Does Loose Leaf Tea Expire? Why, When, and How to Prevent It


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Loose tea leaves are now my only real favorite tea option. One day my friend asked, “Do they expire?” after a blank stare or two, I started asking myself the same question. And in fact, I wasn’t entirely sure I was looking after them correctly.

I’ve thought about tea bags expiring before and Freezing Tea Bags, but never have till that day thought of the expiry date of loose leaf tea.

In truth, I often keep them for a long while, so I was a little concerned. So I’ve been doing some research on it, take a look at what I’ve found…

Does Loose Leaf Tea Expire? No, loose tea leaves do not expire. But they do lose flavor, aroma, and color over time. However, they’re still good for consumption. In some tins of loose tea leaves there’s an expiry date for its best by date, but not for the use-by date. Let’s look at what the expiry date actually is.

Stands to reason that over time, old tea can taste less flavorful, flat, stale, or weaker as time goes by. This happens mainly because tea is sensitive to temperature fluctuations and moisture escaping from leaves, and not because they ‘expire’.

Yet, you can preserve the goodness of loose tea leaves in many ways for a longer time. In fact, beyond any ‘expiry date’ – if any were given, especially through proper storage.

You might also like the 30 Awesome Uses For Tea Bags.

Is It Ok to Drink Expired Tea Leaves?

Yes, it is completely okay to drink them. It certainly won’t kill you or even make you sick. In the worse case, it will give you less flavorful tea.

I found whilst doing my research, people were drinking loose tea leaves that were as old as 3 to 10 years. Tea which they must have forgotten exists in their pantry. However, as I’ve mentioned above they did complain of its less than prominent flavor.

So I wouldn’t recommend using old tea leaves if you want to impress a guest or when gifting it to someone.

However, I’ve also found some ways to bring back the subtle tastes of expired tea. I’m sure these will help you if you have any loose tea leaves that you don’t want to drink due to fear of a weak flavor. And at the same time if you don’t want to waste money by discarding it.

And no, it doesn’t take more time or cost than buying fresh ones, just ….

  • Roast the tea leaves in a pan under very low heat. When you smell the freshness from the tea, take it out of the heat and use it.
  • Steep in the cup or pot a little longer than you usually do

And if you’re still not convinced of a return of the freshness, flavor, or aroma it gives. Don’t worry, I got you covered. Simply change your way of storing loose tea leaves. But how? Read on…

It’s this kind of “secret sauce” information I give you in my Tea Sommelier Course!

loose leaf tea expire

How Do You Store Loose Leaf Tea?

Storing properly is an important step to preserve the qualities and features of loose tea leaves. Luckily, there are many and more ways to store tea leaves. Especially, since they don’t very often come in tins. Even if it does, consider the following for a tasteful tea experience until the tea lasts. Or beyond its expiry date.

  • Store them in stainless steel, airtight containers. No plastic and glass containers, even if airtight. If you’re looking for “Why” I’ve explained it below.
  • If you don’t have airtight or stainless steel containers, use paper bags as a backup. But, keep the bag tight, away from the air.
  • Store at room temperature. This is very important to preserve all the volatile features of your loose tea leaves. Temperature fluctuation can damage the tea. Keep it away from all air conditioning units, ovens, heaters or even windows.
  • Keep them in a dark area, preventing sunlight. It can be the back corner of the pantry or on a shelf where no light reaches.
  • Store away from water and water sources like boiling water. Humidity can bring severe changes to loose tea leaves.
  • Away from other spices in your pantry. Loose leaf tea, or tea in general, can absorb aromas very quickly. Reducing the true flavor and aroma altogether.
  • Freeze tea with my 12 Do’s and Don’ts. What are they? Find them here

Now you might be thinking, what’s the point of all this storage? If the tea leaves are still expired, it’s expired. Well not really, the shelf life of different types of loose tea leaves are approximately….

  • Green tea – 12 months
  • Black tea – 24 months
  • Oolong tea – 18 months
  • White tea – 24 months

These two storage containers from Teavivre are my favorite little storage pottery, a collection of them together looks so stylish.

So you can still store them in the right way to protect its features for a longer time. However, what if the expired tea leaves go moldy? Right? Well keep reading.

Does Loose Leaf Tea Go Moldy?

No, they don’t. Providing they’re not exposed to conditions where mold is likely to grow. In fact, I can tell you for a fact that people have managed to find and drink 20 to 30 year old loose leaf tea just fine after it’s been under proper storage.

Furthermore, in China, people regularly consume 20 year old tea.
Same is true in countries like Sri Lanka and India. And these are actually more expensive!

Find out 100 more Amazing facts About Tea

So if you find your loose tea leaves moldy, it’s due to improper storage. Or very rarely due to poor quality. That’s why I always prefer buying high quality tea from high quality tea companies that do actually sell on Amazon like Ahmad Tea, Twinnings and Positively Tea Company.

They have a wide choice of flavors for your taste buds. They’re also bestsellers and highly rated.

Can your brand of tea bags be composted? Find Out Here

Talking of flavors, I remembered my parents are herbal tea drinkers. So, I did thorough research for herbal tea expiry as well.

Does Herbal Tea Expire?

No, herbal tea does not expire. gain providing it’s not left in conditions where mold is prevalent. Herbal tea also just tends to reduce its flavor and aroma qualities over time. Hence, you might be disappointed to find a loss in taste, flavor, or aroma after the expiry date. Meaning the date that is the best use it before.

