Most people start their day with a beverage of some sort. For tea drinkers, this beverage is not only calming, but it is also tasty, making it a common go-to.
Tea time is a huge deal to tea lovers, a tradition that carries over to the rest of the globe. Given how precious this commodity is, you would wish to do everything to ensure that you get the most out of it.
And that means caring for it and keeping it fresh. But that is not the question in this case. What you want to find out is if your tea can go bad. And to answer this, we will divide tea into two sections: loose leaf tea and tea bags.
Does loose leaf tea expire?
If you like brewing tea from scratch to get the most flavour, this would be a great choice. Many people like using this option. Now, does loose tea go bad? The answer is no. Well, not in the way that you would think.
You see, when most food commodities go bad, they become unpalatable, and you cannot eat them. Doing so would only risk your health. That is not the case with this tea.
What happens is that the leaves slowly lose flavour, colour and scent over time such that you would not enjoy them as much.
However, you can still consume the product without getting sick. There is no such thing as an expiry date in this case. However, you will find some manufacturers stipulating the best by dates for these products.
Now, the longer the tea stays on your shelf, the more flavour it will lose. It ends up tasting weak and will not be as enjoyable as it would have been when fresh. This change owes to exposure to moisture and temperature changes.
The leaves also lose their water content. Tea does not expire, but it loses most of its good qualities. The good thing is that with some tips in place, you can extend the life of the leaves, even past the best before date.
Should you drink expired tea leaves?
If you are okay with the bland taste, there is no reason why you should not use the leaves. You will neither die nor get sick from this consumption as the tea is harmless.
The only problem might be that the tea will not give you the satisfaction you desire from its use. The interesting thing is that many people are okay with drinking old tea.
In some parts of the world, drinking old tea is part of the custom. The older the leaves, the more satisfaction people derive from the product. You can come across people taking tea that is up to ten years old, and they do not get any adverse effects.
You should note, though, that the flavour will not be as intense.
If you wish to bring out the flavour in expired tea, you can use some tips. They include using low heat to roast the tea leaves such that you get a scent out of them. After this, you can use them to make tea, taking longer in the steeping process than you usually would have.
That will not give you the scent of fresh tea but will improve the bland taste. The best bet lies in storing the tea leaves right from the start.
What are the best storage conditions for loose leaf tea?
As you can see, once tea loses its moisture and undergoes temperature fluctuations, it loses its flavour and taste. You are thus better off getting the storage conditions right from the onset.
- You should keep the tea in a stainless steel container, ensuring that it remains airtight. More often than not, people rely on plastics and glass containers for storage, and these are not the best. They allow entry of light which wreaks havoc on the leaves. You can as well use a paper bag as long as you can seal it as needed.
- The temperature of the storage room matters a great deal. You want to ensure that the leaves remain at room temperature and that no fluctuations are in play. These changes work in damaging the tea. Thus, avoid nearness to windows, ovens, ACs and other appliances that can bring about these alterations.
- Access to light works against the freshness of the tea. Thus, ensure that you keep the container in a dark area where sunlight cannot reach. The back of the shelf would be a great idea.
- Another element you should avoid is water. The presence of humidity can affect the tea leaves. The more they take in moisture, the more flavour and scent they will lose.
- You should avoid having spices near the tea leaves. Consider having separate shelves for these products. Else, the tea will soak in the spice aromas, thus reducing its scent in the process.
Freezing your tea is also an option, as long as you do it right.
Shelf life of loose leaf tea
How long will your tea last? The shelf life of loose leaf tea depends on the type in question. Take the example of green tea. This kind should last twelve months before it goes bad. Black tea and the white variety last for up to twenty-four months while oolong can last for eighteen.
Signs of loose leaf tea going bad
Knowing that your tea has gone bad comes down to looking into the taste and scent of the leaves. You may think that the tea will go mouldy at some point, but that is not the case. It only happens if you expose the tea to conditions that encourage the growth of mould.
If you get the storage right, the tea leaves can be fine for as many as thirty years or more. You will find that people in China safely consume teas that have been around for up to twenty years. The funny thing is that they charge a pretty dime for these teas which many people would consider to be old.
The mould could also owe to poor quality. If the manufacturer sells you sub-standard quality, then yes, you can expect the tea to go bad in this way.
Do tea bags expire?
If you like convenience, you will appreciate how easy it is to make tea using tea bags. You can skip the whole brewing process, get some hot milk or water and make tea within minutes.
It is much like making instant coffee – simple. Now, how long can you rely on these bags to make tea?
Well, tea bags can last for as many as two years past their best before date. This longevity is only present if you store them as needed. The longer they remain exposed to the elements, the more they dry out and start losing flavour.
But if you can keep them safe from such conditions, they will not go bad or expire. It is that simple. If you want to store your tea bags for years on end, all you need is an airtight container. You can stuff them in here and place them in a cool, dry and dark place.
However, that is not to say that they will never go bad. Teabags can expire. The going bad, in this case, would refer to the loss in taste and flavour. In some cases, the growth of mould can take place, depending on the storage conditions.
What are the best storage conditions for tea bags?
Once the best before date passes, you do not have much time before the tea starts losing flavour and aroma. But if you work on storing it as needed, you can prolong this time. Note that the quality of the tea also matters.
For example, where a broad leaf or tightly rolled one is in play, freshness remains for long. But when working with cheap teas with small broken leaves, that is not the case.
The mode of storage also matters. Some people opt to freeze their bags while others leave them in airtight containers in the cupboard.
When working with black tea bags, you can expect them to stay fresh for up to 24 months after the expiration date when in the cupboard. In the freezer, they can last up to three years.
When green bags are in the cupboard, they are good for another year or so. But in the freezer, they can make it to two. The same goes for herbal and loose teas. Of all teas, black is the most flavorful even past the expiration date.
It owes to the lack of reliance on oils which seep out fast once this date passes. Green and white teas have a strong reliance on these oils for flavour and end up on the losing end.
Use the same storage tips as outlined under loose leaf tea to ensure the bags stay fresh for longer.
How to recognize expired tea?
Even with the storage tips in mind, and having invested in a high-quality brand, going bad can still happen. Here are some ways you can tell it is time to throw out the tea.
- The smell of the tea matters. You see, when you first start taking it, you will notice how fresh the scent it, which is part of the allure. When the smell starts becoming pungent or musty, it is a sign that all is not well. The funny thing is that people tend to ignore this obvious indication and keep up with their drinking.
- The appearance of mould on the leaves or bags. Even if the presence is on a few leaves, you should take note of this and throw out the rest. If you have not been using the leaves for a while, you should check for mould before fixing a cup.
- You can barely taste the flavour of the drink, and it no longer has a scent. If the drink tastes watery and dull, throwing it out would be a great idea. While drinking the tea might not harm you, the lack of satisfaction is not worth it.