Those “use by” and “best by” dates may have caused you to throw perfectly good tea away. Learn why many others like yourself have done the same thing.
The Truth Behind When Tea Expires
How many of us have tossed tea out because we thought it was no longer good? After all, the stamped date on the tea packaging said it was expired.
So, does tea expire? You’ll be surprised to find out there’s no expiration date for tea because it doesn’t expire! How is this so?
Misconceptions About Dates On Tea Packaging
Now, if tea doesn’t expire, why are there dates advising us to use the tea by a certain date? “Best by” and “use by” dates on tea packaging merely act as guidelines letting us know how long tea is fresh and at its best.
The quality of tea (taste and health benefits) begins to weaken after the stamped date. The vice-president of the Food Marketing Institute states that “sell by” dates are typically intended for retailers to pull stock past the peak of freshness.
Now that we know tea doesn’t expire let’s look a bit closer at tea degradation because this helps in understanding how long tea lasts for.
Unfortunately, tea isn’t able to withstand aging as fine wines do. There’s a limited window of time when the apex of tea’s finest qualities can be experienced.
Ironically, there is a highly coveted tea (and one of the world’s most expensive teas in the world) that is sought after because of its degradation. Pu-erh is a tea that grows in value the older it gets. Other true teas such as green, black, oolong, or white are not as lucky as pu-erh because once their freshness date has passed, they degrade unlike pu-erh.
Sometimes tea degrades before it ever reaches the consumer and here’s why.
- Disreputable tea marketers sell tea past the fresh date.
- Unethical tea retailers add moisture to tea leaves to bulk it up. This moisture leads to mold.
Tip: Purchase tea from tea rooms or direct from tea estates. Regardless where you buy from, always check the ratings/reviews. Tea hobbyists selling tea on places like Etsy, eBay, and Craigslist are not ideal to buy from unless their reputation is spot on.
- Tea stored in anything other than airtight containers loses freshness quickly.
Tip: Keeping loose-leaf tea in the sealed opaque pouches they come in is best. Make sure each time the pouch is opened when making tea it is sealed back thoroughly. Ideally, tea should be stored in vacuum sealed, airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
- Sometimes during processing or packaging, residual moisture goes unnoticed, causing mold. This is not something we can prevent.
Tip: When purchasing tea, inspect the package and the tea itself for mold before using.
How Do I Know If My Tea Is Okay To Use?
Knowing what causes tea quality to decline, we may now question the tea we have had in our pantry for several years. Is tea still good after five years, or is it time to toss it?
Choosing whether or not to discard old tea is a personal choice. Because tea doesn’t expire, tea drinkers must decide if they want to drink stale tea or not. Old tea tends to be bitter, pungent, and weak. Sometimes, tea drinkers will brew more tea in hopes of acquiring a better-tasting tea, but odds are no matter how much additional tea is brewed, it will still taste bad.
Shelf Life Of Tea
Whole/broken leaf tea is top-shelf and lasts longer because it’s processed with the utmost care and not overprocessed. The integrity of the tea leaf is, for the most part, intact, along with its benefits and taste.
Shelf lives of different forms of tea vary, so let’s take a look.
Snapshot Of Processed Tea’s Shelf-Life
- Shortest: dust
- Shorter: fannings
- Longer: broken leaf
- Longest: whole leaf
Teabag tea is made from dust, and fannings of processed tea leaves and are overly dry. When packaged into tea bags, the quality of this tea is poor before it ever reaches store shelves. Most commercial tea bag tea on grocery store shelves is prone to mold because the tea bag fibers absorb moisture.
Not all tea bag teas are low quality. Silk tea bags hand-filled with high quality loose-leaf tea last much longer than their cheaper counterparts.
So, why does loose-leaf last longer than teabags? Loose-leaf tea is often purchased by tea retailers in smaller batches to ensure you get the freshest tea. Reputable tea producers take great care to properly process whole/broken leaf tea, so you get the freshest, best tasting, and healthiest tea.
What The Experts Recommend
USDA: opened up to 1 year, unopened up to 3 years
Food Marketing Institute: opened up to 18 months, unopened up to 1 year
USDA: opened up to 1 year, unopened up to 2 years
Food Marketing Institute: opened: up to 1 year, unopened, up to 2 years
Uses For Spent Or Expired Tea
Before tossing old tea (or leftover spent tea from brewing), there are ways to use it that will benefit you in other ways.
- Fabric dye for crafty projects
- Tea bag eye compresses to relieve puffiness
- Use to exfoliate dry skin
- Add to plants as a soil cover
- Place in a pan of simmering hot water as a room fragrance
- Add to a compost pile
- Place in an airtight bag to take along when camping to start a fire
- Use for tea painting with the kids
The Mindset Of A Date
Remember that the stamped date on tea isn’t a death sentence for your tea. At least now you know how long tea lasts past its prime.
After all…”It’s Never Not Teatime!”