There are hundreds of high-quality teas right at our fingertips. The tea department at the supermarket is usually one of the largest selections. There are shelves upon shelves of various tea bags. Sometimes we want to buy our go-to bag of tea and other times we want to experiment and try one of the interesting flavors. But haven’t you ever wondered how long can you keep tea bags or do tea bags go bad?
It’s easy to accumulate a large stash of different tea flavors. They cannot always be consumed as fast as suggested though. Is it ok for to keep tea bags for an extended period of time? How can we safely try out all of these exciting tea flavors?
The variety is exciting and important for our well-being. We have access to teas that can aid in digestion, help us sleep, cure our colds, and many other uses.
But can we keep these teas forever? Exactly how long do the tea bags last when they are being kept in our pantries? Which tea bags will last longer than others? How do we keep the tea bags as fresh as possible?
It’s very important to understand the shelf life of tea bags. It is assumed that tea will keep indefinitely. It’s simply dried leaves and herbs which are very unlikely to spoil. But that isn’t always the case. There are a lot of factors that determine how fresh tea bags are.
Some of the factors are out of our control, like flavorings and quality. There are other factors that we are in control of. We can learn how to keep our tea bags fresh once they are in our kitchen. The tea bags can even last for years if we follow a few simple steps.
How long a tea bag stays fresh can depend on several things. It’s important to understand first whether the tea bags can go bad. As mentioned before, it’s often assumed because of their nature that tea bags can last forever.
While some teas might stay the same and seemingly last forever, it’s imperative to understand what the expiration or “best by” date means on the box of the tea bags.
Do Tea Bags Go Bad Or Expire?
The short answer is yes. Tea bags can and will expire. You will likely never look at the expiration date on a tea box and immediately throw it out because it’s gone bad and is no longer drinkable. There are a few other things to consider before making that decision. Don’t throw out that box quite yet.
Tea bags can stay fresh for years if they are stored properly. But that doesn’t mean that they will taste good forever. A tea bag may not get moldy, but it will still lose taste and value as it gets older.
Tetley tea recommend a shelf-life of two years from the date of production.
The tea will get drier and lose its natural oils. Those natural oils are what give the tea that amazing flavor. It’s pretty easy to spot a cup of tea made with a fresh tea bag vs. an old one. That will be up to personal preference. If you are ok with drinking a less flavorful cup of tea, you’re likely to fare just fine with keeping your tea bags stored for a few months.
Most tea bag boxes will have a “best by” date. This date means that the tea is best consumed prior to this particular date. Brewed tea might not taste as good if you wait to drink it until after the “best by” date. All tea will taste best prior to the “best by” date. It just might taste a little different if you wait until after that date.
The “best by” date on most tea boxes is one to two years after the production date. This does not mean that the tea is expired and unsafe to drink past this point. This is a date, set by the manufacturer, that is a recommendation.
They recommend that you drink the tea before this date for the best tasting product. Drinking the tea bag before this date is going to guarantee exceptional flavor. The box might even state the amount of time that the tea bags are good after the expiration or “best by” date.
The tea bags will need to be stored properly in order to even live up to it’s “best by” date. It is important to keep tea bags in a sealed container. This is especially important if they are not individually wrapped tea bags. You will want to take proper storage steps with the tea bags as soon as it’s opened. Even if you don’t plan on keeping all of the tea for long term store, it’s important to store the bags correctly.
How Do You Know When Tea Goes Bad?
Yes, tea bags can still go bad. Tea bags can still become unusable even when they are stored properly. Whether they are in or out of their original packaging, there is a chance that they might go bad. Most of the packaging provided by the manufacturers will not suffice for proper storage. Sometimes tea bags are stored in a simple paper bag and that will not suit for long term storage.
You can tell if a tea bag has gone bad by looking for a few things.
Inspect the box carefully if you haven’t opened the box yet and it’s past the “best by” date. Most tea bags will come sealed in plastic, but some may not. Check the box for any holes or rips. Sometimes little critters might want to chew their way through a box of delicious smelling tea. That’s not a good thing. Be sure to dispose of the box immediately if you think a small critter has gotten into the box.
Also, make sure that the box has not gotten wet at all. If the box seems damp, it should be thrown out. If a box has gotten wet and has not been opened for a long time, it might have developed mold. Check both the outside and inside of the box. Smell it, too. The box should not smell like mildew.
