Do Tea Leaves Really Expire? (The Complete Guide and Solution!)
If you’re a tea-loving fanatic like me, you could check your shelf and find dozens of different brands.
But what happens when you pull the ones from the back of your cabinet and find out that they are expired?
Teabags can be kept up to 2 years beyond the date that they expire. It’s best to keep these bags in airtight sealed containers and placed in a cool, dry, or refrigerated environment. As time continues, the tea leaves will begin to dry even further and lose their potent flavor. As long as they are not open and exposed to the air, they can last way beyond the printed expiration date.
Now, you’re probably asking a bunch of other questions as well. In this article, I’m going to go over virtually everything you need to consider and every scenario that I can think of when it comes to your expired tea bags.
Do tea bags expire or go bad?
I think the safe answer to this is going to be yes.
Everything expires, especially consumables.
The general understanding is that when food (tea is a type of food) expires, it will eventually spoil, rot, decompose, crumble, or even become rancid.
Depending on how well it is preserved, most foods will spoil.
Funny facts here, if you were to remove the tea leaves from the bag and leave it out, it would take a little over a year for the tea leaf to completely decompose, virtually disappearing into dust.
How can you tell if tea goes bad?
Here, I’m going to list four clear signs that your tea has gone bad.
I figured this out myself when I was sticking through the back of my cabinets. I had found tea bags that were upwards of 5 years old.
The ultimate result of these 5-year-old tea leaves is that they no longer contain their flavor. It’s not as potent as you would experience if you had bought a fresh batch of tea ingredients.
Your tea bag has a pungent smell
If you place the bag close to your nose and take a good whip of it, and has a pungent smell, then you’ve got your answer.
This is one of the first and easiest signs to confirm whether or not your teabags have gone bad.
Now, I know that not everyone has a bloodhound nose, but here’s an alternative for you. If you’re not sure about the smell, then I would suggest for you look around your cabinet for some tea bags that are not yet expired to compare.
And if that doesn’t work for you, then I would suggest you find a friend or someone in the house to check for you.
You can even attempt to give your pet a sample of the smell and monitor how it reacts.
Normally, tea bags should smell somewhat like the tea they produce, just more potent.
You find mold and mildew in your tea
This method is going to be way easier than the smell method. However, you’ve got to be vigilant and detail-focused.
Mold can grow on anything, whether it is food or even rocks.
Start by looking around the corner of the teabag. Sometimes the mold May grow in those areas where the tea is most congregated.
Sometimes the humidity in the air may also help mold growth to progress.
If you have a bunch of loose-leaf in a jar, it’s probably going to be easier to identify mold.
If you’re having trouble identifying if there is a mold infestation, I would recommend that you take a small pinch of tea leaves out of your jar or your tea bag and spread them across a white cloth on the table. You can even use a paper towel.
This will help enhance the colors coming from the tea leaves.
Mold comes in a variety of different colors. Check to see any gradients that are different or spots on the leaves that pop out to you.
Look for slightly yellow, light green spots. Mold also comes in furry white cotton-like textures.
The smell and the flavor are gone from your tea
So there are no rancid smells from the tea bags or the tea leaves, and you can’t identify any mold that’s easy to see.
At this point, it is probably going to be okay to brew your tea. But the test doesn’t stop there. Once you brew your tea you’re going to have to check the taste and smell.
If your tea is wildly expired, and I mean it’s been several, several years, then there is a likely chance that it will have lost all its aroma and flavor.
Really old brewed tea may have a very dull, and watery taste to it.
There are several things and reasons why this can occur.
Take for example if you had loose tea in a glass jar and you left it in front of the window for years, the sun would probably have degraded it by then. This would remove the smell and scent.
What’s more common than a glass jar exposed to the Sun, is if the tea leaves were left out to the open air. The scent and smell from the tea leaves would eventually dissipate into the air over time. And if years go by, then there is a likely chance that your tea will no longer contain its potent flavors.
An opened container of tea is over 3 years past the expiration date
Remember, when you first purchase a jar of tea leaves or a box of teabags, those packages are sealed within either plastic or airtight jars.
The packaging is a very conscious attempt at concealing the flavors and quite possibly making the product last for as long as possible.
Once someone buys it and takes it home, and opens it, the degradation and decomposition process begins.
This is probably going to be less so for the individual tea bags that are produced today. Most likely these tea bags will be airtight, not allowing any air to come in or out.
If you’re looking at your jar of tea leaves or your box full of tea bags, and you notice that the expiration date was about 3 years ago and also you’ve already opened the jar or package that the bags came in then it’s probably time to throw it away.
You can try all the methods above, but ultimately, you’ll probably only be able to look forward to flavorless hot water.
Tea is relatively cheap by the way, so there are no worries about wasting money.
How long does tea last?
Now, the biggest question you may have next is how long does tea leaves last?
Typically, if you were to buy a fresh batch of tea leaves from the store, the expiration date would normally extend approximately 18 months from that day.
Most tea that you buy from the store will come with an expiration date on the package. It’s not a date that signals when the tea will become bad. More so, it is the date when the tea is no longer fresh.
