Do tea leaves expire? Tea expiration explained

If someone around you drink tea, I believe you would hear the voice like this: “Woops, my tea leaves are expired.” You might have the questions like this “What, how could tea leaves be expired?” Then, will tea leaves ever get expired?

Essentially, tea leaves are agricultural products. All the agricultural products have the expiration date. And tea leaves make no exception; they do have shelf time. Many customers may not know it clearly. The tea producers may not want to admit it, occasionally, many packages that have no expiration date on them.

Currently, many of the tea factories rely on the onsite vetting by tea expert to decide which level and worth of the certain batch. The expiration date established may not be very accurate. Thus, “expiration date” becomes an ambiguous topic: some say a year, some say half year, some just leave out the expiration date on the package to keep the tea until “it loses all the flavor.”

In fact, the government has made tea standards based on Food Safety Standard, and also made a restriction on the expiration date. But the government don’t have any specific standard for fermented tea, such as Pu-erh. It is fully fermented products, relatively hard to make standards on the best before date. However, another type of tea should follow the government standards strictly. Otherwise, tea will lose its quality and flavor. If it damps, musty tea will be bad for the human body.

Normally, the shelf life for packed tea is 12 to 24 months, compared with unpacked tea, packed tea is less easy get contaminated or deteriorated. And the regulated package has the specific level, factory name, factory address, date of manufacture, manufacture standard, and others. Unpacked tea has the even shorter expiration date, only a few months. Because during the sales, the unpacked tea has kept deteriorated, storing in direct contact with air. In the display, they will absorb damp, and odor, which will cause tea leaves to lose the characteristics of tea, easily get deteriorated.

Additionally, the best before dates are varied for different types of teas. For example, Green tea is better kept fresh. At room temperature, it is around 1 year. Like Pu-erh, the older is rather better. It can be preserved around 10 to 20 years. For Wuyi tea, the older one would have more flavor and taste stronger. Hunan Dark Tea, Hubei Fu Zhuan Tea, Guangxi Liu Bao Tea and others, as long as they are properly stored, it will not turn bad, event improve the quality of leaves. The main factors that affects the quality of tea leaves are temperature, light, and humidity. If they are appropriately stored, those factors will be reduced or eliminated, the best before dates can be extended.

How to determine if the tea leaves have gone bad, without the expiration date?

  1. Check the package for the labeled expiration date.
  2. If it doesn’t have package, or unpacked tea or homemade tea, you can use follow methods to made basic determination:
    1. Whether it is contaminated, see if the dried tea leaves become mildewed or if there’s color change.
    2. Smell: normally the expired tea leaves will smell different than the normal tea leaves.
    3. Check the color of the tea, see if it is clearly darker or muddier.
    4. Taste: see if it has lost original flavor, mainly focused on the thickness, aftertaste, and freshness.

The second methods require certain experience. If you have the similar tea leaves that are within the expiration date, it will be better to use it to compare. If it’s unpacked tea, and you have purchased more than 24 months ago. The date of manufacture is normally longer. You should be careful drinking it.

Now, people might ask: besides those tea leaves that can be stored longer, even if another type of tea leaves have passed the expiration date, the flavor of the tea will not be reduced. What could be the risks? Some might think if the tea leaves have been stored too long, it just not fresh, which might not taste as good as the fresh tea. But for people, who does not care too much about the tea, as long as it is not moldy, you can still drink it.

However, editor thinks it is better not to drink expired tea. If you think it is such a pity to throw them away, you can use them in other ways. For example, you put expired tea leaves in the draw or fridge; it can absorb moisture, remove odor, and have the slightly aroma of tea. Also, if you soak the tea leaves in water and pour them into the plant pots as fertilizer. Or you can make tea pillow.