The Truth About Tea Expiration

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.