If the box seems ok, you can open it and start to inspect the tea bag. You want to be sure that the tea bag has not been broken or compromised in any way. If the tea bag has a hole in it, it is no longer usable. Throw it away immediately and find a new tea bag.
The tea bag should also be free of any bugs on the inside or outside. Sometimes very small bugs can get into the bags even if there are not any holes. Thoroughly check to be sure that there is nothing foreign in the tea bags. If you find any bugs, it’s safe to say you should discard that tea bag and any other tea bag it was stored with.
Tea bags should smell like tea bags. It should be easy to tell if your tea bag smells different than the type that you originally purchased. If for some reason the tea bag smells tangy or like mold, it should be thrown out right away. Again, if this is the case, it’s best to throw out all other tea bags that were stored with the smelly tea bag.
There should be no mold on the tea bag or inside of it. This might be easier to spot on some tea bags over others. Some bags are very translucent, and you will be able to see if there is any mold or mildew on the tea bag. You can hold the tea bag up to a light or a bright window if you are having trouble seeing through the bag.
Fortunately, tea is inexpensive and can be replaced easily. If for some reason you do find something wrong with your stored bags of tea, you shouldn’t worry. Simply find another tea that is safe to drink.
How Long Do Tea Bags Last After The Best By Date?
The “best by” date is not the date that you need to throw the tea bags away. Most teas are going to be just fine long after the “best by” date.
It’s not surprising that the more expensive, high-quality tea bags are going to have a longer shelf life than the cheaper brands of tea bags. The fancier teas are made with superior tea leaves and will stay fresh for much longer than the less expensive options. You’ll notice that cheaper teas do not have large leaves and are often more ground up. These are the tea bags that will not stay fresh for as long as the higher quality ones.
Generally, most tea bags will stay fresh for six months to two years past their “best by” date. Most manufacturers will make a note of this on their packaging. You could also find out on their website as well.
Some basic guidelines on how long a tea bag will stay fresh after the expiration date:
- Black tea bags will be good for 12-24 months post-expiration date.
- Green tea bags will be good for 8-12 months post-expiration date.
- Herbal tea bags will be good for 8-12 months post-expiration date.
- Loose tea will be good for 6-12 months post-expiration date.
- Powdered tea mix will be good for 6 months post-expiration date.
|Tea Bags and Loose Tea||Cupboard||Freezer|
|Black Tea Bags||12-24 Months||2-3 Years|
|Green Tea Bags||8-12 Months||1-2 Years|
|Herbal Tea Bags||8-12 Months||1-2 Years|
|Loose Tea||6-12 Months||1-2 Years|
|Instant Iced Tea Powder||6 Months||1 Year|
You should feel comfortable drinking tea bags past their “best by” date. Again, just be sure to take proper storing techniques into consideration.
Can You Drink Expired Tea Bags?
It is usually perfectly fine to drink a tea bag past its expiration or “best by” date. It’s crucial that you do check the tea bags to make sure that they are still safe to use. The tips noted previous are the best ways to be sure that the tea bags are safe to use.
There are a few things you might notice if you are drinking expired tea. The tea bags might not have as much flavor as they originally did. The tea bags are also going to be much drier than when you originally purchased them. This causes the loss of extra flavor.
There are a few teas that might change flavor quicker than others if kept for too long. Green and white teas, especially those that are flavored, are going to lose their flavor faster. The natural flavorings and oils that are added to the tea to enhance the taste will cause them to taste different after time. For example, a peach green tea bag is not going to stay as fresh as a standard green tea bag. Some of the more exotic and interesting flavors are also going to lose their flavor quicker.
Teas that are less expensive are going to lose flavor faster as well. You’ll notice these as more of the gimmicky flavors like pumpkin spice tea or berry-flavored teas. The flavors that are being used to enhance these teas are not usually natural parts of the tea. The shelf life of the additional flavors isn’t expected to be very long either. Be mindful of that when purchasing the next unique tea box, you come across. That unique box of tea is not going to last as long as some of the classic flavors, like black or green tea.
Black teas are generally unaltered and will stay consistent as time goes on. You can rely on black tea to stay flavorful for years. It’s usually in its natural state with no other additional flavors. This makes it one of the best teas to keep on hand for long term storage.
Drinking expired tea is perfectly fine if you understand the flavor might have altered a bit. Drinking tea past its prime date is safe as long as you are ok with drinking a tea that doesn’t have its original, robust flavor.
Can Old Tea Make You Sick?
