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Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Scott
Have you ever taken a box of tea out of your cupboard and then hesitated because it’s been in there for quite a long time? We’re often cautious about the foods we eat, but what about the things we intend to drink? How safe is old tea?
Tea can get moldy, but this generally only happens if the tea box has gotten wet. Most manufacturers include a plastic or foil wrapper inside the box to prevent the tea from going moldy, and this will usually be enough, unless you get water inside this wrapper too.
In this article, we’re going to explore whether tea gets moldy and how you can tell if it has gotten moldy. We’ll also look at how to store your tea safely to maximize its shelf life.
Does Tea Get Moldy?
On the whole, tea does not get moldy because it has had all the water removed from it. For mold to grow, it needs a damp environment, which is why dried foods usually last much better than fresh foods. Tea is the same – it’s completely dried, and therefore mold should not be able to grow on tea, no matter how long you store it.
Of course, even dry products can get moldy if they’re improperly stored. If your tea has gotten wet, it’s very likely to start growing mold. This can happen if:
- The tea is kept in cardboard, but has no wrapper to protect it from water
- The box or wrapper gets splashed
- You put the box in a damp environment
As long as you’re storing your tea properly, it typically should not get moldy.
How Do You Tell If Tea Has Gone Moldy?
If you suspect that your tea has gotten damp and you’re concerned about mold, there are a few key signs to look out for. The first thing to do is to take the tea out and inspect it. Do you see any white or blue flecks on the surface? These won’t always be visible, but they’re the most obvious sign of tea that has gone bad.
Next, shake the tea around (either in the bag or in the jar, if it’s loose tea). If it moves freely, it’s probably not moldy. However, if it has clumped up and stuck together, there is likely mold. This is because the mold will grow between the separate leaves and stick them into lumps.
If you still can’t tell, smell the tea. If it has an unpleasant, musty scent, it will have gone bad. If in doubt, compare the smell with a box of fresh tea. Usually, you will be able to smell the difference between the two pretty clearly if one of the boxes has gone off.
If anything else has got into the tea, such as bacteria, you should also be able to smell this. Get rid of any tea that smells odd, as using it to make a drink could make you sick. The risk is low, but you should still be aware that it’s there.
Occasionally, you may note that the tea has gone bad, and this is likely to result in a cup of tea that tastes bitter or strange. If you have made a drink with tea that you know is old and may have gone bad, take a test sip before you settle down to enjoy it. If it tastes strange, throw it away and consider new tea.
How Should You Store Your Tea?
As much as possible, you need to store your tea in a dry environment. Many people find that they can safely keep tea in the box that it was purchased in, and it stays fresh enough to drink when kept this way. For loose leaf tea, you’ll want to store in an airtight container.
However, if you know that your home is damp, or if you plan to keep the tea for a particularly long time, you may want to consider moving your teabags to an airtight, opaque container (similar to loose leaf tea storage). This will keep it away from the dampness that could promote mold, and should help it to retain its flavor for as long as possible.
Keep the tea in a dry cupboard to further reduce the risk of it getting contaminated by mold.
Is Bitterness a Sign of Old Tea?
In general, bitterness means that you have brewed the tea for too long or used too many tea leaves. It isn’t usually a sign that the tea has gone bad.
Bitterness arises when tea is steeped for an extended duration or when an excessive amount of tea leaves is used, leading to the extraction of more tannins and other compounds that contribute to a bitter taste. This occurrence is more common with certain tea varieties, such as green, black, and oolong teas, due to their higher tannin content.
However, it’s essential to note that the bitterness does not indicate spoilage or a health concern. By adjusting the brewing parameters, such as reducing steeping time or using fewer tea leaves, you can easily rectify the bitterness and continue to enjoy the full flavors and benefits of your tea.
Brewed Tea & Mold Considerations
If you leave a cup of tea sitting around in your home, it is likely to go bad within about 3 days, especially if it contains milk. As soon as you’ve added water to the tea, it will start to go off, so be aware of this.
It’s best to discard any un-drunk tea away after a day.
It’s important to note that once tea has been prepared and mixed with water, it becomes susceptible to microbial growth and degradation. If left at room temperature, especially in a warm environment, tea can start to go bad within approximately 3 days.
This is particularly true if the tea contains milk or any other perishable ingredients. The combination of moisture, warmth, and organic matter in the tea provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to spoilage and potential health risks.
To ensure the longevity and safety of your tea, it’s advisable to consume it within a reasonable timeframe or store it in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life. Additionally, it’s crucial to follow proper hygiene practices, such as using clean utensils and avoiding cross-contamination, to minimize the risk of bacterial growth and maintain the quality of your tea.
Types of Teas That Can Go Bad
Any kind of tea can go bad if it gets wet. Some kinds of tea will also lose their flavor quickly. Check the expiration date and aim to use the tea up before this time for the best possible results. While the tea may be fine to drink after the expiration date, its flavor may not be good anymore.
Proper storage and handling of tea are essential to maintain its quality and flavor. While any kind of tea can go bad if exposed to moisture, certain types of tea are more susceptible to losing their flavor quickly. Delicate and highly aromatic teas, such as green tea or white tea, are more prone to flavor degradation over time.
By using tea before its expiration date and storing it in a cool, dry place in an airtight container, you can help preserve its flavor and enjoy the tea at its peak freshness.
Health Effects of Drinking Old Tea
Your chances of getting sick from drinking tea that has been contaminated by a small amount of mold are very low. However, it’s still better to be cautious, and not to use tea that has gone bad, because it could potentially give you a stomach ache, nausea, or other symptoms. Throw it away and purchase new tea.
Proper storage is crucial to prevent tea from getting moldy. If tea leaves or tea bags are exposed to excessive moisture or humidity, they can become a breeding ground for mold.
If you find that the box of tea has become wet, it’s important to use the tea bags promptly or dispose of them to avoid the risk of consuming mold-contaminated tea.
On the other hand, when stored in a dry environment, tea has a long shelf life and can be kept for an extended period. However, it’s worth noting that over time, tea may gradually lose some of its flavor and aromatic qualities.
The rate of flavor deterioration can vary depending on the type of tea, but generally, it is recommended to consume tea within a few months to a couple of years of its purchase for the best flavor experience. By storing tea in airtight containers away from moisture, heat, and strong odors, you can maximize its shelf life and maintain its desirable flavors for as long as possible.
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.