Does tea go bad?

Last Updated on November 12, 2022 by Anne-Marie

Have you wondered, does tea go bad? Here's a helpful guide!

Glass tea cup and saucer with sugar cubes on a wooden tabletop.

Why you need this guide

If you have boxes of tea bags that have sat in your pantry for ages, do you wonder if they've gone bad? Should you throw them out? Are they OK to use?

Before you panic and start emptying your kitchen of old, weak tea, here's a guide to finding out when does tea expire.

What’s the best way to store tea? What should you do with old tea? And more!

What is the shelf life of tea?

The short answer is that the shelf life of tea is the manufacturer's expiration date. This is a suggestion of when to use the tea in order to get the maximum flavor.

Usually, tea has a life of 6 months to three years, depending on what type of tea you're buying. It also depends on properly maintaining the tea under the right conditions.

If you brew and drink the tea after the expiry date, there's no worry. The Tea Police won't show up! However, the tea may have minimal flavor and won't be worth brewing or drinking.

How should you store tea leaves?

Store tea leaves and tea bags in a dark, dry place such as a cabinet or pantry. The cool temperature helps preserve the tea.

Make sure where you store your tea far away from the cooking area of your kitchen so the warm air doesn't affect the tea's taste.

To preserve the quality of tea you may want to remove it from its original packaging and store it in an air-tight container to maintain flavor and freshness.

Can you freeze tea leaves?

If you have a sealed container of tea leaves (like a vacuum-sealed pouch), refrigeration or freezing won't spoil the leaves.

However, placing leaves or tea bags in a food container or box in the fridge or freezer isn't a good idea. This exposes the leaves to moisture and a potentially a foul smell from the freezer.

Can tea get moldy?

Bacteria and mold can grow on just about anything under the right circumstances like if warmth and moisture are present.

So don't keep tea bags in an open container next to the sink, or on the stovetop or microwave. Keep the box out of direct sunlight, too, like near a window where there's lots of warmth and light.

If you keep your leaves and bags dry and in a cool place like in the pantry, everything should be fine.

Stack of tea bags isolated on white background.

How to tell if tea is no good

How can you tell if your tea leaves or bags are still worth keeping? Smell them!

If there are no lingering aromas or fragrance, you might as well throw the bags or leaves out.

Is it OK to drink expired tea?

There's nothing wrong with drinking old tea. (That's assuming there's no mold on it, of course.)

You're just brewing flavorless and boring hot water. Why waste your time on that!

What is the shelf life of the different types of tea?

Here's a guide for tea drinkers to when the various tea types expire:

How quickly does herbal tea expire?

Of all the teas, herbal tea expires more quickly. (Yes, I know herbal tea isn't a true tea but a mixture of herbs, dried fruits, spices, and dried flowers like in this bay leaf tea recipe.)

Without the natural oils of real tea, herbal tea goes stale more quickly. It loses its natural flavors, aroma, and colors more rapidly, as well.

If you store it the correct way, the proper shelf life of herbal tea is 6-12 months.

Glass tea cup and saucer with loose black tea and wooden spoon.

Does green tea expire?

Green tea is fragile and can lose its aroma after being exposed to 30 minutes of direct sunlight.

It also reacts to the oxygen in the air. So it's best kept in an airtight container.

With proper storage, green tea will last from 12-18 months.

How quickly does yellow tea expire?

Yellow tea is a lightly fermented tea that's similarly processed to green tea.

Its shelf life is only about a year or two if stored properly.

Does oolong tea expire?

Oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea that's between black tea and green tea.

It has a longer shelf life of 24 months. It's best stored in airtight tin cans or stainless steel containers.

Green tea in an Asian porcelain tea pot and tea cups.

How quickly does black tea expire?

A favorite of tea enthusiasts, black tea lasts a long time. As long as you store it properly, it should last from 18-24 months.

Remember to keep it stored in a cool dark place. If you store it in a tin or aluminum foil bag, you'll get three years of shelf life.

If black tea is stored in a cardboard box or paper bag, it will only stay fresh for up to two years.

Exceptions - white tea and pu-erh tea

White tea only stays fresh for two years when properly stored.

However, there is some belief that the longer white tea is stored, the higher its medicinal value. Supposedly, some people have been storing medicinal white tea for decades.

There is no expiration date on pu-erh tea. When properly stored, the good quality and flavor of pu-erh tea improve with age.

Should you refrigerate brewed tea?

You can keep brewed tea on the counter until it cools down to room temperature.

Afterward, it should be refrigerated, especially if you've added sugar or milk.

We all love our iced sweet tea, of course. Bacteria love sugar, so if you haven't finished your glass of sweet tea, stick it in the fridge.

And keep in mind even refrigerated iced tea doesn't stay good forever.

Tea loses its flavor and may absorb unpleasant odors from the fridge. So keep it sealed! If your iced tea tastes funky, it's best to throw it out.

How to use extra tea before it goes bad

You can cook with tea - bread, cookies, cake, and other types of desserts.

Or make tea drinks and smoothies. Here are some ideas of how to use up your extra tea before it goes bad:

A glass of spice autumn tea with cinnamon sticks on a silver placemat.

What should you do with expired tea?

If your tea has crossed the expiry date, first give it a smell. Does it give off a pleasant aroma?

If you're still not sure, brew a cup of tea to see if it tastes good or if it’s past its peak quality. If it's weak or tasteless, then it's time to toss that tea.

But don't pitch it in the trash just yet! If you have old tea leaves, throw them in your compost pile.

If you have patience with the old tea bags, cut them open and remove the leaves. (Some bag types are compostable.) Then add them to the compost, too.

2 thoughts on “Does tea go bad?

  1. Cara

    I needed this article! I went through a big herbal tea phase and stashed a ton in my cupboards… only to check them out now and realize some are 4+ years old, haha! I’ve been brewing a cup of each to test it and tossing what tastes bad and keeping what still tastes fine. I even let myself buy a couple new ones! Now that I know what I have, it will be easier to use ’em up.


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