Does Tea Expire? How Long Tea Really Lasts For

For many, tea is an affordable luxury - something they can look forward to at the beginning of the day and relax and unwind with in the evening. Over time, however, you may be wondering how long your tea will stay fresh for, and when to drink it up and replace it with a new package.

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How long does tea last for?

The good news is that tea generally stays fresh for quite some time—around three to four months when stored in a bag and up to a year when stored in a tin or other airtight container.

In order to maximize the freshness of your tea, we recommend storing it properly and protecting it from heat, light, air, and moisture whenever possible. In most cases, properly stored tea will still be good to drink for up to a year after purchase.

Does tea actually expire?

Tea is relatively forgiving, and rarely spoils as long as it’s stored properly. Old tea may simply be less flavorful and fresh than new tea, and will brew up a weaker cup with a stale flavor. In this sense, tea doesn’t actually have an “expiration date” after which it will be unsafe to drink.

However, if stored improperly, tea may become stale or dull more quickly. In rare cases, if exposed to moisture and heat, tea may actually go bad. If you’re uncertain if your tea is still good, it’s usually best to exchange it for new tea and enjoy a fresh, flavorful cup.

How to store tea to keep it fresh

In order to preserve the freshness and flavor of loose leaf tea, it’s important to store it correctly! Tea is susceptible to air, moisture, light, and heat, and if exposed to any of these elements for even a fairly short time, tea will begin to degrade.

The most effective way to keep your tea fresh is to use a storage container that is opaque and tightly sealed. Tea tins are an ideal way to store tea for this reason. Glass containers, like mason jars, should only be used if the tea is stored in a dark drawer or cabinet. In general, tea keeps best when stored in a cool, dark place away from any direct source of heat or light.

Here at ArtfulTea, we carefully package our teas by hand in bags and tins. Our bags are specially made to keep out moisture, air, and light, and will keep tea fresh for three to four months. While our tins cost $3 more, they keep tea fresh for up to a year.

We recommend first purchasing tea in a tin, and choosing bags when reordering in order to decant into the original tin. If you’re local to Santa Fe, you can bring your tin back to our store and we’ll refill it for the price of a bag. Looking for a stylish storage option for your tea? We also carry beautifully designed Japanese washi paper tea tins!

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How to tell if tea is still fresh

Not sure if your tea is fresh? While teas rarely go bad, they do lose their flavor over time, especially if stored improperly. It’s a good idea to evaluate the aroma and flavor of teas you think might be over a year old, and to replace them with fresh tea if necessary. After all, life’s too short to drink bad tea!

Fresh tea should be aromatic and brew up a bright, flavorful cup. If you find your tea becoming less flavorful over time, it may be time to replace it. When exposed to heat or light, tea leaves may also darken or change color. If you think your tea is a different color than it was when you purchased it, it may also be time to start fresh with new tea.

In most cases, old tea will simply be less flavorful than it should be, and taste dull or stale. While old tea isn’t usually dangerous to consume, it’s definitely a less than ideal tea drinking experience.

If your tea tastes like it’s gone bad or if you spot visible mold or other signs of decomposition, steer clear. In general, we recommend using your best judgment, and passing on any teas you think might be past their prime.

What to do with old tea

Wondering what to do with a cabinet full of old tea? Even if the tea is no longer good to drink, it can feel wasteful to simply throw it in the trash.

Luckily, tea is versatile and has a ton of uses beyond its primary function as a tasty beverage. Some people use old tea leaves in their compost piles, where they add a nitrogen-rich component to the composting soil. Some people even brew old tea to use as a type of watercolor or to dye fabric or paper.

Stocking up on tea

When you go through a considerable amount of tea each month, you usually won’t have any problems with the freshness of your tea. If you’re a tea lover, however, your tea collection can start to get out of control.

Luckily, we have a variety of different size options to choose from, whether you’re interested in trying samples of many different flavors or want to stock up on a pound of your favorite must-have tea.

We offer samplers in packs of six and packs of twenty, which are a great way to try new teas and also make lovely gifts. We also offer double and quadruple sizes of our standard packaging, if you find yourself going through tea quickly and would like to order in greater quantity.

Finally, we have a tea subscription box that takes the hassle out of ordering new tea - we’ll mail a new tea to your door each month for as long as you decide to subscribe!

FAQs about tea expiration

Do tea bags expire?

Just like loose leaf tea, tea bags become less fresh over time. Exposure to heat, light, and air can all impact a tea bag's flavor. Tea bags are usually good for around a year. But again like loose leaf, they don't necessarily go bad after that time period. They're just less flavorful, and will probably be less enjoyable to drink.

Can you drink expired tea?

If you buy tea from a grocery store, it may have a "best by" or expiration date on it. That's to protect you, the consumer, from buying tea that's past its prime. While drinking expired tea probably won't cause you harm, life's too short to drink old tea—we recommend buying new tea if possible, and switching to loose leaf tea if you want to upgrade your tea experience!

Does tea expire if unopened?

If your package of tea is unopened, it likely has better protection from elements that can degrade tea leaves, like heat, light, and moisture. But even if you never open the package, that doesn't mean that your tea will last forever. It's best to replace your tea after around a year, even if you haven't opened it yet.

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