How Long Do Tea Leaves Last? Info and Tips
It takes a refined sense of taste and smell to appreciate a cup of well-made tea. You either love tea or hate it. There’s no in-between. What’s exciting is that you can find a wide range of tea leaves in different qualities and packages. Tea lovers love to keep a stock at home. But how long do tea leaves last?
Tea leaves can last for anything between a couple of months so several years, depending on how it is packaged or stored. It also depends on the type of tea and the quality of the leaves. But what will you do with tea leaves that have been in the pantry for way too long? Our tea leaves and tea bags the same?
Keep reading to find the answers to all your tea-related questions!
How Long Do Tea Leaves Last?
Ask connoisseurs, and they’ll tell you that tea is the Meryl Streep of beverages. You can enjoy tea as a slimming drink with a dash of honey and lemon or a cooling summer beverage with some peach and ice.
Some like it with milk and sugar, while others prefer nothing in their brew. Let’s not forget the spicy Chai!
Tea leaves come from different provinces. They are cured, treated, and packaged differently, too. Most of the time, we buy tea in the form of dried leaves or CTC powder.
Such tea varieties come packed in foils or boxes. Another way of purchasing tea leaves is tea bags that can make a cup or two.
But one might wonder about the shelf life of tea leaves. How long do tea leaves last before they go bad? Tea leaves usually come with a “best by” date, varying between 1 year and 3 years.
However, this does not mean that tea leaves will get spoilt once the stock in your pantry crosses the “best by” date.
Whether or not you open the package, tea leaves can last for 6-12 months after the “best by” date in the pantry. If you buy it in powdered iced tea mix, it will last for about 6 months.
Teabags, too, can last for 8-12 months in the pantry, unless it’s black tea, which can last for up to 24 months.
Black tea, mainly produced in the CTC method, has one of the longest shelf lives among tea varieties, as it is fully fermented. It lasts for up to 3 years as loose leaves in aluminum foil and 24 months as bags.
Oolong tea, too, can have a shelf life of 2 years or more, depending on the level of fermentation.
Unfermented green tea has a shelf life of about 18 months, though if kept entirely away from environmental influences, it can last for up to 3 years, too.
The tea variety with the shortest shelf life has to be the pure green matcha tea powder, lasting for 1 year. Once opened, you must use it in 2 months.
One interesting tea variant is white tea. While it has a shelf life of 2 years, its medicinal properties heighten after that.
In fact, you will find white tea that’s about a couple of decades-old! Such ancient white tea may not be delicious, but it is a precious and valuable herb that can cure many diseases.
Remember that the shelf life has been calculated for tea leaves stored in the pantry or any cool and dark place and an airtight container, ziplock back, or original package.
If you want to extend the life of tea leaves even further, you can store them in the freezer. This can roughly double the life of the leaves.
Factors Affecting the Life of Tea Leaves
Tea is available in many forms. Some are loose leaves sold in paper packs or aluminum tin cans. Others are packed into tiny tea bags. They may be fresh and unprocessed, or they can undergo different levels of fermentation. Some leaves are long and tightly wound. Other varieties have cut leaves or fannings.
These factors indicate the quality of tea and, in turn, affect the shelf life of tea leaves. But that’s not all. You also have to store them properly to ensure that no matter what quality or variety of leaves. Let’s take a quick look and find out about the different factors and conditions that affect the shelf life of tea.
The longevity of tea can depend on the level of fermentation of the leaves. The more fermented it is, the longer will be its shelf life. Pure, unfermented tea leaves have the chances of getting oxidized by air.
2. Length and Tightness
Long and tightly wound leaves last longer than cut leaves or fannings. So, long-leaved loose tea is better than bags with fannings and dust. Again, the tightly curled CTC pellets usually have the longest shelf life.
Circulating air speeds up the aging process of tea, while heat and moisture lead to mold and staleness. An airtight container in a cool and dark spot is ideal. Manufacturers also freeze tea for the longest life.
When buying tea, you should always find out as much information about it as possible, like how the leaves have been processed or the type of leaves used in the variety. It would be best if you also asked about favorable storage conditions.
Please don’t shy away from buying good-quality tea to enjoy it for a long time.
