Does Tea Expire? 5 Great Tips That Make it Last

Updated on: October 19, 2023
Author: Nick
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Does Tea Expire

Does tea expire or is it all a hoax to get you to buy more tea?

My guess is that it is...

You may have found a container of tea leaves at the back of your cupboard or maybe you have realized the expiry date on your tea has come and gone long ago. 

Or perhaps you have purchased tea from an artisan shop and the tea doesn’t even have an expiration date. 

And you may have wondered, does tea expire?!

Like everything in life, tea leaves do expire... Well, maybe not everything; Twinkies could probably survive a meteor like the one that killed the dinosaurs...

By the way, ‘expired tea’ doesn't mean that it is unsafe for consumption, but it will definitely lose its flavor and possibly its health benefits after some time.

If you are using Chamomile tea, for instance, to aid you in your sleep, then you may not get the desired benefits.

Anyways, if you’re using loose leaf tea, then you are passionate about your tea and the last thing you want is a bland drink when you’ve been looking forward to a nice steaming cup of comfort. 

Does Tea Expire

Why Does Tea Expire?

The main reason why tea expires is because of the way it is stored. It is important to store your tea in an air-tight container and out of direct sunlight, away from other heat sources, and water.

Remember that over time the natural oils and, therefore, the flavor of the tea will evaporate which means the tea can still be consumed but it will be bland. 

And why the hell would anyone drink tea without flavor? 

The crazy thing is, some people actually do! But who am I to judge? As long as there is no mold or pests in the tea, then it is safe to consume.

The best thing to do is buy an air-tight container, specifically for your tea leaves. Once the original packaging is opened, empty the contents into the container, and seal it.

Don't use the regular seals on the packages that the tea comes in, because they are not that good at keeping the air out, and therefore the tea will lose its freshness quicker. 

Does Tea Expire?

Does Green Tea Expire?

The straightforward answer is: Yes, green tea does expire!

Why does green tea expire?

This tea is more temperamental than other teas. Green tea leaves are less oxidized which means they won’t last as long as regular tea and are more sensitive to light, heat, and air. 

So when does green tea expire?

Green tea is appreciated for its freshness so it is best to use it within six months, but if it is stored properly then it could last up to one year. 

Just be careful not to expose the tea leaves to air or direct sunlight even for a small period of time, because they can be ruined. 

Plus green tea is particularly known for its health benefits. It has antioxidants which may lower the risk of some cancers, and it is known to increase one's metabolism for fat burning. 

In order to get all these benefits from it, make sure that your green tea does not expire, as it is best to drink it within six months of opening the package.

When Does Tea Expire for Other Types of Tea Leaves?

Different teas expire at different times...

Even though some teas, like black tea, green tea, and oolong tea come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, they are harvested and processed differently. This creates the different flavors which then contribute to each tea’s expiry period.

When does Black Tea Expire?

Black tea is more fermented than other types of teas which means it can last longer. Black tea expires approximately within 2 to 3 years.

Black Tea Leaves

When does Oolong Tea Expire?

There are two types of oolong tea: light and dark. They are partly oxidized so they have a longer shelf life than green tea, for example. 

  • Light Oolong’s expiry period can be up to 5 years. It contains more water content than dark Oolong and should be stored in a cool place.
  • While Dark Oolong can have an unlimited expiry period if stored properly at room temperature. Dark aged oolong is preferred since its flavor enhances as it naturally ages.

Oolong Tea Leaves

When does White Tea Expire?

White tea comes from the same plant as black and green tea. However, it is the least processed which means it keeps a lot of its antioxidants. And its expiry period is between 1 and 2 years.

White Tea Leaves

When does Herbal Tea Expire?

Herbal tea will not necessarily expire if stored right but it will lose its flavor. Its expiry period is from 1 to 2 years.
Cascara or "the coffee cherry tea" has a similar expiry period to herbal teas.

Herbal Tea Leaves

When does Fermented (pu’erh) Tea Expire?

This type of tea is different from the rest, in that it gets better with age. It will last the longest and can even last decades.

Pu'er Fermented Tea Leaves

When does Matcha Tea Expire?

Matcha, which is a pure green tea powder, has the shortest shelf life of most teas. This Japanese green tea's expiry period is up to 4 weeks if opened, and 1 year if unopened.

Matcha Green Tea

Quick Tip
With any tea, it is important for the tea to be stored properly to have the longest expiry period. 

Store your tea in small batches and in air-tight containers. The more times the packet or container is opened, the more air is getting in and deteriorating the flavor of your tea. So storing them in small batches will help them last longer!

Does Tea Expire?

Do Tea Bags Expire?

