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We all know how tough it can be to find that perfect blend of tea in a local store. Tea lovers often have to order tea online just so they can get something of quality.
And when you do order online, you probably order in bulk.
The question of how long tea lasts usually pops up when you’re ordering large quantities online. Ordering in bulk can save you a lot of money, but at the same time, you probably don’t want to have your tea leaves reach their expiration date before you have enough time to consume all of that yummy tea.
In this guide, we’re going to take a look at the shelf life of tea leaves, so you’ll know exactly how much you should order when it’s time to stock up, as well as for how long it’s safe to consume.
How Long Does Tea Last in the Fridge?
Before we dive into the shelf life of tea leaves, you probably want to know how long you can keep tea that you’ve already made stored in the fridge.
Iced tea is delicious, and it can take some time to prepare the perfect blend. Making a large jug of tea is ideal for ensuring that there will be plenty of crisp cool tea to last you all day tomorrow.
But do you really have to discard that leftover tea by the end of the day?
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), iced tea can only be stored in a fridge for a maximum of 8 hours. If you want to be perfectly safe when consuming iced tea, then you should stick to that rule.
There are, however, some rule-breakers who drink iced tea long after that 8-hour period has passed. Some people feel that iced tea still tastes just as good 3 to 4 days after making it. But after that time, the tea starts to change in flavor and consistency.
If you do decide to keep iced tea for longer than 8 hours, then you should at least use the correct brewing techniques.
The hot water used for brewing should reach at least 195 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill germs and other pathogens in the water or tea. Unfortunately, brewing tea leaves at this temperature can be damaging to them, and the result is a tea that isn’t quite as tasty.
What should you do then?
To overcome this issue, you can allow your water to cool down a bit before pouring it over the tea leaves, or you could let the water cool completely and make a cold brew.
How Long Do Tea Leaves Last?
Tea is available in three main forms. They can be bought as loose tea leaves in an airtight packet, in tea bag form, or as tea pearls (hand-rolled tea leaves and petals).
All of these teas are made from and contain tea leaves, and, as such, need to be stored in the correct way to keep them fresh and aromatic.
Tea that is sold on shelves usually comes with an expiration date printed on the box or package. But tea that reaches this expiration date hasn’t necessarily gone bad.
The truth is,
Tea leaves cannot expire. But these leaves will lose flavor, aroma, and color after some time. The main reason for expiration dates on tea packages is to help customers get fresh, flavor-rich tea every time they buy a product.
“Expired” tea leaves are therefore still good for consumption, as long as they have been stored properly. People have been known to drink tea that is 3 to 10 years old without any negative effects, because the tea can’t go bad if it’s been stored safely.
What’s the Usual Shelf Life of Tea?
Tea producers place expiration dates on their products so consumers can be sure that they’re getting the freshest tea possible, rich in flavor and aroma. Expired loose leaves won’t go bad, but they might not taste as good as they once did.
Different types of tea can have different shelf lives. Some teas lose their flavor and aroma much quicker than others, since these tea leaves are more fragile and sensitive to temperature changes.
Here’s a quick look at the approximate shelf lives of different tea types when stored properly:
- Green tea has a shelf life of 12 months
- Black tea has a shelf life of 24 months
- Oolong tea has a shelf life of 18 months
- White tea has a shelf life of 24 months
Tea Manufacturing Can Affect Shelf Life
If you browse tea brands on the market, you might notice that the expiration date on some of the same types of tea can be different for different brands.
White tea, for example, can have a 12-month expiration date for certain brands, and a 24-month expiration date for other brands.
Why is this?
This is because different manufacturing methods can affect the shelf life of tea leaves. Tea leaves that are more fermented or intact when they’re dried will last longer compared to tea leaves that aren’t fermented as well or that are crushed into fine bits.
When tea leaves are produced, manufacturers will sort the leaves. Large full leaves are used to produce the finest quality teas.
Fannings (small pieces of leaves) are used in teas that are not quite as luxurious. These are often also used in teas that contain lots of tea leaf mixes, such as herbal tea, green tea, jasmine tea, or turmeric tea.
The tiny particles of tea leaves that are left at the bottom of tea barrels are often used to help fill tea bags.
What Happens When Tea Leaves are Stored Too Long?
Many people believe that tea leaves will never fully expire unless the leaves are exposed to external conditions, such as sunlight or moisture, which can create mold.
Old tea is generally still safe for consumption, but it might taste different. Old tea can become flat, stale, and weak.
The taste of tea usually changes because of temperature fluctuations and because moisture has escaped from the leaves, causing them to become too dried out or “dusty.”
Is It Safe to Drink Old Tea?
It is perfectly safe to drink old tea, or even tea that has reached its expiration date. The biggest problem you’re likely to face is a weaker taste. There are also quite a few things you can do to revive old tea so it tastes like new again.
