Sometimes I notice a bunch of old tea bags laying around — and I can’t even recall when I bought them. Maybe it’s time to clean out the tea drawer?
While a cup of tea provides endless satisfaction, tea bags don’t necessarily have an endless shelf life. This is big news for those of us with a habit of stacking tea boxes in our pantries.
So let’s talk about how long tea bags last and what happens when they expire. I will also share some tips on how to store your tea so it stays fresh for longer.
Do Tea Bags Go Bad?
Yes, tea bags certainly can go bad.
This isn’t just a flavor issue. While older tea loses flavor and potency due to oxidation, the bigger issue is that outdated tea can actually be dangerous.
Tea can develop mold if it’s allowed to sit long past its due date.
Some molds can cause allergic reactions and respiratory issues when consumed by humans. Other molds actually produce poisonous toxins that cause serious illness.
There’s also a risk that critters will get into tea bags if those bags are stored in a pantry for a long time. Bugs can easily eat away at tea bags to create entry holes.
But why do so many people believe that tea can’t go bad?
This has to do with the fact that tea doesn’t expire the way milk, yogurt, or eggs do.
You aren’t going to notice a rancid odor that lets you know something has expired the way you would with more delicate foods.
However, tea’s resiliency doesn’t mean that people should feel totally comfortable using old tea bags without having all of the facts.
How Long Do Tea Bags Last?
Different types of teas expire at different rates. What’s more, the storage environment and packaging of tea can both alter its shelf life.
The general rule for all tea bags is that they will stay fresh for one to two years. However, tea lovers shouldn’t necessarily see that large window as permission to let tea bags linger.
The reality is that tea bags generally lose peak freshness starting about four months after they’ve been purchased. While there may not be any harm in using a tea bag that’s been in the pantry for a year, tea drinkers may find the experience of drinking a “dull” cup of tea far less satisfying.
Let’s run through what all of these factors mean for tea freshness.
How your tea bags are packaged plays a huge role in how fast they expire. Airtight packaging can protect the tea from oxygen and humidity.
It is also important to use packaging that includes some kind of damage protection such as cushioning or bubble wrap.
Here is how the packaging affects the shelf life of your tea bags:
- Longest Shelf Life: Individually wrapped tea bags have the longest shelf life. The protective packets encasing the tea bags help to keep out air, moisture, and critters.
- Medium Shelf Life: Vacuum-sealed packaging around tea bags helps to preserve freshness. However, that protection ends once the packaging has been opened.
- Shortest Shelf Life: Tea bags that are stacked together inside a box or tin without vacuum-sealed packaging are the most vulnerable to expiring.
Storing tea in the right kind of conditions is important:
- Tea stored in an area with high temperatures and sunlight will expire sooner. Avoid keeping tea under a window. The ideal place to store tea is in a cool, dark location.
- If tea bags are kept in an area with excess moisture, they will be susceptible to mold growth. Avoid storing tea in a closet or pantry located in a garage or basement.
Type of Tea
Different types of teas expire at different rates based on how the tea leaves are processed:
- Green Tea: Due to its lack of oxidation, green tea spoils much faster than other teas. The flavor weakens and antioxidants start to lose their potency within six months.
- Black Tea: Fully oxidized, black tea lasts longer than average and stays good for as long as two years.
- White Tea: Most commercial white teas should be consumed within a year of purchase. However, high-end white teas technically don’t expire, they just age and change their flavor profile.
- Herbal Tea: In general, herbal teas should be consumed within 6 to 12 months. Some blends are particularly vulnerable to mold because they contain sweet, fruity elements.
How to Know If Tea Bags Are Expired
The big red flag that should alert you to the fact that your tea has expired is an odor. Tea bags that have gone bad will usually have a slightly pungent odor.
You should also inspect any older tea bags in your home for visible signs of mold before using them.
In addition, it’s important to inspect tea bags for small holes indicating that bugs have been infiltrating your tea supply.
Tips on Keeping Your Tea Bags Fresh
It doesn’t always take deep investigative work to determine if your tea bags are still good.
The good news is that most tea manufacturers provide a “cheat sheet” when it comes to knowing when your tea will go bad. You should be able to find an expiration date on the tea packaging.
Let’s end with some tips for tea bag storage:
- Keep Them Sealed: Opening tea immediately after purchasing it sets the expiration timer. Don’t open a tea product until you’re ready to make a cup of tea. If tea bags are stored in a vacuum-sealed package, taking them out to stage them inside a decorative tea drawer will drastically reduce shelf life.
- Airtight Storage: If you’re in the habit of removing tea from its original packaging, place it inside an airtight tea storage container. Also, be sure to hold on to the original packaging that has the expiration date.
- Don’t Mix Them: Avoid combining the same types of tea bags from different batches to skip confusion over expiration dates.
- Buy the Right Amount: Hoarding mountains of tea bags is not a good idea. Only buy a supply that will last for up to six months to avoid the problem of expired tea bags.
Consume your tea while it’s fresh and enjoy!
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