Every tea enthusiast has probably come across this scenario. We are always interested in trying many different types of tea — we order tea from various tea shops, bring tea back from holidays, and even receive tea as gifts from caring friends who are aware of our love for this magical drink.
And then one fine day, somewhere in our tea cupboard's depths, we might discover a tea that got accidentally forgotten. Or perhaps it wasn't brewed in a timely matter. Well, it might be hard to keep track of every tea we have. But has the tea already gone bad?
Does Tea Expire?
Yes, tea most definitely expires! Maybe not in the same way milk would expire. Drinking old tea won't give you a belly ache. Although it might not be much better than drinking plain boiled water.
If your tea leaves go bad, it just means that they won't have any aroma, taste, or any nutrients left. However, the rate at which tea expires is different for each tea type.
Another critical factor to note is proper tea storage. Naturally, your tea will expire at a much faster rate if not stored properly. If you want your tea to have a longer shelf life, follow the steps for proper tea storage!
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Does Green Tea Go Bad?
Out of all tea types, green tea has the shortest shelf life because it is an unfermented tea. While we can be a little more lenient with storing our oxidized black teas, green tea has the most strict storage conditions. In fact, there are many fables that this is precisely why black tea was created — for the sake of having a tea that can survive long transportation. Back in the day in China, while most green teas were kept for local consumption, black teas were exported to faraway lands. That is, Europe and America.
Japanese green teas, in particular, have the shortest shelf life. Notice the deep green color of Japanese loose leaf green teas? Like sencha and gyokuro. Also, the very fresh, very grassy scent? That is one of the direct signs of how fresh they are. And with such freshness comes great responsibility.
The shelf life of Japanese green tea can be prolonged by storing it in the fridge before opening. However, once you have opened the tea, it should be stored in a dark, dry, and ideally cool place. Outside of the fridge.
We recommend drinking Japanese green teas within 12 months. By keeping them in the fridge before opening, you can prolong their shelf life by an extra 6 months. You will quickly notice the freshness of Japanese green tea deteriorating, so we recommend drinking it shortly after opening. It is better to purchase Japanese green teas in smaller quantities. Read more on Japanese tea storage here.
You can tell your loose leaf Japanese tea has gone bad by the lack of a fresh grassy smell and slightly dull tea leaves, which are losing their green vibrancy. When brewed, the color will be dark and brown.
Does Loose Tea Go Bad?
Next in line are light oolongs, which are also relatively fresh, although oxidized. Please drink light oolongs within 2 years.
Dark oolongs and black teas have a shelf life of about 3 years, after which the taste and aromatic qualities start fading. If you smell your black tea and the aroma is weak, chances are it has expired. When brewed, an expired black tea will be dull and gray versus a bright amber color. The taste flat and bitter.
Aged oolongs usually last a long time. The expiration date will also vary with each type of aged oolong. Don't be afraid to keep it around, just make sure to taste it every so often to see how the taste is transforming. Is it becoming better and smoother, or worse?
White teas are a special breed of tea altogether. Being the least fermented and closest to the original tea leaf.
There is a saying in Chinese: "one-year tea, three-year medicine, and seven-year treasure."
For many years white tea has been considered a medicine in China. Stored properly, this tea will serve a fulfilling life. The taste and properties will become noticeably better with age. When buying loose leaf white tea, don't be afraid to purchase large amounts. You can divide it in half. One part for enjoying in the present, the other — stored for future enjoyment. We recommend keeping a tea journal and noting how the tea transforms. Brew it after one year, after three, then after seven. What changes do you notice? Pay close attention to the aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and how it makes you feel.
What Can I Do With Expired Tea Leaves?
Just because the tea leaves are not drinkable doesn't mean they have to be discarded. There are still some uses to expired loose tea!
- Use the tea leaves as odor absorbers. Useful in the kitchen, fridges, storage areas, or bathrooms.
- Use the tea leaves in your garden as fertilizer. Even expired tea leaves still hold a bit of nutrients, which is useful for our plants!
Have a problem with expired teas? Buy pu-erh! Bought in large quantities, pu-erh is fantastic both for drinking fresh and aging! Read more about aging pu-erh here.
Do you often find expired tea in your tea drawer? Let us know about your experiences!
When Does Tea Expire? (The 4 Signs)
- The tea leaves have no smell.
- The taste is dull.
- The color of the tea leaves is no longer vibrant. That means gray for darker teas and yellowish for green teas.
- The brew is weak, the color is not bright nor deep.