Here are two techniques you can use to rejuvenate old tea that has lost its flavor and color:
Try roasting your old tea leaves in a pan. The stovetop should be on very low heat. When you start to smell the tea’s aroma, the tea leaves will be ready for brewing. This should result in a much stronger and more aromatic cup of tea.
Alternatively, you can also try to steep your tea leaves in your pot for longer than you usually do. This can help you brew a stronger tea and can enhance the flavor a bit.
When Does Tea Become Dangerous for Consumption?
Tea can be dangerous to consume only if it isn’t stored properly. Moldy tea, for example, isn’t good for your health at all, because this fungal growth can cause medical conditions if consumed. Old iced tea that’s been left in the fridge for too long can also cause tummy issues if it’s been exposed to bacteria.
But as long as your tea isn’t moldy, it should be safe for consumption.
The biggest hazard that tea has is if you consume too much of it. Tea mixtures are usually made with a combination of herbs. These blends offer your body certain amounts of vitamins and minerals.
A cup of tea can, for example, contain 9.3 mg of sodium, 42.7 mg of potassium, 26.1 mg of caffeine, and various other nutrients based on the type of ingredients the tea has.
When you consume more than 3 cups of tea per day, your body could potentially absorb too much of a certain mineral. This can be hazardous for your health, since too much caffeine, potassium, or sodium can cause health imbalances.
The way you prepare your tea can also impact your health. Those who love sweet tea consume a lot of sugar throughout the day if they consume more than 4 cups.
Those who love milk tea can also start to gain weight due to the amount of cream and dairy that’s consumed. Weight gain can happen even if you’re drinking weight loss tea, such as dandelion tea or green tea, because of the increase in sugar and milk.
Ideally, you shouldn’t drink more than 4 cups of tea per day.
How to Preserve the Flavor of Your Tea
The best way to keep your tea leaves fresher for longer, and to avoid the loss of aroma and flavor, is by storing your tea in the correct way.
And what way is that?
Here’s a quick guide on the proper storage methods to use to keep your tea tasty well after the leaves reach their “best before” date.
Store at room temperature
Temperature changes or fluctuations can cause your tea to lose its taste a lot faster. Room temperature is the ideal temperature for storing your tea leaves. You should also keep your tea leaves away from air conditioning units, ovens, heaters, or windows, since these can cause temperature changes.
Use the right container
Tea leaves can absorb all sorts of flavors and aromas. If you store your tea leaves along with essential oils like peppermint, for example, your tea will smell like peppermint pretty soon. The same goes for plastic containers. Plastic has a distinct smell and taste that can alter the taste of your tea.
Glass containers are also unsuitable. Because they’re clear, they can let it light that can also dry out or alter the flavor of your tea.
The best container is an airtight stainless steel container. Stainless steel won’t expose your tea leaves to light, and doesn’t have any aromas or smells that can alter the flavor of your tea.
Seal your tea in an airtight container
It’s best to store your tea in an airtight container. This keeps the flavor locked in and prevents other flavors from altering the way your tea smells and tastes. An airtight container will also keep the natural moisture of your tea leaves locked in so they won’t dry out as quickly.
Store your tea away from sunlight
Direct sunlight will dry your tea leaves out. Sunlight can also cause fluctuating temperatures that can ruin your leaves. UV rays can even discolor your tea, which can make it hard for you to brew a tea with a rich golden brown color.
Store your tea away from water sources
Too much humidity isn’t good for your tea. Humidity can cause your tea to become moldy, and mold isn’t healthy for your body at all. Moldy tea probably won’t be tasty either! This is one of the biggest reasons to store your tea in an airtight container as well.
Store your tea away from other spices
Don’t include other spices in your airtight container. Spices with strong smells, such as turmeric, can completely alter the aroma of your tea and can make your tea taste completely different.
It’s perfectly fine to buy tea leaves in bulk, especially if you love fine-tasting teas that are hard to come by in stores. And your tea leaves will never expire if you keep them stored properly. With the right container and proper storage conditions, you can keep that delicious aroma and taste long after your tea has reached its “expiration” date.
Now when someone asks, “How long does tea last?” you can feel confident in your answer.
Enjoy your safely-stored tea!
Hey there, I'm Brett Lewis, the self-proclaimed brew master behind Brew Dog Metrics. I am a long time coffee, tea, and beer drinker and have begun brewing my own beverages at home since 2001 to get the best tasting drinks for me & my family. I began this website to help others learn more about brewing coffee, tea and beer at home to improve the quality of their daily lives. I'm thrilled at how much Brew Dog Metrics has grown and I look forward to expanding this site and sharing more at home brewing solutions and information with you. Cheers & happy brewing!
What started out as the desire to brew the perfect cup 'o joe, turned into an obsession in brewing coffee, tea, and beer at home. This has turned into a mission to share my experience and research with as many beverage drinkers as possible. :)
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