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Does Tea Expire?

Earl Grey and Chamomile tea on a wooden table

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Does Tea Expire?

Does tea expire? This might be one of those weird questions we never really think of asking. And, why would we? Tea is usually considered to have no expiration date, like other foods and drinks do. It is, after all, herbs and leaves in little bags. If you store it right, it should be fine, forever. Right? Well, the short answer is, it kind of does, unfortunately, expire. However, there are many factors that affect the expiration of your tea. That is, the expiration date does not apply the same to tea. Therefore, some tea might last you longer than the other. So, let’s take a look at the meaning of tea expiration, how it comes to be and what you can do to make your tea last longer.

Tea Expiration Explained

Let’s start with the basics. People can consume teas in two main ways; as tea bags or as loose leaf. This is an important distinction as the expiration applies differently to tea bags and tea leaves. For example, tea bags usually go bad after 6 to 12 months; that is considered the expiration date of tea bags, however, they are still safe for consumption. But the flavor, taste, and smell won’t be the same, as when the tea bags were fresh. Some believe that after a year, tea bags might be releasing toxins that have built up during the 12-month period. Tea bags might also develop some kind of contamination when exposed to humidity, mold or if they were not stored properly, or out of the container.

On the other hand, we have loose leaf tea. Now,  loose leaf tea is known to have no expiration date. However, over 12 to 24-month period tea is also known to lose the majority of its aroma, flavor, and color. It becomes stale, flat and might lose the majority of its quality and health benefits that made it good in the first place. Either way, loose leaf tea, even after such a long period, is completely safe for consumption.

Dry Black Loose Leaf Tea

The reason such things happen to loose leaf over time usually relates to exposure to humidity or temperature oscillation in the environment where it is stored. Loose leaf tea is quite sensitive and needs to be stored properly in order to retain all of its qualities. Preservation of loose leaf tea is as important as its preparation and serving; it simply takes a lot more care than tea bags do. But, it does not go expired.

How to bring ‘expired’ tea to life?

Even if you believe that your tea is expired and that it now belongs in the trash, you should not give up on it just yet. There is a way you can bring your ‘expired’ tea back to life. It might not be the same, but it should definitely be palatable and tasty for a tea that is a year or two old.

If you’re trying to bring back your tea in tea bags, here’s what needs to be done:

  • Open the tea bags and place the tea into a bowl,
  • To the bowl and the tea add lemon juice to wet the tea and let it sit like that for at least 15 minutes (this way you will get rid of the bacteria in the tea that accumulated over the time),
  • Take a clean coffee filter and brew the tea in your coffee maker; you can also use a French Press or filters that are used for loose leaf tea,
  • Make sure to add a sweetener, more lemon juice or even milk (if black or rooibos tea), to make the resulting drink tastier and more palatable.

If you’re trying to bring back your loose-leaf tea, you should know that it does not require much work. Just make sure to prepare it as you would usually prepare your tea. Before the actual brewing, however, you could roast the tea leaves in a pan, on very low heat. Once the tea starts to smell nice and fresh, continue with the regular brewing process. Bear in mind that in cases of black, rooibos, Pu Erh or Oolong teas, you can leave it to brew and infuse a little longer than usual. The green tea shouldn’t brew too long, as it might turn completely unpalatable and unappetizing in flavor and color.

 How to Store Tea Properly?

Tie Guan Yin, a premium Chinese oolong tea packed in aluminum vacuum foil in metal tin

As mentioned above, the way you store your tea can make it last longer, or help it go bad sooner. Proper tea storage is really important, as it helps the tea retain its freshness, flavor, and aroma. So, here are some tips on how to store your tea and enjoy it for a little longer;

  • Tea bags usually come in paper tea containers. These containers do the job, but if you want the tea to stay fresh for a longer time, try using airtight tins or containers.
  • Airtight, stainless steel containers should also be used in the case of loose-leaf tea. Loose leaf tea could also be stored in paper bags however, they should be closed quite tightly. Meaning, air should not find a way into the bags and containers as it damages the tea.
  • Both, tea bags and loose-leaf tea should be stored at room temperature in order to preserve all of its qualities. Some people believe that tea should be frozen in order to make it last longer, and this is, of course, a personal preference. Chinese tea vendors keep their tea vacuum-sealed in large freezers, but you should know that tea is sensitive when it comes to temperature fluctuations. This can damage the tea’s flavor, color, and overall quality.
  • Both, tea bags and loose-leaf tea should be stored in a dark area. For example, in the back of your pantry or some other dark parts of your kitchen that no light reaches.
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