Tea bags, similar to loose-leaf teas, can ‘expire’. 

The packages that hold the tea bags and loose leaf tea will most likely have a best before date printed on them. 

This date is not an expiry date, but more of a reference date. It is safe to drink the tea bags or tea leaves after that date. But to get the best out of them, it is better to drink them when they are at their freshest.

Even though tea bags are more convenient than loose-leaf tea, the tea leaves in them are much smaller than loose-leaf tea, which affects the natural oils in the leaves that in turn affect the quality, flavor, and health benefits.

Also the loose leaf teas have a greater contact area with the water, which enhances the flavor. Plus, the larger the tea leaf, the longer it lasts. Loose leaf tea expire within 2 to 3 years whereas tea bags expire within 1 to 2 years. 

5 Tips to Remember when Storing Tea Leaves

Tea Container

If you ensure proper storage, then the tea leaves, whatever kind of tea it is, can have a considerable shelf life. Follow these 5 tips for proper storage to always ensure fresh tea:

  1. Store in an air-tight container or securely seal the packaging. Airtight tea tin cans are great!

  2. Store in a cool and dark place.

  3. Ensure the spoon you use to lift the tea is dry to avoid adding moisture to the leaves.

  4. Do not store the leaves near other spices as they can absorb the aromas.

  5. Do not regularly open the packaging or container to avoid exposure to air.

SilverOnyx Tea Tin

  • Airtight with double lids
  • Stainless Steel

How to Tell if the Tea Leaves are Still Good to Drink

Keep these tips in mind if you are not sure whether or not you can still consume your tea:

  1. If the tea leaves do not have any mold or insects, then it is still safe to drink.

  2. The dry leaves should be smooth and sturdy. If they crumble under your touch, then they are past their best. 

  3. When the leaves have been steeped, they should be slippery and smooth.

  4. You will likely know once you have sipped your cup of tea whether you need to pour it down the sink or not. You should be able to taste the distinct ingredients of your tea like the earthiness of black tea or the fresh, grassy taste of green tea.

  5. If there is barely any flavor or a chemical taste, then it has passed its best. 

  6. The smell of the leaves should be aromatic. If there is little to no smell, then don’t bother boiling that kettle.

Also keep in mind that tea leaves may turn a different color or scent, but this does not mean that they can no longer be consumed; however, it will indicate that the tea is not at its best.

Frequently Asked Questions - Does Tea Expire?

Can mold grow on tea leaves?

No, as the tea leaves are not exposed to conditions that allow mold to grow. If the tea leaves are stored properly, then they will not go moldy.

Does tea need to be stored in an airtight container?

Yes, it does. The less the tea is exposed to air, the fresher it remains and the longer its flavor lasts.

Can tea be stored in a glass jar?

Yes, you can store tea in glass or mason jars. However, make sure you keep it away from light and heat, which are not ideal for the tea leaves’ shelf life and freshness. You should also bubble wrap the glass jar if you are storing it in cabinets to ensure that it doesn't break if it accidentally falls. And plastic jars are not good because they absorb the tea leaves’ scent and flavors.

What can be done with expired tea leaves?

If you find your tea has passed its best-before date, don’t just chuck it in the bin. It takes 2,000 tea leaves to make 1lb of tea. That’s a lot of tea leaves, and tea is a wonderful resource, not just for drinking. So don’t waste it!

 Instead, you can:

1 - Use the tea leaves as fertilizer in your compost bin.
2 - Put it in a pouch and place it in your shoes to absorb smells.
3 - Bake with it. Make a Tea Loaf with cold tea or a variety of buns and cakes infused with Earl Grey or Chamomile.
4 - Make a smoothie.
5 - Use it as an eye mask. Steep the tea in hot water and let them cool before placing over your eyes to get rid of puffiness. 
6 - Use it to create a shine on your wooden floors.
7 - Create a floral bath with old leaves which can also hydrate your skin.

What happends in your drink expired tea?

Drinking expired tea most likely will not be pleasant. The taste might be stale and weak. However, if you drink expired tea to the extent it is moldy you may get sick. Simply don't drink any tea if it smells moldy.

Conclusion - Does Tea Expire?

So to wrap things up, does tea really expire? Yes, tea can expire eventually but it can be safe to consume. The main issue is that the flavor and its benefits will deteriorate with most teas after a year or more. 

If your tea does expire, there are plenty of other useful ways it can be used. So whether you are drinking it or using it as an eye mask, you can still enjoy old tea.

Nick loves coffee... Actually, he NEEDS coffee! So, he has dedicated his time to learning all he can about this magical bean. He can make a mean latte, is obsessed with flat whites, and is always up for a cup of java!
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