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When you forgot about the tea bags or stash of loose leaf tea in the back of the cabinet and realize its probably been back there for more than just a few months, you have a decision to make. Is the tea expired? If so, will you get sick if you brew it anyways?
Tea lasts for a lot longer than people realize, especially when compared to other beverages such as dairy-based ones. If you forget your tea bags or loose leaf tea in the back of the cabinet, it’s still going to last and be flavorful for a good three or four months starting from the date you purchased it.
Even after three or four months have elapsed, the worst you’re going to get is a surprisingly dull and lifeless flavor. The only way that tea will generally go bad is if it is exposed to moisture or heat, the two elements necessary for the growth of mildew and mold.
What are the Main Reasons for Tea Expiring?
The main reason for tea expiring is simply storing it somewhere and forgetting it’s there. No one probably sets out with the goal of buying a bunch of tea bags or loose leaf tea to forget it in the back of some cupboard, after all.
Of course, there are some intervening factors that can cause the tea to — not necessarily expire — but “go bad” instead. You can have a bad batch of tea sitting there that is well inside of what would be considered its appropriate expiration date.
How to Tell if Tea is Expired
There are several ways to tell whether or not your tea has gone beyond what is appropriate for consumption. However, for sake of comparison, it’s not as easy to tell as it would be to recognize the fact that your milk has gone over.
Here are some tell tale signs to look out for:
- Appearance — The tea no longer looks as dark and rich as it once did
- Flavor — It’s nowhere near as flavorful
- Smell — The aroma is either subtly or severely lacking. It has a moist, dank smell akin to the beginnings of rot
- Mold — You find mold or mildew on it
That last is the most obvious sign that you definitely don’t want to use this tea in your next brew. However, you should always be discerning and take note of the aroma if you suspect it may be well past its prime.
If you can’t quite tell or are unsure, then you will definitely know when you taste it. There’s no better taste tester than the tea and coffee connoisseurs out there, and if you drink a lot of tea you will know when something is off.
Proper Storage Method for Tea
Tea will last a really long time if it’s stored in the proper conditions. For one, you shouldn’t open anything up and expose the loose leaf tea or tea bags to the outside air unless you are getting ready to use it. Placing it in the freezer can expand its viability for a couple of years.
The best thing to do is to store your tea in a cool, dry location. Heat and moisture are the natural enemies of almost any consumable item, regardless of what it is and tea is no exception to that all-important rule. If you can place your tea leaves or bags in an airtight container, by all means do so.
How to Tell if Matcha Tea is Expired?
You can tell if Matcha tea is expired in the same ways that we listed above for regular tea. The smell is everything and if it doesn’t pass the smell test, it’s probably no longer any good. Unlike regular tea, Matcha will typically not stay fresh for long periods of time unless properly stored. And, considering the high costs and high quality of good matcha green tea, you’ll want to enjoy it at its freshest.
That doesn’t mean that companies won’t put an expiration date on there, because they will. However, that’s more to protect the brand from liability (rather than “actually” expiring in that timeframe…think of it as a best-if-used-by indicator).
Does Green Tea Expire?
Green tea usually comes with an expiration date as well, except it’s not really an expiration date. Like most tea, you will usually see a “best before” sticker on there followed by a date. These are generally good rules of thumb to follow.
Does Black Tea Expire?
Black tea is just like all of the others and doesn’t come with a specific expiration date. Like green, matcha, and standard teas, you should store it in a cool, dry place or place it in the freezer for long-term viability.
Does Herbal Tea Expire?
Herbal teas, like most other teas, don’t expire so much as they have a “best if used by” date. However, the flavoring of your herbal tea, or rather, how long the flavor efficacy lasts, is based on the herbs in your herbal tea.
Over time, your herbal tea can lose much of its flavoring, especially if it’s just sitting in the back of the cabinet for months on end. In addition, if your herbal tea contains any sort of dried fruits or nuts, that will impact the shelf life.
Does Steeped Tea Expire?
Steeped tea definitely has an expiration date. Once brewed it can collect bacteria over time, as well as turn sour. You should always consume your steeped tea within a 5-day timeframe to keep from getting ill or having an upset stomach.
If you have too much tea to consume on your own, that’s what friends are for! Serve tea for all your dinners with friends and family or brew it for special get-togethers. Just make sure that you recycle your used tea bags, as they are great for garden compost and they’re also healthy.
For example, used tea bags are great for alleviating circles and bags under your eyes, soothing sunburns, and you can even use them in a warm bath.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Do tea leaves and tea bags expire at the same rate?
A. Tea bags usually have three months before they are considered to be ‘expired,’ while tea leaves often last longer. The larger the leaf, the longer it typically takes to expire.
Q. When does bottled tea expire?
A. Like the above-mentioned steeped tea, once you open a bottle of tea, you should consume it within a few days, with a maximum of five before it’s no good.
Q. Does tea get moldy?
A. If left in a humid, moist environment then tea is certainly susceptible to mold.
Q. Is it okay to freeze or refrigerate tea?
A. It’s perfectly fine to do so. In fact, it’s in your best interest to freeze it if you can’t use it for the time being, as it will last well over a year in the freezer and longer than several months in the fridge.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.