Tea is a luxury, and many people even find it difficult to function properly without their morning cup of tea. Unsurprisingly, consumers enjoy sampling various kinds of tea and collecting new flavors from different brands on their visits to the supermarket.
Very often, a container may be pushed inside a cabinet or lost in storage, only to be retrieved months later. So, what happens when you brew a cup of tea only to discover later that the packet is over its expiry date? Can you get sick? Should you be worried? Does tea expire? If these questions are bothering you, keep reading.
Does Tea Expire?
The short answer is — no, tea does not expire. So, as long as it is stored properly in an airtight container away from direct sunlight or a heat source, it will be fine for a long time, say two years. Even after that, it does not expire but will not be as flavorful.
However, if stored in unfavorable conditions, where it is exposed to heat and moisture, tea may become inedible. This is because mold and bacteria will grow on the damp surface and spoil the tea.
How Long Does Tea Last?
As mentioned above, tea does not really expire. The use-by date on the packaging typically indicates how long the tea will retain its peak freshness and flavor. It has nothing to do with toxicity or safety.
In other words, the use-by date helps you get the best flavor of the product, although it will be safe to drink tea even after it has passed the date. So, as long as the tea is away from moisture, it will not go bad. However, after a certain period, its quality will degrade, and it will brew up a weaker cup.
So how long past the expiry date will the tea still be flavorful? This could be anywhere between 6 and 12 months, depending on how processed or oxidized the leaves are. Highly processed black tea will last longer than less processed green tea.
The shelf-life will also depend upon the quality of the product. So, a high-quality green tea may last longer than a low-quality black tea.
However, there is one exception—Pu-erh or red tea. This is a fermented tea that tastes better as it ages. While most pu-erhs are aged between 2 and 10 years, some may be aged up to 50 years.
Another factor that determines the shelf-life of tea is the size of the leaves or how intact they are. Intact leaves lose less flavor because of a smaller surface area.
So, to sum it all up, a tea that is more processed or oxidized, has more intact leaves, and is more fermented will retain its flavor for a longer period. Also, if tea has added ingredients like flavorings or berries, it expires faster.
All About Tea Bags
Tea bags contain a small amount of fanning (small grainy particles and dust of green leaves) and broken tea leaves. As intact leaves have a smaller surface area, they lose flavor less readily than broken leaves. Broken leaves have more surface area, which means more oxidation. When exposed to oxygen, oxidation occurs, causing the tea to develop the undesired off-flavors.
As tea bags have more dust and broken tea leaves, they lose flavor more readily. So, once you open the pack, it is better to use it within 1 to 2 months.
However, as broken leaves have a higher surface area, they brew stronger. Also, some brands do offer tea bags with intact leaves and broken tea-leaf pieces. However, they are more expensive.
Also, most brands pack their tea in pyramid, square, or round-shaped bags that are individually wrapped. Some may even pack the individual packets in foil or paper pouches, allowing them to retain their freshness for a longer period.
All About Tea Leaves
As mentioned, tea leaves have a smaller surface area, so oxidation takes place more slowly, and they retain the quality for a longer time. However, how long it will last will depend upon the storage conditions. If it is exposed to water, sunlight, or heat, it will not last as long as it should.
Also, even though the oxidation process is slow, it still occurs. So, it is better to store them in airtight containers so the exposure to oxygen is minimum. The shelf-life will also depend on the quality of the product. Packaging is another crucial factor for any type of tea. If the tea is in nitrogen-flushed sealed packets, the oxidation reduces to a negligible amount, and the tea remains fresh longer.
How To Tell If Tea Is Expired
Tea is expired if you notice the following changes:
• Has lost its flavor
• Has lost aroma
• Is not aromatic on brewing
• Does not brew to a flavorful and bright cup
• The tea leaves have darkened or changed color
• Tastes stale or dull
• Visible growth of mold
• Shows signs of decomposition
Generally, except for mold growth, tea does not really expire. However, there is no meaning in having a cup of tea you will not enjoy. You may brew the tea and discard it later. So, it is better to discard tea that has passed its prime, even though it may not be unsafe.
How To Store Tea: 8 Tips
If you want your tea to maintain its freshness and flavor for a long time, you must store it in ideal conditions. Here are some tips that will help you retain the freshness of your tea:
1. Store in a cool, dry place like a kitchen cupboard or pantry.
2. Store in an airtight and opaque container to ensure minimum exposure to oxygen and sunlight.
3. Once you’ve opened the package or container, seal it tightly.
4. Do not open the container or bag too often.
5. Once opened, use the tea packages within a month.
6. Keep it away from moisture and heat.
7. Store away from strong-smelling areas like spice racks.
8. Refrigerate or freeze tea to retain its freshness for longer.