Tea drinkers everywhere have likely experienced finding an old tea bag in the back of their pantry and wondered if it was still good to drink. It’s completely normal to be skeptical about whether tea bags expire or not, especially since we live in a culture that takes expiration and best-by dates as gospel. But, with older tea bags, the expiration date isn’t so cut and dry.
Whether you’ve found a tea bag you’re not so sure about, or you’re curious to see how long you have to drink the tea you have in storage before it’s too late, we hope this guide helps you find the answers you’re looking for.
Do Tea Bags Expire?
Technically, tea bags do have a date that signifies when the tea will be at its peak taste before it starts to lose its flavor. In terms of expiring to the point of developing mold, no, tea bags do not expire if they are kept away from moisture.
Dry tea leaves are considered a nonperishable good, meaning they can be stored for a long time without the risk of going bad. Tea manufacturers, like all other food and beverage products, need to put an expiration date on their products in order for them to be sold in stores, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw out your entire box of tea bags once you’ve reached it. It is important, however, to keep another date in mind: the bags’ best-by date.
What is the Difference Between Expiration and Best-By Dates?
Expiration and best-by dates can be confusing to consumers because they are often used interchangeably. But, they do, in fact, point to different things. The best-by date is the latest date in which manufacturers recommend using their tea to ensure you’re experiencing its maximum flavor. The expiration date, however, is the approximate date where the product isn’t healthy to consume any longer.
Because tea bags don’t technically expire, you should reference the best-by date when deciding to brew older tea bags if one is available.
How Long Do Tea Bags Last After Best By Date?
For the most part, you are able to brew and enjoy tea made from tea bags for up to two years after their best-by date. Even then, you can still brew it, but your cup of tea may not taste as good as you would like it to. Over time, tea leaves lose even more of their moisture, so older tea bags typically need to be steeped for a longer period of time to achieve the same taste as they had when they were fresh. So, if you don’t steep it for as long as the bag needs, the final product can be weaker than you’d prefer.
How to Know When Your Tea Bags Have Gone Bad
Even though it’s generally okay to brew old tea bags, there are some instances where it’s better to throw an older bag out than to use it. Follow along as we detail them below.
There’s a Dank or Pungent Odor Coming From the Bag
A tea bag is supposed to have a smell when it isn’t brewed, but if you notice that there’s a particularly pungent or musty smell coming from it, throw it away. For these smells to occur, the tea bag had to have been exposed to moisture at some point, so it essentially was partially brewed and left to sit. And while it may not have developed mold, it’s still risky to use it.
There’s Visible Mold On The Bag
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to mention that if you see mold on your tea bag, don’t bother brewing it. Mold should alert you that, at some point, your tea bag was exposed to moisture and warmth, which are the ideal conditions for bacterial growth. Ingesting mold can make you sick, so if you see even a tiny dot that looks like it could be mold, it’s better to be safe and throw out the entire box of tea.
Your Tea Bag Has No Scent or Flavor
The most common way to tell that your tea bags aren’t good anymore is that they don’t have any scent or flavor. So, instead of making tea, it makes flavorless brown water even if it’s left to steep for a long time. No matter the variety, teas have a robust scent and flavor, so if you detect subtly with either, there’s a good chance that your tea bag is too old to enjoy.
Can People Drink Tea Bags Past Their Best-By Date?
Absolutely! They do start to lose their flavor over time, however, so keep that in mind if you’re brewing a bag that’s over two years old.
How to Prevent Your Tea From Going Bad
The best way to prevent your tea from going bad is to, of course, drink it. But, it’s also important to make sure that you store your tea bags in the best way possible to prolong their flavor for as long as possible.
Store Your Tea Bags In An Airtight Container
To make sure that your tea bags stay fresh and avoid moisture is to store them in an airtight container. These types of containers are great for storing because once they are sealed, very little contaminates or moisture can get into their main compartments. This allows their contents to stay at the level of freshness they had when they were put into the container until it’s opened again. Of course, the tea bags won’t keep their freshness indefinitely, but they will help keep their scent and flavor for longer.
Store Your Tea Bags in a Cool, Dark Place
Believe it or not, lighting and temperature can also significantly impact the flavor of your tea bags as well. No matter how sterile the manufacturer keeps their operations, microscopic particles and bacteria are inevitably going to make their way onto your tea bags and other food products, and those substances thrive in higher temperatures. In fact, exposing foods to higher temperatures can reduce their shelf life by 50%, especially if they are exposed to moisture as well. Storing your tea bags in a cool, dry place can help you avoid this altogether.
Light also plays a role in the length of shelf life. If something is constantly exposed to light, the product will eventually start to go bad more quickly than it would if it was stored away from it. This process, called photodegeneration, affects a lot of food products, even if they are encased in something. To prevent it from happening, avoid storing your tea bags on a countertop or by a window.
Put Your Tea Bag Container in the Freezer
Putting your tea bags in the freezer can also help to prolong their shelf life. In the same way that storing them in a cool place is good for them, putting them in a freezer is even better because it literally freezes the degradation process in its tracks for a bit. Your tea bags will still eventually lose their flavor, but not as quickly as if they are stored at room temperature.
Enjoy a Sustainable Cuppa
Even though tea bags have a best-by and expiration date, you can continue to enjoy them for years to come until they no longer have flavor. This gives you the opportunity to try a lot of teas, find the ones you like, and store them for a long time. If you’re looking for a new tea, shop our selection of green and black teas. We’ve partnered with the best vendors that are committed to providing quality, ethically sourced tea varieties in environmentally friendly packaging. Check out our teas by signing up for a 14-day trial today!
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