You may love tea of all kinds, but you have to admit that boxes come with a lot of bags in them.
In fact, you may find yourself wondering if you can drink them all by the expiration date and what happens if they go past this date. Is it safe to drink them, or should you toss them and buy fresh?
You can keep tea bags for up to two years past their expiration or best by date as long as you store them in a sealed container in a dark, cool place without them going bad. As your teabags age, they will start to dry out and lose their flavor profile. However, they don’t go bad expire unless you expose them to bugs or moisture when you store them.
We’ll go over different brands and how long they last, but we’ll also dive into the factors that influence how long your tea lasts, how to tell if they’ve gone bad, what happens if you drink expired tea, and more below in this post.
Do Tea Bags Expire or Go Bad
Teabags can expire and go bad, but the timeframe you have passed the expiration date to use them depends on the manufacturer. So, we picked out a few of the best-known tea manufacturers and rounded up their answers to this question below.
Lipton teas come stamped with the best taste date on each box, and you don’t want to confuse this with a more traditional expiration date on grocery store items that are perishable.
The product doesn’t automatically go bad on this best by date, but how long you can safely use it depends on the tea type. Most of Lipton’s tea types should typically get used within 18 months past this date, including:
- Black Flavored Teas
- Cold Brew
- Earl Grey
- English Breakfast
- Herbal Iced Tea Brew
For Lipton’s powdered tea mixes, they recommend you use them 12 months after the production date, if not sooner.
This tea manufacturer uses a date code to let you know the date you should use them by. In the United States, the date will be written “08FEB19” for February 8, 2019, but Canada flips it and lists the year as the first number with the day following the month.
This company also notes that the date is a measure of the quality and taste of the tea and not for the safety factor. The date usually ranges from 12 to 18 months from production, and you’ll find it on the bottom of the box.
Tetley states that tea won’t go bad like a container of mild, but they recommend you drink it within two years of the production date. They also have the best buy date on each container, and you have two years from this date to drink your tea. You will have to drink it knowing it won’t be as refreshing or flavorful.
This brand uses a date code that you can usually find right next to the bar code on the bottom of the box, and they also print this code on each date box. The production code on this box comes with up to 10 characters, and the last three numbers on these characters represent the year. So a code ending in 9 stands for 2019, and they also have a best by date on the boxes.
How to Tell if Tea Goes Bad
If you keep your tea bags enclosed in a ziplock bag in your kitchen cabinet, they’ll eventually dry out. You can compare tea to traditional dry spices when it gets older.
However, if your tea bags have sat out in the sun or gotten wet, there is a high chance that they’re not good. So, if you have some older tea bags you can’t bring yourself to toss, you can:
- Smell the tea bags to see if they’re musty, sour, or unpleasant.
- Look for obvious mildew or mold.
- Look for holes in the tea bags or movement in the bags due to bugs.
The following is a general guideline on how long different types of tea will last in the freezer or cupboard without losing their flavor:
Freezer – Good After Expiration Date
- Black Tea Bags – 2 to 3 years
- Green Tea Bags – 1 to 2 years
- Herbal Tea Bags – 1 to 2 years
- Loose Tea – 1 to 2 years
- Instant Iced Tea Powder – 1 year
Cupboard – Good After Expiration Date
- Black Tea Bags – 12 to 24 months
- Green Tea Bags – 8 to 12 months
- Herbal Tea Bags – 8 to 12 months
- Loose Tea – 6 to 12 months
- Instant Iced Tea Powder – 6 months
Is it Safe to Drink Expired Tea Bags?
Yes, it’s safe to drink tea past the expiration date, but you do have to be aware that it’s drier, older, and less flavorful.
As long as you store them properly in a cool, dark place in an airtight container, you can drink them for well over a year past the expiry date.
Black teas will keep more of their flavor past the best by date, and white or green teas will lose flavor faster because they rely more heavily on oils.
Herbal teas are technically tea, so they’re most volatile when it comes to losing flavor, so you should use them first and as close to the expiry date as possible.
Don’t steep the tea longer, hoping that it’ll make the flavor profile stronger because this will just make your tea much more bitter. Over-steeping will bring out the beneficial flavanols and caffeine in the tea, so it’s not all bad.
But, you should be just fine drinking your expired tea unless it has an unpleasant smell, mildew, mold, or bugs. If not, you can brew away and drink it.
Best Ways to Keep Your Tea Fresh
You should keep your tea in a cool, dark container in an airtight container like you would olive oil. So, don’t keep it in a box sitting open on your counter for months on end, and don’t keep it by a stove or window because light and heat will work directly against you here. Keeping your tea in a pantry or kitchen cabinet is a good move here.
You should keep your stored tea well away from your spices because you don’t want any of your spice flavors absorbing into your tea and tainting the taste, even though a sealed container.
Additionally, some manufacturers don’t recommend storing your tea bags in the freezer or refrigerator, but they do recommend a dark cupboard.
While storing your tea in the refrigerator can extend the tea’s shelf life, the refrigerator can easily produce condensation that impacts the flavor of your tea.
So, once you open the box, putting your tea bags in a ziplock bag, seal it, and sticking it in the pantry is the best way to go.
Can You Get Sick from Drinking Old Tea
As we’ve gone over with you, your loose tea or tea bags are good and safe to drink well past their best by or expiration date.
They won’t make you sick because it just gets less flavorful and drier as it gets older, just like that pumpkin spice you bought last year or the year before.
But, if you want to be extra cautious, you can follow these recommendations to be on the safe side:
- Brew your tea in water that is at least 175-degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of five minutes. Brewing it like this will kill any potential bacteria in the tea.
- Avoid storing your tea over eight hours once you steep it.
- Put your brewed tea in the refrigerator unless you plan on drinking it immediately.
- Don’t make your tea by using just hot tap water or sun brewing. These methods won’t get it hot enough to kill off potential bacteria.
Do Green or Herbal Teas Last Longer Than Regular Teas?
The short answer to this question is no. White and green tea relies very heavily on oils being released to flavor the tea when the hot water hits it.
Black tea doesn’t have the same oils, so your green tea bag will get drier as it gets older. The drier the tea gets, the fewer compounds it has to release, and this results in you getting a less flavorful cup of tea.
Herbal teas are actually dried fruits or flowers instead of actual tea, and this can also make them more prone to molding than other types of tea.
Common Uses for Old Tea
If you don’t feel confident enough to drink your tea because it’s past your expiry date, there are a few things you can do with it. You can recycle them by doing the following:
- Compost – You can put your old tea leaves or bags into your compost pile instead of in the trash can. The acid content in your tea will break down other materials in a pile much quicker to help them enrich the soil.
- First Aid – Tea can have a very soothing effect on scratches or burns.
- Hair Treatment – Did you know that rinsing your hair with chilled tea can help with an irritated, itchy scalp? It can also improve your hair’s overall health.
- Nourish the Garden – Brew some tea and allow it to cool before pouring it over your garden plants. Tea works as a nice natural fertilizer while smelling better than the more conventional type.
Tea doesn’t go bad as much as it loses its potency a few months to a few years past the best by date on the box. So, it’s usually safe to drink as long as you realize that it won’t be as potent as it would be if it was inside this date range.