But, as I discussed earlier, it all comes down to proper storage. In fact, all the discussion given above applies the same way – it’s the same for herbal tea. Simple as that.

So now reading back on how to store loose tea leaf, there are certain “Why’s” I left out. So, I’m covering those below.

Does Tea Need to Be Stored Airtight?

Yes, they have to be stored in airtight containers. The less the tea gets exposed to air the better the flavor. Because air has different temperature levels. And like I said, tea is sensitive to temperature and moisture. So keep it airtight as much as possible.

Can I Store Loose Leaf Tea in Glass Jars?

Not usually, glass is transparent and the ability for light or heat to pass through is greater. So if you store tea in a glass container, it’s more likely to be prone to different light and temperature levels.

The same applies to plastic containers because they’re also clear. But, plastic additionally affects the odor, because plastic absorbs them more readily. In situations where you have only glass containers available to hand, try colored glass containers. But, keep them away from light and heat sources.

Reaching the end, did you know? It takes 2000 tiny leaves to make one pound of finished tea. So never waste them. At the very least, discard them around plants as fertilizers.

Conclusion

Loose tea leaves don’t expire, even if it’s herbal or any other type. However, there is a, “best before date” as expiry date for its best flavors.

In many Asian countries old tea is commonly drank, despite it being more expensive. Yet, still maintaining the high quality features of loose tea leaves – even after any ‘best before’ date requires proper storage.

Not only that, but tea is temperature-sensitive. So, be sure to consider all aspects of temperature, light pollution, and moisture fluctuations when storing tea loose tea leaves.

With all these factors being met the best way possible, you can still drink expired tea leaves. Because…

Life is like tea, it’s all in how you make it”.

So you know already that loose leaf tea makes better tea, so make even better tea by enhancing your tea skills with my Tea Course!

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I really hope this article was useful. Be sure not to throw away your loose leaf tea, there are lots of things you can do with it. Also be sure to check out my tea-ware page for lots of interesting gifts and resources for tea heads of all kinds.

Related Questions:

How Long Does Rooibos Tea Last? Rooibos tea lasts for many years, but is only fresh for up to two years. Rooibos gives the best flavor when used as soon as possible, the earlier after the processing date the better.

14 Replies to “Does Loose Leaf Tea Expire? Why, When, and How to Prevent It”

  1. Thank you for the comment David, sounds like an interesting tea tasting session ahead! 🙂

  2. Maybe I will try the 45 year old lapsang souchong I found in an old chest recently. I bought it in Willimsburg VA after reading Centennial. It became my favorite tea.

  3. I just brewed Wittard Original from 20+ yr old loose tea and am not sure I can even tell the difference. That said, it has been stored in a metal tea caddy that has not been opened and that has been stored in a cabinet. Jasmine tea stored the same way lasted for years–again, not opening it frequently and keeping it dark and dry seem to be the key.

  4. I found some Da Hong Pao in airtight individual wrappings, and inside an airtight box at the bottom of a drawer. It’s been in there for at least 6-7 years. It was still good to drink, even though it does not retain it’s full flavour. Now, I remember I also had loose leaf pu-erh in a box somewhere. It may have even gotten better with time… If only I can find it.

  5. Hi Bob, thanks for the comment and sorry for the late reply. I think you’ve done well to preserve what you can for so long with the storage you’ve used. I’d also say that the pan method is likely to be the best version you’re now going to see from the tea. So unless other readers have any tips, I’d enjoy it as much as you can now before it deteriorates further, I wish I could offer more tips to revitalize it …but that’s probably a big ask.

    One potential idea is to make a blend out of it with other teas, this might help to bring back the flavor, or at least add an additional flavor element.

  6. Hi – I have some bulk Darjeeling Tea, stored sealed in a wood box, and the tea itself within the box is in an alum paper wrapping, and the wood box is in a closed drawer.

    I probably have it for 15-20 years lol. It was probably very fresh at the time, as my friend lives in Kolkata, near the Himalayas.

    Opened it about 10 days back, still drinkable, but without the Darjeeling flavor.

    Anyway, I used your fry pan method, placing one tablespoon in the pan until I smelled the tea (when my nose was over it).

    And the taste was improved. Thank you for your idea!

    But, it still didn’t have the Darjeeling flavor. Is there anything else I can do to restore that to some degree?

    Perhaps heating it for X number of minutes after I smell tea?

    Thanks for your help.

    Bob

  7. whats the benefits of the new tea to the oldest tea?

  8. Thanks for the comment Virgie, I would recommend checking it thoroughly. To be extra cautious I’d suggest the safest option is to replace it after that length of time.

  9. Hello – I have loose leaf passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile & a combo of fennel/peppermint/liquorice root that have been stored in different jars in my shelf for about 3.5 years. Are the still good to brew. I would like to give them to a friend who is suffering through anxiety.
    Thank you

  10. If the leaves look obviously moldy, then I would not drink them. Return them if possible, or dispose of them.

  11. If the loose leaves are already been moldy, is it still okay to drink? If yes, what is the procedure how to remove the molds? . It is Ahmad tea london and it became moldy even before the expiry date

  12. Thank you for the comment Donna, you’re welcome, I’m glad it helped. 🙂

  13. I have a bunch of tea in tiny little tins and wanted to make sure they were still good. Cold weather is here and I’m ready to put the kettle on again. Thanks for the information!

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