar to your iced tea, keep it refrigerated for eight hours at most. The sugar in the tea will slowly begin to cause fermentation after the first day.
When it comes to therapeutic teas, like green tea blends used for sugar level control or herbal blends like chamomile used as a sleep aid, it’s better to consume them before their best-by date for maximum efficacy.
Some tea phytochemicals—the compounds said to have healthful effects—are found in the highest concentrations in fresh leaves. Over time, therapeutic capabilities will diminish.
Best practices for tea storage
With a little thought for proper storage, you can keep your teas at their best for the longest time possible, eliminating any risk of harmful contamination. The bottom line? Moisture, heat, direct sunlight, and air are the enemies of good tea.
Teabags can stay in their original box and individual paper or foil sleeves, or you can transfer them to an airtight plastic container or tin. Store it on a shelf in your kitchen or pantry in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight and the stove.
Loose-leaf tea usually comes in airtight tins that will keep the tea safe. But if you want to store your tea in other jars—maybe you’re creating your own blend, or you happen to buy tea in burlap or other bags for lighter shipping—immediately transfer the tea to airtight ceramic or tin containers.
Glass jars with airtight lids are also fine as long as they’re stored in a dark cupboard or drawer.
What about freezing teas to extend the shelf life? This can work, but only with plain tea (no additives), that is in its original, airtight packaging. Do not freeze an opened tin of tea, as condensation will quickly spoil the contents.
Although all tea types require the same storage conditions, shelf life differs from one to another.
- Green tea and yellow tea – 18 months
- Oolong tea – 24 months
- Black tea – 36 months
- White tea and pu erh tea – Average shelf life: 5-6 years; the more aged, the better
- Herbal teas – 2 years
What can you do with expired tea?
If you have some tea that has passed its best-by date, don’t discard it just yet. There are still plenty of great ways to use it.
Look at what you can do with those expired tea bags!
- Eliminate unpleasant odors. Place a dry tea bag in a drawer, closet, or fridge or inside shoes to leave them smelling fresher.
- Clean mirrors and windows. Brew a pot of strong black tea and let it cool before filling a spray bottle. Spray it on your windows or mirrors and wait for several minutes before wiping it off with a damp cloth.
- Reduce puffy eyes. Soak two tea bags in a bowl of warm water and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Squeeze the water from the bags and place them over your eyes for 15 minutes. The caffeine and antioxidants in tea do wonders to reduce puffiness.
- Cleanse and deodorize your hands. Rub a damp tea bag all over your hands and fingers after chopping garlic and onions or other strong-smelling foods.
Those past-their-prime old tea leaves can still help out too.
- Eliminate fridge odors. Place some dried tea leaves in a bowl as a substitute for baking soda to keep your refrigerator smelling fresh.
- Fertilize your plants. Mix tea leaves into the topsoil as fertilizer. You can also put them in the compost pile.
- Bathe in tea. Tea leaves contain antioxidants, which are great for your skin. Sprinkle them into your bathwater to reap their benefits.
- Deter pests. Mint blends can repel insects and other pests. Sprinkle the dry tea leaves on windowsills, inside cupboards, or around vulnerable plants.
Tea is a delicious, soothing drink with many health benefits, whether hot or iced. You can even make some crackers with tea. Following good storage practices will promise optimal flavor.
About the Author
Sharon Chen is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, an author and a sous vide fanatic who believes food not only brings healing but also connection. As the creator of StreetSmart Kitchen, she's on a mission to help you find balance, ease, joy, and simplicity in the kitchen as you improve your well-being.