How many times have you wondered, as you pulled those old tea bags out of your cupboard, just how long does tea last? Is there an expiration date or a “best by” date on tea? In this article, we’ll dispel the myths and help you understand the life of tea.
Most tea comes with a “best by” date on the package, which gives an indication of the time in which you have to drink it at its highest quality. This date isn’t a hard and fast rule, nor does it indicate that the tea will become bad for you after that date, but it does give you a rough estimate.
Drinking any tea you buy before that date will generally always lead to the best cup of tea. But that doesn’t mean you need to throw out all that precious tea once the date has past. Read on to find out more about when to toss out that tea and how to properly store it to extend its life.
Tea Bag and Loose Leaf Tea Lifespan
Tea bags themselves will never go “bad” if stored properly, meaning they will never be unsafe to use. They should be kept in a cold, dry place away from moisture. As long as they stay dry, the bags will last for a long time and won’t become a health issue.
However, to get the best flavor out of your tea bags and loose leaf tea, we recommend using them within a year at the maximum. After that, they will begin to lose their flavor and potency, and won’t be prime for drinking anymore. If you start with a high-quality tea, you’ll be able to store it longer with good flavor than you would with a low-quality or cheap tea. So keep that in mind when purchasing.
If the tea is kept in a dry, cool area they will keep for a long time. The sooner you use them, the better quality the flavor will be.
If the tea brewed with old tea bags or leaves tastes stale or the flavor doesn’t taste good to you anymore, it’s time to get rid of it.
Is It Okay to Buy Tea In Bulk?
You may have been tempted by bulk tea offers and you’ve wondered if this is a good idea. If tea loses it’s quality quickly, you could be left with a whole bag of useless tea you have to throw out. I’ve succumbed to the pressure to buy a larger quantity at one time, and I regretted it in the end.
While tea never goes bad and can be stored for a year or so without losing quality, buying tea in bulk isn’t the best idea if you prioritize flavor and freshness in your cup, particularly if you don’t drink a lot of tea. It would be better to buy smaller batches of tea that you can drink within 6 months, rather than buying a 1-2 year supply at once.
If you DO drink a lot of tea, or you’re buying tea for an office or space with multiple tea drinkers, then the likelihood of getting through most of that bulk tea before it’s “best by” date is much higher, so it might be a good cost-saving measure to buy in bulk.
How to Properly Store Tea
To make sure you’re getting the best flavor out of your tea, it’s imperative to know how to properly store and keep your tea bags and loose tea.
If you’ve been storing your tea in the flimsy cardboard box it comes in from the store, you might not be getting as much mileage from it as possible. It’s better to transfer the tea bags, or loose tea out of the box or wrapper it came in to store it.
The best way to store your tea is in an air tight container. A container with a tight plastic seal or vacuum seal system can greatly help keep tea fresh longer.
Avoid storing tea leaves or bags with other strongly scented items, as they can easily absorb scents and flavors. It can be an unpleasant surprise in your drink if you’re not careful. I’ve had cups of tea tasting like cumin and chili powder before – not good.
Freezing Tea Bags
Another great way to preserve your favorite teas is by freezing them. Due to the low moisture content of tea leaves, freezing them doesn’t change their molecular structure. The key is to seal them in an airtight container, and preferably in smaller portion sizes.
Avoid refreezing at all costs, the more moisture the tea absorbs while thawing will damage the flavor when put back into the freezer. Like in the refrigerator, try to keep frozen tea away from odors that may change the flavor of the batch.
Tea should not be frozen indefinitely, and will eventually start to lose it’s flavor. Anywhere over a year and a half is probably too long and should be thrown away.
Storing Brewed Iced Tea
Iced tea is so delicious, so it generally doesn’t need to be stored. It gets drank too quickly for that, but if you’re not drinking it quickly you might wonder how long you can keep it in the fridge before it goes bad.
Tea should only be kept in the fridge for up to six days. After that the flavor will be compromised and the tea may be unsafe to drink. Always keep a lid on it and don’t ever drink directly from the pitcher and then put it back, or stir the tea with a spoon that’s been in your mouth.
» See our favorite Iced Tea Recipes for Summer
Sweetened iced teas will spoil faster simply because they have a higher sugar content, which is good food for bacteria. Sweet tea should only be kept for a maximum of four days, which is a short shelf life. So the best way to enjoy sweet tea for longer is to sweeten it in your glass after you pour it. A little bit of extra work for safer storage.
Don’t ever store tea in a lukewarm or hot area, as that will cause bacteria to gather faster.
Ideally, the best way to enjoy iced tea is to make only what you will drink, and to make sure you don’t have any left overs. Keeping a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge sounds like a tempting and delicious idea, but if you can’t finish it within a week you need to dump it.
Now you know how long does tea last. As you’ve read, tea bags and loose leaf tea has a long shelf life and can last for quite a while under the right conditions. If you’re unsure about your storage method, now’s the time to make some changes, and your tea will last even longer.
Pit It and Share It
Jillian attends college in a small town in Oregon, where she’s is pursuing her passion for people. She enjoys music, writing, and baking in her spare time.