Tea expiration is a common concern. In this article we review all the considerations needing attention.
How to Tell if tea has Expired
- Tea Leaves do Expire: Contrary to popular belief, tea leaves are agricultural products with a shelf life.
- Lack of Clarity: Many tea packages lack clear expiration dates, leading to confusion. In Asia, it is common to use “production date” and not the expiration date.
- Government Standards: While there are government standards for tea expiration dates, they are often ambiguous, especially for fully fermented teas like Pu-erh. New Puerh teas that don’t have expiration dates are usually counterfeit or lacking certification.
- Shelf Life Varies: Packed tea typically lasts 12 to 24 months, while unpacked tea has a shorter shelf life, just a few months, due to exposure to air, dampness, and odors.
- Tea Types Matter: Different types of tea have varying best-before dates; for example, green tea is best when fresh, while Pu-erh improves with age.
- Storage Matters: Proper storage in terms of temperature, light, and humidity can extend tea’s best-before dates.
How to Check Tea Freshness
- Check Package: Look for a labeled expiration date on the package.
- For Unpackaged Tea: Follow these steps for basic determination:
- Check for contamination, mold, or color changes.
- Smell the tea; expired tea often has a different odor.
- Examine the color; expired tea may be darker or muddier.
- Taste the tea, focusing on thickness, aftertaste, and freshness.
Risk of Drinking Expired Tea
- While some teas can still be safe to drink after their expiration date, it’s generally better to avoid them.
- Drinking expired tea may result in a loss of flavor and freshness.
- Instead of discarding expired tea, consider alternative uses:
- Place expired tea in drawers or the fridge to absorb moisture and remove odors.
- Use expired tea leaves as fertilizer for plant pots.
- Create a tea pillow for a subtle tea aroma.
Expired Tea vs. Aged Tea
Aged tea applies to oxidized and fermented teas. Proper storage and care is needed in order to age a tea. Expired teas are usually for non-oxidized tea such as green or herbal selections.