Just like any other drink or food, tea leaves can expire too. In fact, 30 minutes is all it takes to ruin a good quality tea. On the other hand, some types can last for decades. Learn about tea expiration dates and how to prolong shelf life of your favorite leaves.
Why do tea leaves expire?
Tea leaves expire because of storage conditions, getting into contact with air and being exposed to mold, heat or water. Even though many packaged teas have an expiration date printed on the packaging, properly stored tea will be likely safe to use long after that date. Even the leaves that changed color or scent might be good to use if they are mold and pests-free. Pests and insects like moths or ants usually stay away from pure unflavored tea.
Do green tea leaves expire?
Green tea leaves are more delicate than other tea types. It starts to lose scent, color and flavor fast if stored improperly. In fact, all less oxidized leaves like white tea, green tea and light oolong teas will have a shorter shelf life. Pay extra attention to tightly seal all packaging after use because oxygen will ruin them much faster than it will ruin other types. A new package of fresh green tea placed on direct sunlight in summer may change flavor and scent in only 30 minutes. Green tea is usually appreciated for its freshness, so if you really want to enjoy it, use it within 6 months of purchasing. However, if stored properly, it can be good for more than a year.
The proof that tea leaves don’t expire if stored properly is that every type of tea can be aged – including green. Aging requires skills, knowledge and special storage conditions that will allow tea leaves to acquire flavor that is better than when the tea was fresh.
What is the shelf life of other types of tea?
Black tea is usually good for over 2-3 years. Lightly oxidized oolong like Ti Kwan Yin is best used within 6 months, while more heavily oxidized Wu Yi oolong will be tasty longer. White tea will be good for at least a year, but if you want to enjoy the freshness of pure spring silver needles, drink it within 6 months.
Fermented teas have the longest shelf life, often counted in decades. They can be aged and unaged, raw or ripe. Some will have an expiration date on them, others won’t. However, even though the tea is aged, it doesn’t mean it cannot expire. If you don’t pay attention to how you store it, even if it’s fermented, 20 years old raw pu’erh tea might expire very soon. On the other hand, ripe pu’erh is a low-maintenance tea, that will survive even the harshest conditions.
Tea bags or leaves – which expires faster?
Loose leaf tea will have longer expiration date than tea bags. The smaller the leaf, the faster it will expire. Tea bags usually contain dust or fannings, small particles that can lose freshness much easier than whole leaf, especially if they are not packed in individual pouches. Same is true for matcha, a pure green tea powder than should be used within 1-2 months of opening.
How to prolong the shelf life of tea leaves?
The shelf life of every tea is different. Although it’s very difficult to say how long the tea will stay fresh, there are things you can do to prolong the shelf life of your favorite loose leaf tea:
- Store it away from heat, sunlight, damp places, and sources of mold
- Always seal the pouch
- Do not open packaging too often.
- Once you open a package, try to use the tea within a few weeks-months
- Do not use wet spoons to scoop out tea leaves
- You can store tea at room temperature and in the fridge. However, storing tea in the fridge is the best option mostly for vacuum sealed bags.
Tip: If you are buying a large quantity of tea that you don’t plan to use within a few months, you can vacuum seal a larger quantity and store it in the fridge. Try to do it immediately after buying. Leave smaller quantity to drink. Never put an open tea pouch into the fridge because it will collect all odor from food and moisture.
What to do with expired tea leaves?
You can safely use pure tea past the date on the packaging. Be careful with the flavored types though. They might contain ingredients that could go bad and cause health problems. We do not suggest using fruit and herbal tea past expire date as well. The easiest way to say if the tea is still good is to:
- Smell it first. If it still has a good scent, it is very likely good to drink.
- If the tea has no scent, it might still be good. Test it by placing tea leaves in a heated teapot and smell again. Good tea will have a good scent in a heated teapot.
- If the tea has no scent in a heated teapot, or it’s bad, the best would be to throw it away.
- Finally, take a sip. If it tasted good, you can safely drink it.
If you think your pure loose leaf tea is definitely past expiration date and you don’t want to drink it, you can use it in a compost for a garden or house plants.