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Do Tea Bags Expire or Go Bad? How Long Do They Last For?

Tea is one of the most versatile hot drinks globally; you can drink it any way you want. It’s popular worldwide because of its health benefits, comfort, and non-addictive properties.

However, it’s easy to accumulate different types of tea and forget to drink them until they are months old. Do tea bags expire, or can you drink older tea?

Do Tea Bags Expire?

In reality, tea bags don’t have an expiration date. Unlike perishable foods, the “best by” date on a tea box is usually for taste and not for safety. If you want the best taste of tea, using your tea by the date on the box is advisable.

However, you can continue to drink tea after that date without worrying about safety or food poisoning.

While tea bags don’t technically expire, the quality of the tea within them will decrease after a while. Tea is made from leaves of specific plants [1], and like all biological substances, will decay after a while. However, because it’s dried, tea will last for years if it’s stored properly.

tea bag

Tea bags don’t expire. With proper storage, brewing techniques, and care, tea bags can last up to several years without losing most of their flavor. This depends on the type of tea in the bag, the quality of the brand, and the tea leaves themselves.

Throughout this article, we will look at each of these factors and how it affects the shelf life of tea bags.

How Long Do Tea Bags Last?

Tea bags last until they decompose. Drinking expired, or old tea isn’t about whether the tea bag has lasted or not–instead, it’s about how flavorful the actual tea within remains. The longer the tea sits unused, the less flavorful it becomes once steeped.

Most tea companies issue a “flavor date” instead of an expiration date. If you look at the date on the original tea container, you will notice that most contain some sort of disclaimer about the tea itself. Essentially, the company wants you to know that the tea isn’t dangerous to drink after that date but might not be as strong.

Tea bags taste best for about three to five months after the initial purchase. They will gradually decrease in strength and flavor for another year or two.

In the end, it is up to you to decide how long to keep your tea bags before throwing them out.

How Long Does Loose Leaf Tea Last?

loose leaf tea

Loose leaf tea has a similar shelf life to tea bags but is slightly shorter. Loose-leaf teas are often more expensive than bagged tea because they are fresher and more unique in flavor mixes.

However, the fresh flavor becomes stale more quickly and isn’t as protected from open air as bagged tea.

While most loose leaf teas will have a “best by” date for about two to three months past the purchase, you can continue drinking loose leaf tea as long as it isn’t rotten or moldy beyond that.

Most loose leaf tea will lose most of its flavor within a year from the purchase date.

What Kind of Tea Lasts Longest?

In general, the tea with the longest shelf life has larger leaves or is more tightly packed. This is why loose leaf tea does not stay fresh for as long as bagged tea. Because it’s loose in the tin, it degrades more quickly and becomes stale. However, it has a stronger flavor when it is fresh.

While bagged tea lasts longer than loose leaf tea, the size of the leaf inside the bag comes down to the quality of the tea. More expensive tea tends to have larger leaves instead of tiny pieces of leaves and doesn’t go stale as quickly as cheaper tea. It costs more but will last longer on the shelf.

tea bags pot

The stronger the type of tea, the longer its flavor will last on the shelf. Black teas tend to keep their flavor longer, while green or white teas go stale much more quickly. This is because black teas depend more on the leaves for the flavor, while green and white teas are more delicate and depend on the oils in the leaves, which are the first to decay.

Herbal teas are technically not tea [2]. Because they are made from various plants instead of tea leaves, herbal teas have varying shelf lives. However, most of them are shorter than regular tea, and herbal teas are more susceptible to mold or stale flavor.

How To Tell if Tea Bags Are Bad

Although tea bags generally remain safe to drink for a year or two, there are a few situations in which they should be thrown out immediately.

These mostly involve moisture or outside insects getting into the bags and ruining them. If you are concerned that your tea might have been exposed to either of these, it’s best to throw it away.

The most common issues with bad tea are moisture (not put there by you) and insects. Most other issues are extremely rare or only happen with very old tea. Look for these troubling signs in your tea bags:

  1. Small holes (usually caused by insects)
  2. Movement within the tea bags
  3. Moisture or dampness
  4. An acrid or musty smell
  5. Mold or mildew
  6. The tea is a different color from the first time you brewed it

These are all very rare but important to look out for in older or expired tea bags. If your tea has any of these, it’s best to throw out the bags.

While it might be safe, you don’t want to risk a foodborne (or insect-borne) illness for the price of one cup of tea.

How Long Do Tea Bags Last After Best By Date?

Any federal food safety agency does not enforce the best by date on a box of tea. Because tea doesn’t technically expire, this date is put on the box by the tea company itself.

