In this brief article, we will answer the question of how long is tea good for? Who doesn’t love a deliciously refreshing cuppa, and that’s why we’ll be sharing with you everything you need to know about storing tea the right way.
How Long Is Tea Good For?
Tea usually stays fresh for about three to four months if kept in a bag, and if properly stored in an airtight bag or container, tea will remain good to drink for as long as a year. A study indicates that green tea will change minimally during the first year of storage and will change slightly more during the second of 2 years of storage (1). However, another study showed that even in the absence of moisture, the quality of teas may degrade with time, with reduction of catechins due to oxidation (2).
How Can You Keep Tea Fresh for Longer?
To maximize the freshness of tea, store it in an airtight container that protects it from moisture, light, heat, and air, as much as possible.
The most efficient method to preserve the freshness of tea is to store it in a container that is tightly sealed and opaque. An ideal recommendation is tea tins. If you’re using glass containers to store tea such as mason jars, make sure they are stored in a dark cabinet or drawer. The storage in a metalized multilayer polyethylene film package can also reduce degradation and flavor lost (1).
Some Interesting Facts About Tea
Tea contains various antioxidants that safeguard the immune system and prevent infections. Tea possesses significant antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, antihypertensive, neuroprotective, cholesterol-lowering, and thermogenic properties. Several researches suggest that tea and its bioactive polyphenolic constituents have numerous beneficial effects on health, including the prevention of many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, genital warts, and obesity (3).
You might not know this but all types of tea (green, white, black, and oolong) are obtained from the same plant (Camelia sinensis)! Their processing imparts their distinct qualities. Green tea is unfermented, black tea is fully fermented, and oolong is semi fermented (3).
Also, regular tea contains around half the amount of caffeine as regular coffee.
How Can You Enhance the Shelf-life of Tea?
The shelf-life of tea varies among different varieties, so it’s quite difficult to estimate how long a particular tea will retain its freshness.
However, here are some tips to prolong the shelf-life of your beloved loose leaf tea:
- As emphasized, keep it away from sunlight, heat, moisture, and mold-prone places
- Always reseal the pouch tightly after opening the bag of tea
- Avoid opening and reopening the packaging very often
- Once the packaging is open, try and consume the tea within a few weeks/months
- DO NOT put wet/damp spoons inside the packaging
- If you wish to store the tea for longer, transfer it into a vacuum-sealed bag or airtight container and place it in the fridge
Does Tea Expire?
Tea generally doesn’t have an expiration date after which you can’t drink it safely. Because of its composition, tea is not susceptible to spoilage, when stored in a dry, cool and dark place (2).
Tea rarely goes bad, given that it’s stored properly. Old tea might just become less fresh and flavorful, resulting in a weaker cup that tastes stale and looks a bit dull. However, catechins, the phenolic compounds of tea, degrade due to auto-oxidation. This causes the loss of the health related properties of the tea. A study showed that, after 6 months of storage, the average content of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) , the most abundant catechin in the tea varieties, decreased by 28%. (−)-gallocatechin gallate (GCG), the 2nd most abundant catechin, decreased by 51% (2).
However, if stored carelessly, tea can sometimes go bad. This happens if the tea comes into contact with heat, air, mold, or water. Insects and pests such as moths and ants generally avoid pure, unflavored tea.
So if you’re unsure whether the tea you have stored is still good enough to drink, it’s best to buy some new tea for a rich, flavorful cup.
Is it Safe to Drink Old Tea?
Generally, old tea isn’t dangerous to drink, but it surely provides a less desirable tea drinking experience.
So if the stored tea tastes bad, or you can see mold or signs of decomposition, use your better judgment and pass on the tea, since it probably is past its prime. In addition, it will not have the expected activity against bacteria, bacterial toxins, viruses, human cancer cells, and in lipid bilayers of cell membranes (2).
How Can You Tell if Stored Tea is Still Fresh?
Fresh tea is highly aromatic and brews up a brightly flavored and delicious cup. So, the first sure indicator of whether stored tea is fresh or not is to evaluate its aroma and flavor, especially if it has been stored for more than a year. If one or both characteristics seem off, such that the tea tastes stale and appears dull, replace the tea with a fresh batch. Off-flavors described for old tea are: medicinal, musty/new leather or grain flavors, or they became higher in characteristics such as tooth-etch (1).
If the tea has been exposed to light or heat, the leaves might seem darker or might have changed color. So if your tea seems to be a different color than what it was when you originally bought it, you might want to purchase some fresh tea.
Tea Leaves or Tea Bags – Which Expires Quicker?
Loose leaf tea generally lasts longer than tea bags.
As a rule of thumb, the smaller the tea leaf, the quicker it expires. However, more critical are the storage conditions and the packaging material (1).
Moreover, tea bags often include dust particulates or fannings, minute particles that quite readily lose their freshness as compared to the whole leaf, particularly if they aren’t packed in individual pouches.
Should You Throw Away Old Tea?
Thankfully, tea is extremely versatile and features various uses beyond its main use as a delicious and refreshing beverage.
Some uses of old tea leaves include (4):
- using them in compost piles as a nitrogen-rich component
- brewing old leaves to use a dye fabric/paper or watercolor
- using them to get rid of smelly odors, since tea leaves absorb odors
- moistening tea bags and laying them on underneath the eyes to reduce swelling and dark circles
- use of thermo-chemical technologies such as pyrolysis can transform waste tea leaves into carbonaceous materials for adsorptive usage
- feedstuff on animals
Other FAQs about Tea that you may be interested in.
In this brief article, we answered the question of how long is tea good for and also discussed how to check for freshness and how to enhance the shelf-life of this favorite beverage.
If you have any more questions or comments, please let us know.
- Lee, Jeehyun, and Delores H. Chambers. Flavors of green tea change little during storage. J sens stud, 2010, 25, 512-520.
- Friedman, Mendel, et al. Stability of green tea catechins in commercial tea leaves during storage for 6 months. J food sci, 2009, 74, H47-H51.
- Hayat, Khizar, et al. Tea and its consumption: benefits and risks. Crit rev food sci nutr, 2015, 55, 939-954.
- Guo, Shasha, et al. Current understanding in conversion and application of tea waste biomass: A review. Biores Technol, 2021, 338, 125530.