Also, note that tea with fruits, herbs, flowers, etc., tends to have a shorter shelf life than regular tea. That’s because the added ingredients can’t undergo the same process as tea. Whether you buy it in the form of loose leaves or tea bags, you should stick to the “best by” date and try to use up the stock by that time.
What Happens after the Expiry Date of Tea is Crossed?
The first thing to note is that tea leaves don’t really have an expiry date. The date that you see on packages is the “best by” date, which means that the tea leaves remain in their best condition before that date, after which their flavor and freshness start to decline. Simply put, tea leaves don’t really expire.
When stored properly, leaves can last for a couple of years past the “best by” date. Even after that, the leaves don’t get spoilt or cause any harm to your body.
However, not going bad doesn’t indicate great condition. The leaves will eventually lose aroma and color and make a flat, weak, or stale brew.
Even in the best storage conditions, tea leaves will eventually lose strength, and you will not enjoy the drink made with old leaves. The only tea that becomes better with age is Oolong. But its value increases because of its medicinal properties that strengthen over time. Its flavor, however, becomes weaker.
For most other tea varieties, the antioxidant properties will diminish, along with flavors. But there’s hardly any chance that drinking “expired” tea will make you sick.
The only thing that might happen is that you will end up with a bad taste in the mouth – or an upset stomach, which is somewhat rare.
Even when degraded and oxidized, tea leaves can still be safe for decades. It is difficult to say how long it will take for them to deteriorate in quality. Circulating air, in particular, can oxidize leaves, especially cut leaves or fannings. That is why tea bags with cut leaves lose flavors faster than longer loose leaves.
As for green tea, which is more delicate than regular tea, the scent and color fade faster. This is also true for less oxidized tea varieties like white tea or light oolong tea. These tea varieties are appreciated for their freshness, and it’s best not to allow air or sun to change their color or flavor.
Keep in mind that tea leaves remain unspoiled and harmless only if you store them properly. Whether they are loose leaves or in the form of teabags, they must be kept away from air, light, and humidity. Otherwise, the leaves will develop mold or bugs. Improperly stored tea may not be safe for brewing.
But remember that these rules apply to regular tea only. If it is a herbal mix or tisane, the mixture won’t likely last as long as regular tea. Because of the presence of fruits, herbs, flowers, and more, which can’t go through the same level of fermentation or curation as tea leaves, such tisane mixes can go bad.
Does Brewed Tea Go Bad?
So far, we have only talked about tea leaves before they are used to make a brew. But what about the brew? How long does a fresh batch of tea last? It may be possible that you made too much tea – or forgot to drink the cuppa. How long should you allow it to sit before discarding the brew?
If left at room temperature, you can expect brewed tea to last for 3-5 hours, though the beverage will not be too flavorful or tasty. After that, it may even start to grow mold.
You should discard a brew left in the open for a whole night. In some areas of China, people even consider an old tea brew poisonous.
But brewed tea lasts for 3-5 days in the fridge and 6-8 months in the freezer. So you can store extra tea in the fridge and turn it into iced tea.
It’s the same for iced tea, be it regular tea or iced tea mix. It might start to get cloudy when cooled. It is simply because of antioxidants binding with minerals in the water.
Brewed tea will last the longest if it is made with lea leaves and water only at room temperature. It is only made using regular leaves steeped in water. Added ingredients like milk, sweeteners, creamers, or aromatics can reduce the time for which the brew will last. Its smell will tell you if it has gone bad.
How to Tell if Tea has Gone Bad
While there is no chance of them going spoilt with tea leaves, they can go bad if they are not stored properly. You will be able to tell if the tea leaves have gone bad by looking at them.
If there is mold, discoloration or spots, or bugs in the tea, it indicates tea is going bad due to poor storage.
This happens when tea is exposed to moisture or heat. Such tea leaves should be discarded. It isn’t easy to perform a visual test with tea bags.
So, it is best to discard tea bags that have been exposed to moisture or left in the open for too long. You will not be able to know if there’s mold inside the bags.
You can also perform a smell test for your teabags. If you detect a sour or unpleasant smell, the bags should be thrown away immediately and not set aside for other purposes.
You can, however, use such tea leaves as compost for your plants. This is the best use of leaves that you feel are no more safe for you.
As for testing whether the flavor of the tea is intact, you can try smelling the leaves. If you feel that the aroma of the leaves is still there, the leaves will likely make a delicious brew.
