Does Tea Expire?

Like most tea drinkers, you probably have boxes and tins of teabags and loose tea leaves in your pantry; however, deciphering the use by date stamped on tea packaging can be confusing for consumers. According to Quick Label, an estimated 8.3 million tons of food waste is produced each year, and 5.3 million of that could potentially have been eaten. 

So what is the shelf life of tea? According to The Fragrant Leaf, tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and is a convenient beverage that can be brewed and served either hot or cold. According to The Tea Republic, tea that is past its expiration date is still safe to use, but you may have to steep it a little longer to compensate for the degrading flavor and aroma. 

Why does the flavor of tea diminish over time? Diane McKay, an assistant professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, who studies antioxidant food wrote in a blog post, "All [tea] will eventually lose their flavor, and the phytochemicals (primarily flavonoids) they contain will degrade." However, McKay notes that dried tea leaves have a longer shelf life if kept in an airtight container away from the elements (heat, water, light and air), and can maintain its flavor for a full two years. She also says dried tea leaves last longer the more fermented and intact they are. 

'Expired' tea can still be safely consumed, it just won't taste as good

Eat by Date, a site dedicated to educating consumers on how long food and beverages really last, notes that tea can also be frozen and will maintain its flavor. However, Seven Sisters Tea notes that freezers have moisture, and if you are trying to keep tea dry, the freezer may not be the best way to preserve its shelf life. But how can you tell if a tea is no longer going to be enjoyable to drink? Green Tea Lobby suggests simply smelling it. If there is no longer a distinct aroma, it can still be safely brewed and consumed, but it will not taste as good as when you first purchased.

Still, if you don't want to add to food waste, what can you do with tea that is past its expiration date and you don't feel comfortable drinking? The Tea Republic suggests using the leaves to absorb odors or even adding to a compost bin. Otherwise, sip away.