It is still considered safe to consume even after the expiration date but only to a certain extent. However, it won’t be recommended by your manufacturer. And again, you need to watch out for signs of expiration as I’ve included above.
So how do manufacturers make tea leaves last longer? There are a lot of proprietary secrets, and one of them involves preserving the tea for as long as possible.
Manufacturers will test and probe their finished products and find the best ways to produce them in mass quantities. It boils down to the age at which to pluck those leaves, if they should be roasted or not, how long they should be dried for, and how well they are preserved.
A great deal of detail goes into producing tea leaves and it has become an art in many cultures.
Generally speaking, the more the manufacturer processes their tea leaves the longer it will last and the better the quality.
Twinings.co.uk is a company that specializes in teas and I find the way they make and process tea leaves to be fascinating. You can check out their site here at this link.
In short, with whatever tea that you have stored in your cabinet, it’s best to know that the quality of that tea is probably going to be as good for 6 to 12 months past the best use date.
Again, it depends on how you store your tea leaves. I’ve included a helpful table explaining how long something should last, whether you’ve placed it in a cool, dark place or the freezer.
How long do teabags last after they’ve expired
This is actually more of an estimate of how long your tea bags will last after it’s reached its expiration date. Assumingly that you’ve kept and stored your tea bags expire. In a cool and dry place or in the freezer, we are assuming that it’s not visually tainted with any bacteria or mold in any way.
|Tea Leaves||Shelf Life after Best Use Date in a Cool, Dry, & Dark Place||Shelf Life after Best Use Date in a Freezer|
|Black Tea||24 months||36 months|
|Green Tea||12 months||24 months|
|Herbal Tea||12 months||24 months|
|Loose Tea||12 months||24 months|
|Tea Powder||6 months||12 months|
It’s safe to say that you can still use your expired tea bags on average a year after expiration dates on the bag. It’s important to also note that if you leave your tea bags in a cold environment, it will last longer. Notice how putting your expired tea bags in a freezer can almost double the lifespan of the teabags.
For example, green tea can still be used 12 months after it has expired as long as it is kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. However, if you were to place that expired green tea bag in the freezer, then you would have an additional 12 months before you should throw it away. That means that your green tea bag is still good two years after it has expired if you leave it in the freezer.
Best way to keep teabags fresh for longer
There are several ways you can keep your tea fresh for longer periods.
- Store them inside an airtight container
As a general rule, for all those who buy tea leaves in bulk or don’t often drink tea, I recommend that you keep your tea sealed in an airtight container. This helps reduce the oxidation of your tea and keeps it fresh for a longer period.
- Make sure to keep it in a cool, dark area
tea leaves need to be kept in a cool, dry place and protected from sunlight. Exposure to light, heat, and moisture can accelerate the breakdown and decomposition of tea leaves. This can reduce their efficacy and flavor sooner than if they were protected from these elements.
- You can place your tea leaves in the refrigerator
the fundamental reason for keeping your food in the refrigerator is to keep it cold. Cold temperatures help make the food fresh for longer periods. Refrigeration slows down the activity of bacteria so that it takes bacteria a longer time to spoil food.
What happens if you were to drink expired tea?
Two very strong scenarios could happen from drinking tea made from expired leaves.
In the first scenario, nothing would happen to you. And this is the most common occurrence.
You were simply just drinking expired leaves and this shouldn’t cause any issues related to your health.
It just won’t taste as potent as fresh tea. You’ll be drinking water.
The other scenario is if you were to drink tea from drastically moldy and spoiled tea leaves.
Now, these are the type of tea leaves that you can see mold grow all over it in large quantities. The color is completely different now and the smell is rancid.
Brewing that in a cup of tea will surely cause you to get sick. However, I don’t see this ever happening unless you are oblivious to what you’re putting in your tea.
If you end up drinking moldy tea, you’re likely to face a lot of gastrointestinal upset. Some of the symptoms include nausea cramping and most likely diarrhea. Fortunately, you’re going to have to drink a lot of moldy tea to experience these issues.
What to do with old tea
If you found some old expired tea way past its due date, you don’t have to waste it.
Tea can be used for a variety of things even beyond their expiration date.
- You can place your tea bags inside your shoe to remove them badly to order.
- Teabags are great for absorbance. You could use it to stop a nosebleed.
- Tea leaves are a fantastic nitrogen-rich ingredient for your soil and plants.
- You can use tea bags to give yourself a foot bath that will kill bacteria and deodorize your foot odor.
- You can mix it in a cup of water and gargle it in your mouth to get rid of bacteria and bad breath.
The bottom line
I think it’s really important to be mindful of how you store food in your house.
Teabags, for example, can last for a long time even after their best use date. You don’t have to always throw it away right when the date comes. All this data tells you is that this is when your tea begins to not taste as good as it should.
No need to worry about health issues unless you become negligent and straight brew moldy and rancid tea leaves.
I think ultimately when you buy your tea leaves you should prepare to store them in a cool and dry place.
And if you don’t plan to have it right away or you don’t drink tea very often, you can always place it in the fridge where it could last for several more months to a year.
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