Whether you have a few favorite teas or you like to collect new varieties and brands, you may wonder now and then if your tea has passed its prime. I have collected so many tea varieties over time that sometimes I lose track of how old they are. It’s not something I’m happy to admit, but it’s true. If you, like me, have ever wondered how to tell if your tea has gone bad, read on.
Expired tea simply means that the naturals leaf oils have evaporated. The best way to tell if tea has expired or gone “bad” is to smell it. If the tea is still aromatic, it hasn’t expired. If the tea no longer has a fragrance, especially after steeping in hot water, it is no longer fresh.
In addition to the “sniff test,” there are other ways to tell if you tea has passed its prime, so let’s cover your options.
And even if your tea is bad, is it still safe to drink? Keep reading because this article covers all of that, and more.
Additional Ways to Tell if Tea Has Expired
There are several ways to tell if your tea is bad, but the four primary ways are to notice how your tea smells, looks, and tastes, as well as paying attention to how long it has been stored.
In addition to sniffing your tea leaves and noticing its fragrance or lack thereof, here are additional common signs of bad tea:
- Flavorlessness – As an herb, tea can lose its potency and freshness over time. In additional to losing its fragrance due to the evaporation of oils, expired tea will also have lost it’s flavor.
- Strong, Pungent Smell – A pungent smell mostly likely stems from storing tea in a moist area. If tea smells noticeably and oddly strong, it’s probably past its prime.
- Mold – We can all agree that mold is never something we want to see thriving on our food. Unfortunately, because tea leaves contain nutrients and antioxidants, they are fertile ground for mold, particularly if the tea becomes moist.
- Long Storage – While tea types vary in how long they stay fresh, long storage times are always potentially risky. Some aged teas become better with time, but generally speaking, you should check any tea you have for longer than one year.
- Poor Storage – Moisture can cause mold on tea, and exposure to the air will cause the oils to evaporate more quickly. Ideally, store tea in an airtight container in a dark, dry location. Some fresh tea leaves also benefit from being stored in the refrigerator.
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In addition to following the basic guidelines above, you should also trust your own senses when it comes to identifying expired tea. Generally speaking, if you think it’s bad, it’s probably bad.
Is it Safe to Drink Expired Tea Leaves?
Expired tea is generally safe to drink after the posted expiration date, or after noticing other expiration signs.
The exception is if your tea has become moldy.
If you are a healthy person with a sound immune system, mold won’t do much to you. Your stomach will digest it like it would anything else.
But if you have any of the following health conditions, mold could be much more dangerous:
- Mold allergy
- Immune suppression
- Lung disease
- Chronic respiratory disease
If you do suffer from any of these conditions and know that you’ve consumed mold, be sure to check with your physician.
Since we all want to avoid moldy tea, let’s cover how storage plays a key role.
How to Store Tea to Avoid Mold and to Stay Fresh Longer
The most straightforward way to avoid mold and keep your tea fresh is to store it correctly.
Essentially, keep your tea bags in cold, dry areas to prevent mold. In addition, do not leave your tea exposed and keep it stored in airtight containers.
The most important thing to remember when it comes storing you tea is to avoid warmth and moisture. Warm and moist areas are mold’s best friend, so in turn, they are your worst enemy.
The bottom line is that cool, dry places are tea-friendly.
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Best Places to Store Tea:
- Kitchen counter (away from appliances)
Worst Places to Store Tea:
- Near oven or stove
- On top of the refrigerator
- Under the sink
- Near a microwave
- Near a dishwasher
How Long Does Brewed Tea Last? How Long is Brewed Tea Safe to Drink?
We’ve covered the expiration facts for tea leaves before they have been brewed, but what about that day-old cup of steeped tea? Is it safe to drink?
Unrefrigerated brewed tea lasts for only 8 hours, typically. After the 8-hour point, bacteria will start to grow.
Drinking tea that has been at room temperature for 8 hours or longer could give you food poisoning. Realistically, tea would only give you mild symptoms, like upset stomach and diarrhea, but it’s simply best to avoid the situation.
How to Safely Save Brewed Tea for Later
If you want to save steeped tea for later, you can store it in your refrigerator or even freeze it. Use an airtight container to ensure that the tea stays fresh and retains as much flavor as possible.
Ideally, you should store your leftover tea in an airtight, preferably stainless steel, container. An airtight container more fully ensures that your tea stays fresh and doesn’t absorb odor from other foods. Both glass and plastic containers allow odors to penetrate.
Acceptable refrigerator containers include:
- Water bottle
- Stainless steel container
- Cup tightly covered with a lid
Refrigerating Brewed Tea
Stored in the refrigerator, your tea will generally last between 2 to 5 days. Simply store the tea in an airtight container. Don’t add any sugar or fruit since this will encourage the growth of bacteria.
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To be extra safe, you should be aware of the signs that your tea has gone bad in while stored in the refrigerator:
- Pungent smell
- Bad taste
- Different color
- Cloudy appearance
Freezing Brewed Tea
Steeped tea can also be frozen and will last as long as six months. To avoid bacterial growth, don’t add sugar or fruit. Choose an airtight container, or freeze in ice cube trays and then transfer to a ziploc bag or airtight container.
You can use frozen tea cubes in freshly steeped tea, iced tea, coffee, and smoothies!
Does the Type of Tea Make a Difference in Shelf Life?
Teas differ in taste and composition primarily due to how much they are processed. In general, more highly processed teas, such as black teas, last the longest. Less processed teas such as white and green teas may expire more quickly.
However, most teas should last between 6 and 12 months if they are stored in cool, dry, airtight containers.
Fresh, loose teas (properly stored) may stay fresh for up to two years, and unflavored teas stay fresh longer than flavored teas.
According to TopicTea.com, the top four tea varieties have the following shelf life:
In addition to being familiar with the general shelf life of your favorite tea, storing it properly is key to keeping the leaves fresh. Whether you prefer loose tea leaves or tea bags, keeping them in a dry, cool, dark location will help to extend freshness.
While tea normally doesn’t go “bad” in a dangerous sense, it can lose its freshness and endearing flavor.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you stay on the fresher side of tea.