If you get no smell, it might make your brew bland. The leaves might still be in good condition, and you can test them.
All you have to do is place the leaves in a heated teapot or roast the leaves on low heat in a pan. If you get a rich aroma, the leaves are still good enough to be used. If you make a brew with old leaves, taste the brew to see if it is fragrant. If not, you can try to steep the leaves a little longer.
How to Use Old Tea Leaves
Remember that steeping for too long will give you a bitter-tasting beverage. So be careful about that. So what do you do with such tea leaves that will either make a cup of tasteless tea or give you a brew that’s too bitter to enjoy? Don’t worry! There’s no need to throw it away. Try the following instead:
- Unique Beverages
If you have old leaves that have not gone bad, you can always try and be creative with old tea leaves by making a brew for lemon tea or refreshing iced tea. It’s also great for cocktails.
You can also make an Indian Masala Chai with some delicious Indian whole spices and other aromatics, milk, and sugar.
Whether your brew is too mild or too strong won’t matter. When you add other ingredients like lemon, ginger, or spices, their aroma will mix perfectly with the milk flavor of tea leaves and create something new.
On the other hand, milk, sugar, fruits, or alcohol can perfectly mask the bitterness of a strong brew!
- Herbal Tea Mix
There are many ways to turn a not-so-fine brew with old tea leaves into something delicious. You can make your own herbal tea mix by adding unique ingredients and storing them properly to retain the qualities.
Try mixing old tea leaves with dried hibiscus petals, orange peels, ginger, mint, or blueberries.
Brew a cuppa using this dry mix like you would a regular cup. But remember that you can expect such a mix to last as long as the ingredients you add to the old tea leaves.
If you have tea bags, Just cut the top of each bag and empty the content into a storage container. Add the ingredients and store them properly.
- Skin Care
You can put old tea leaves to practical use, starting with skincare. Just make a brew – with no additional ingredients – and spray it on the face or body to let the antioxidants hydrate you and soothe rashes.
You can add essential oil and use it to soothe sunburns. You can even heat it further to steam your pores!
- Hair Care
Tea can be an excellent hair conditioner. There are two ways you can use it. The first way is to use it as a leave-in conditioner. After washing your hair and towel-drying it, you can spray tea brew on the strands and let it air-dry.
Or, saturate your hair with the brew and leave it for 10 minutes before washing.
- Under-Eye Treatment
After brewing tea, you can use the leaves to soothe your eyes. Refrigerate the used leaves and put them in a piece of cloth, tying the mouth, before placing the bundle on your closed eyes.
The job will be easier if you have teabags. This process can reduce dark circles, puffiness, and blood vessels around the eyes.
- Relaxing Bath
If you have had a long and tiring day, a soothing cup of tea is not the only way to feel refreshed. You can enjoy a path with a few tea bags in the tub.
Allow yourself to soak in this water and let the antioxidants in tea do their magic. You can also soak your feet in tea-soaked water to feel the tiredness vanish.
If you want to enjoy some aromatherapy at home, you can make your very own tea candles. Use the old and dry leaves and put them in a good-quality wax to make candles of your choice. You can add some tea tree oil or any other essential oil into this to enhance the aroma further for a relaxing ambiance.
- Smoking Food
If you like to add a smoky flavor to your meat or fish, you can use teams for a unique flavor. Tea-smoking food is a Chinese technique used for adding a complex character to your dishes, especially seafood. Add the leaves to your smoking mix and use it like you normally would for smoking your food.
- Home Deodorant
Tea leaves can absorb unpleasant smells and leave any space smelling nice and fresh. All you have to do is place the dry leaves in an open container or dish in different corners of the house, refrigerator, pantry, or any smelly area.
You can add baking soda to it for an even better result. It can also deodorize carpets.
Tea leaves can last for years, and they will not rot or become spoilt if you store the leaves properly in a cool, dark, and dry space. It’s a good idea to place it in an airtight container or ziplock bag and stash it away from any place that’s exposed to light, humidity, or air to prevent oxidation, mold, or bugs.
Freezing tea leaves can also be a good idea. That’s what many sellers do nowadays.
However, it would be best if you remembered that even though properly stored tea leaves are safe for years, such leaves will not give you a great brew. It’s best to use tea leaves within 1-3 years because the flavors start to decline after that.
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