It’s very true that old tea bags could make you sick. Even when stored properly, it’s important to check tea bags before brewing. Following a few precautions while you’re brewing can help you avoid getting sick as well.
- Water needs to be boiling and at least 175F/80C prior to brewing. Once the tea is brewing, be sure to let it sit for at least five minutes. This is going to kill any hidden, harmful bacteria.
- It’s best to consume expired tea right away. If you do not plan on drinking it immediately, store it in the refrigerator.
- Consume the tea within 24-48 hours if you opt to keep it in the refrigerator.
- Countertop brewing and sun brewing are not recommended with expired teas. The water is not guaranteed to be hot enough to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.
Again, always check to be sure that the tea bags are safe prior to brewing them. If you did end up using a tea bag that had mold or bugs, and you weren’t able to brew it at a high enough temperature, there is a chance you could get sick. There is the potential that your tea bag could be carrying a food-borne disease, and nobody wants that.
It’s always safer to check the tea and discard it you question it at all. Tea is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. It is not worth the risk of brewing a questionable tea bag.
Best Way To Keep Tea Bags Fresh
Not all tea is created equally. Some types of tea are going to store better and stay fresh longer. Generally, larger leaf teas are going to stay fresh longer. Teas that are packaged individually will also stay fresh longer. But it’s still important to keep those tea bags in an air-tight container. The individually packed teas are often wrapped in a paper envelope. The paper will not safeguard the tea bags from moisture getting in.
Some storage options for tea bags include air-tight jars, tea boxes, or even sealable plastic bags. There are a lot of options out there that are available for purchase to help keep tea bags fresh.
The storage vessels should be kept in a dry and dark place. It’s not recommended to keep tea bags stored in the refrigerator. There is too much of a risk for added moisture that could cause the tea bags to mold. There is also the chance that the tea bag might take on the flavor of something else in the refrigerator.
However, tea bags can be stored in the freezer. If you are cautious and store the tea bags in a 100% air-tight container, they will be just fine. Freezer storage can extend the life of your tea by a few years. It would be best to do a double layer. Store the tea bags in a sealed plastic bag and then also seal them either in another bag or another air-tight vessel. Make sure to label your tea bags when you are putting them in the freezer. This will help keep your tea storage organized and your dating accurate.
Keeping tea bags in places like a cabinet or pantry are also great options. Just be sure that it’s a dry, cool, and dark environment. It’s a good idea to keep tea bags away from other items that carry heavy scents, like spices. If you keep your tea bags with your spices, there is a chance they might take on that flavor. Keep the tea bags out of the spice drawer for the best flavor.
It’s also not recommended to keep them near a window or the stove. Light and heat can also affect the flavor of tea when the tea bags are exposed to those elements. It could dry them out quicker and decrease their flavor. It’s best to keep them off from your kitchen counters and tucked away somewhere safe.
In summary, drinking old tea bags is perfectly safe. Just like any other food that you are consuming, it’s important to check for anything abnormal prior to consuming.
Most tea companies are very transparent about the longevity of their products. You will find the expiration or “best by” date on the outside of the box. Always check the date prior to purchasing the box, not just when you get home. It’s not always safe to assume you are buying the freshest tea at the store.
Once you get home, you’re free to enjoy the tea right away or store it away for safekeeping. When storing the tea, it’s important to remember a few things:
- Always store the tea bags in an air-tight container. This can be a sealable bag, a jar with a lid, or a tea box that seals.
- Store the tea bags in a cool, dark, and dry environment.
- Never store tea bags in the refrigerator.
- Freezer storage is ok if you are using a strong, air-tight container.
- Never store tea bags by the stove, on top of the refrigerator, or by a window where there might be added heat.
When it’s time to dig out the tea bags, keep in mind the important factors when checking to be sure if the tea is safe to drink.
- Always check that there is no mold on the tea bag or inside of the tea bag.
- Smell the tea bag and make sure that it smells natural and like tea leaves.
- Make sure that the box and the tea bags are not broken. There should be no holes in either the box or the tea bag.
- Make sure that they are no foreign items or bugs inside of the tea bags or box.
Tea bags are a wonderful way to add variety to your daily diet and stay hydrated. There are a lot of great reasons to drink tea, therefore a lot of great reasons to keep it on hand. It’s completely fine to store however much tea you need to keep your selection plentiful. It’s safe to buy a few extra boxes if you see your favorite tea go on sale.
Tea will always be available and will always keep evolving. Now we understand what is important when storing and preparing tea of any age.