However, it’s not just a ploy to get you to buy new tea before you have to–the company is trying to make sure you get the most flavorful cup of tea.

tea with tea bags

Tea companies do want you to buy more tea. However, they also want you to have the best experience with their tea. If you drink a cup of tea that is strong and flavorful, the company would like every cup you have to taste the same. Tea bags a few months past their best by date might not have the same depth of flavor as when you first bought them.

Depending on the company, the best by date is usually a few months after the manufacture date. However, the tea bags will probably still be good to drink for several months to a year after that if you’ve stored them properly.

As long as they’re not moldy or have holes in them, you are good to continue drinking the tea. It’s up to you when you throw them out.

Can you Drink Expired Tea?

Because the best by date is a suggestion for flavor instead of safety, it is perfectly safe to drink tea past its expiration date. How long do tea bags last after expiration date? It’s up to you–the tea might taste a little stale, but you will be able to continue drinking the tea.

You can drink tea long past its expiration date, especially if you store it properly. The cooler and darker the storage sport, the longer your tea will last. Keep your tea in an airtight container in the pantry or freezer, and you’ll be able to continue drinking it even though the box says it’s expired.

tea with tea bag

When you are drinking expired tea, you don’t have to worry about it causing any foodborne illness. However, you have to be aware that it might not be as strong as fresh tea. To make it stronger, you can use two tea bags in the same amount of water.

However, do not steep the tea for longer than advised. Leaving the tea bag in longer will not make the tea stronger. It will only make it taste bitter. Tea steeping times [3] are recommended for a reason–they vary per type of tea and should be followed.

What to do With Expired Unused Tea Bags

You don’t have to throw out tea bags the moment they expire. As we’ve discussed, it is fine to drink expired tea as long as you don’t find any signs of mold or decay.

Two Expired = One Normal

You can use more than one tea bag to strengthen a weak cup or put several tea bags together to make a pot of tea.

women with tea bag

Make Iced Tea

If you want to disguise the stale or old flavor further, use the old tea bags to make iced tea. With five to ten tea bags in one pitcher (and enough sweetener that no one will notice the age of the tea), you’ll be able to use the old tea bags instead of wasting them.

Stain Papers

If your tea bags are expired, Herbal teas have varying shelf lives because you just don’t want to risk using them. There are several things you can do with them. Many crafters enjoy using old tea bags to stain linens, papers, and documents. Tea-stained [4] items have a unique and antique look, which is in high demand at the moment.

Ser as Compost

You can also use old tea as compost or in the garden. Many tea bags will decompose naturally, so you can just throw them in the pile.

However, you’ll have to check the packaging and ensure that it’s safe for the environment. Composting tea will be helpful for the environment and can enrich the health of your garden.

How to Correctly Store Tea Bags

If you want your tea bags to last longer and taste fresh, proper storage is critical.

Like any other dried leaves or spices, tea is affected by heat, air, light, and moisture. If exposed to any of those things, your tea bags will go stale quickly.

However, if you can avoid all of these factors, you should be able to store your tea bags indefinitely.

Tips to Store Your Tea Bags

Store in Airtight Container

First of all, tea should be stored in an airtight container. Tea tins are the ideal type of container because they are opaque and close tightly. While you can use mason jars, Tupperware, or ziplock bags, tea tins will keep air and light out more easily.

tea bag storage

Dark & Cool Place

Once you have the proper container for your tea, you’ll need to find a dark, cool place to store it. Many tea-drinkers choose a cupboard or pantry for tea storage. This works well as long as the container is airtight. If you have chosen a clear container (like a mason jar), putting it somewhere dark is essential to your tea’s longevity.

Avoid Moisture

The other important factor in tea storage is avoiding moisture. While avoiding direct sunlight, fresh air, and heat will keep your tea from getting stale. Moisture is the only factor that could ruin your tea. To avoid mold, keep your tea out of anywhere that could get wet. If your tea bag has been exposed to water, get rid of it.

Store in Freezer

Many people store their tea bags in the freezer. This does increase the shelf life of the tea by keeping it cool, dark, and airless. If you decide that you want to store tea in the freezer, make sure that you’re only thawing what you intend to drink. The moisture involved with thawing could ruin the tea if it’s left out after.

Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t Store in Refrigerator 

While the freezer is a fine place to store tea bags, the refrigerator is not. You shouldn’t store tea bags in the refrigerator because of the moisture. It will get into the tea and cause the leaves to mold.

Avoid Direct Sunlight or Open Air

Avoid storing tea bags anywhere that’s in direct sunlight or open air. While you can leave them in the original container, ensure that it’s always fully closed and sealed properly. Storing tea well will give you a much longer shelf life and a fuller flavor for longer.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how long tea lasts and what the “expiration dates” on the boxes mean, you can enjoy your tea in security. If you know how to store tea bags and take care of them properly, you’ll be able to extend the shelf life of the tea bags and enjoy your hot drink for many months to come.

I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

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