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Last Updated on May 23, 2023 by Scott
How long does loose leaf tea last? This is a common question among tea lovers, especially those buying seasonal flavors. To ensure the freshness of your tea, we’re sharing the shelf life of loose leaf teas, signs of expiration, and what you can do to lengthen the aroma and flavor.
How Long Does Loose Leaf Tea Last?
When stored in airtight containers, loose leaf tea can last 18 to 36 months without losing most of the flavor. White, oolong, and black tea can remain fresh for 18 to 24 months, whereas green tea has a shelf life of 12 to 18 months. This excludes Pu-Erh tea, which is often aged for many years and entails specific storage requirements.
However, the exact time depends on the type of loose leaf tea, duration of fermentation, and storage condition.
Shelf Life of Specific Loose Leaf Tea Types
Tea leaves come from various plants and have different ways of harvesting and processing. In effect, some kinds of loose leaf tea last for only 12 months, while others can remain fresh for up to 2 years.
The better the fermentation, the longer the loose tea leaves will survive in storage. Since tea has varying expiry periods, let’s focus on the 4 major types of loose tea leaves.
- White loose leaf tea: When stored in an airtight container that blocks humidity, white loose tea leaves can last up to 24 months. Beyond that, you may notice a gradual decline in aroma and taste. However, the longer they are in storage, the higher their medicinal value and health benefits.
- Black loose leaf tea: Black tea can last for around 18 to 12 months, especially when stored properly. It has a long shelf life due to its entire fermentation process.
- Green loose leaf tea: Green loose leaf tea can only stay fresh for 12 to 18 months because it comes from unfermented leaves. While you may retain most of its flavor beyond 18 months, you may notice a decline in freshness eventually.
- Oolong loose leaf tea: Despite being semi-fermented, oolong loose leaf tea can remain fresh for up to 24 months.
Signs of Expired Loose Tea Leaves
Loose tea leaves have expiration or best before dates printed on the packaging. Leaves may lose aroma, flavor, and color over time when they go past beyond the ‘best before’ date.
Despite the global tea production reaching approximately 6.1 million metric tons, some may lose freshness over a number of causes. While tea leaves rarely get spoiled, you may be unconsciously accelerating the expiration of the leaves.
To determine how long does loose leaf tea lasts, watch out for these common signs of expired loose tea leaves.
- Dank, pungent smell: Having an overly strong smell is among the most telling signs of loose tea leaves gone bad. The smell often comes from humidity caused by airflow.
- Mold: High temperature and moisture can prompt mold to grow on loose leaf tea. Be on the lookout for molds, as they are easy to overlook. Drinking moldy loose leaves may cause some respiratory problems.
- Losing flavor: Teas remain drinkable even beyond the best before date, as long as they don’t have molds. However, part of enjoying a good cup of tea is its sour, sweet, spicy, or earthy taste.
- Long storage: Some kinds of loose tea leaves taste better with time, yet it isn’t ideal to store tea for more than 3 years. After opening the packaging, leaves gradually lose potency.
How to Tell If Tea Leaves Are Still Fresh
While there are signs for determining expired loose tea leaves, this is still quite different in knowing if your leaves are entirely spoiled. Thus, use your senses to determine the freshness of the leaves.
For example, you would know if loose leaves are fresh if they still have the same pleasant aroma when you first opened the packaging. Additionally, fresh quality leaves should feel whole, sturdy, and smooth. They should not crumble or feel slippery despite careful handle.
Usually, tea leaves that are past beyond freshness lose the flavorful aroma because natural oils evaporate over time. In addition, if you notice visible mold or other clear signs of decomposition, it’s most likely that the loose leaves aren’t fresh anymore.
Ways to Lengthen the Life of Tea Leaves
About 159 million American people drink tea every single day due to several reasons, including weight management, relieving some form of sickness, or calming the nerves.
To ensure you continue to reap these benefits, preserve tea in airtight, stainless steel containers to block humidity. The absence of moisture helps loose tea leaves last longer. Don’t put leaves in the refrigerator as moisture and condensation can accelerate the shelf life of tea leaves.
It’s also essential to store loose leaf tea at room temperature because temperature fluctuations can damage tea leaves. Avoid storing your leaves near heaters, ovens, or airconditioning units. Sunlight can compromise taste, so place your containers inside shelves or at kitchen countertops away from appliances.
Can I Drink Expired Tea Leaves?
Yes, you can drink expired loose tea leaves. However, you would most likely taste a less aromatic, flavorful tea. As long as you don’t brew moldy leaves, you shouldn’t feel sick drinking expired leaves.
How Long Do Brewed Loose Tea Leaves Last?
Brewed tea leaves can last for 5 days when kept in the fridge. However, you should store them in an airtight canister to prevent the tea from absorbing flavors or smells from other food and beverages. Likewise, this should help prevent bacteria from spoiling the brewed tea.
What Can You Do with Old Tea Leaves?
If you don’t want to steep old loose leaves, you can use them as compost piles and fertilizers because they are rich in nutrients. They also make excellent odor absorbers for rooms and storage areas. You can even use the leaves as decorations for craft projects or a tea pantry.
While loose leaf tea lasts for 18 months to 2 years, this still depends on the kind of tea and storage conditions. You can steep old tea leaves, although they won’t be as aromatic, flavorful, and nutritious as fresh ones. Therefore, its best to consume your leaves within the recommended shelf life.
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.