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How Long Does Tea Last? | Proper Storage Guidelines

I was raised on sweet tea. In fact, I probably drank more of the stuff growing up than I did water. We always had a pitcher of it in the fridge and plenty on hand to make more. Recently, I found an old box of it in the back of the cupboard and wondered if it would still be good to brew up. So, I looked into it, and this is what I found out.

Properly stored dried tea leaves will never expire; however, they will lose flavor and nutrient content after 2 years. Prepared tea will last up to 5 days if stored in the refrigerator and up to 8 months when kept frozen. Teabags should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Tea is a near-universal beverage. Whether you drink it hot, cold, or which type of tea you drink, knowing how to store it and its shelf life will keep the tea refreshing, enjoyable, and safe. It’s good to know what to look for when the tea is past its best, so you can always enjoy its flavor. Let’s take a closer look at the shelf life of various types of tea and how to store them correctly.

Box of Assorted Tea Bags

How Long Do Different Dry Forms Of Tea Last?

The shelf life of tea depends on its form. Tea can be purchased as loose leaves, tea bags, powdered tea, and as a prepared beverage. In each instance, the correct storage conditions are required to prolong the life of your drink and maintain the quality of the product.

Dried Tea Leaves 

Tea leaves that are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment and sealed in an airtight container will never degrade. However, the tea flavorings will significantly diminish in quality after around 2 years. At this point, the tea leaves aren’t ideal for drinking due to their lack of flavor.

Aged leaves, however, will not make you sick. Instead, the tea will just be of inferior quality. Further, you will also be ingesting fewer antioxidants that many people drink tea for. The caffeine content will also be less potent.

Tea Bags

Teabags are the most common way that Americans consume their tea. While some tea bags contain whole tea leaves, most are filled with fannings and dust because these ingredients brew much faster than whole leaves. Fannings are small, broken leaves, whereas dust is the tiny particles left at the bottom of a tea leaf barrel.

Teabags are a solution to resolve waste in the tea manufacturing industry that has proven more popular with consumers in western cultures than making tea with whole leaves. If your tea bag does have whole leaves, it will tend to be of a larger size to give the leaves plenty of space to mix with the water. 

Luckily, tea bags have a long shelf life of 18-24 months. To keep their flavor and potency for this period, it is best to keep your tea bags in an airtight container. If you keep your bags in the original packaging, usually a cardboard box, the tea bags will leak flavor quicker and absorb other aromas from around them.

I recommend that you store tea in a stainless steel airtight container that has a locking clamp. This one, found on Amazon, is very well-made and works nicely for keeping tea fresh.

Powdered Tea

Like most things, tea has evolved and is now produced in an instant version. Powdered or instant tea has been designed to create a cup of tea when hot water is added. It might seem like a new invention, but it was first documented in 1885 in the United Kingdom.

Instant tea is minimally the dehydrated flavor of the tea leaf, combined with the aroma and the color compounds following fermentation and oxidization. Manufacturers can improve the taste with sweeteners, acids, or artificial flavorings. Despite its extensive processing, powdered tea does not last any longer than the loose-leaf or tea bag versions – around 2 years maximum.

How Long Does Prepared Tea Last?

If you like to make tea ahead of time and store it for drinking later, you can keep it in the fridge or freezer.

  • In the fridge, prepared tea will last 3-5 days.
  • Freezing the tea after preparation will give it a shelf life of 6-8 months.
  • If you leave your drink at room temperature (once opened, if applicable) for more than 8 hours, then it will be unsafe to consume. In this instance, it has spent too long in the food safety danger zone, and dangerous organisms will have had sufficient time to multiply, making the beverage unsafe to drink.

How To Store Tea

Properly storing your tea is crucial to retaining flavor during its lifespan. Ideally, all tea should be kept in an airtight container, away from heat, light, and moisture. Due to these constrictions, the best item to use is either in a ceramic container or a metallic tin rather than a glass vessel. If you need to use a see-through storage device, keep it in the cupboard.

Keeping the tea sealed is paramount to retaining flavor because tea absorbs scents readily. If you cannot keep your tea bags in an airtight container, do your best to isolate them from potent scents, such as species, to retain the tea flavor.

Like most things, storing tea, in any form, at colder temperatures will make it last longer. At room temperature, tea leaves, tea bags, and powdered tea will last at least 6-12 months. In the refrigerator or freezer, tea products can last double that time if you vacuum seal them first. Otherwise, the condensation will ruin the taste and flavor of the tea. A root cellar, if you are lucky enough to have one, is a great place to store tea.

Related How to Store Tea Bags Long Term | The Best Way.

Signs That Tea Has Gone Bad

While tea leaves will never go rancid when stored correctly, you can brew tea badly, making the beverage unsafe for consumption. If you’ve put the tea in the fridge, these are clear warning signs that the drink has spoiled.

  • Ropy Strands
    If you detect slimily, ropy strands in your prepared tea, this is a distinct sign that bacteria has grown – normally the bacterium Alcaligenes viscolactis, or other rod-shaped bacteria. Such organisms are commonly found in the soil and water that tea is grown in and is the source of this contamination. Under no circumstances should you drink the tea if you find it in this condition. 
  • Thick Tea
    If tea has a syrupy appearance or is more viscous than usual, it could also be indicative of the growth of the bacterium, Alcaligenes viscolactis. If you see this, it means that the tea has not been appropriately prepared. Typically, tea is brewed hot enough to kill bacteria during the brewing process. If your tea is thick, this hasn’t happened, and drinking it should be avoided.
  • Sour Odor or Taste
    Trust your senses if you think your tea smells or tastes irregular. A foul smell and flavor are clear indicators that the drink has spoiled. If ever in doubt, discard the tea.
  • Mold
    Inspect your tea leaves before consuming them. If you detect mold, which can form on improperly stored leaves, throw the leaves away. Remember, mold is made from fungi, so even by removing the spore, you will still be consuming the harmful fungi if you use the contaminated leaf in your beverage. Not all fungi are deactivated by boiling, so this won’t save your tea leaves either!

If you have plenty of tea left that is about to expire, you can use the leaves to absorb unpleasant odors. You can also prepare the tea you have left and store it in the freezer. That way, you make it last another 6-8 months. 

What Is The Difference Between The Types Of Teas?

All teas (other than herbal) are derived from the plant Camellia sinensis. The difference between black, green, white, and oolong teas is the amount of time the leaves were fermented or oxidized after picking, with black being the most fermented tea.

  • Green is the least processed tea, which is why it is mostly associated with health. Due to the limited fermentation of the tea leaves, green tea has the highest amount of antioxidants.
  • Black tea is the most potent tea as it is fully oxidized. The flavor of the tea is produced by the phytochemicals (mostly the flavonoids) in the plant. After around 2 years, the flavonoids will have degraded sufficiently that the flavoring of the tea will be significantly dulled.

Final Thoughts

Tea is one of the most popular beverages worldwide. For some, it is the route to consume caffeine. For others, it is a partner to a relaxing, thoughtful moment during the day. Whether you steep the tea bags for hot tea or make refreshing iced tea, it is vital to know how to store and preserve it correctly. By doing so, you can be assured that you’re getting the best flavor for your drink.

To sum it up, tea can be stored either in leaf, tea bag, powdered, or prepared form.

  • Leaves, tea bags, and powdered tea will all last up to 2 years before their flavor diminishes, provided that they are stored in a cool, dark, dry, and airtight environment.
  • Prepared tea will last for up to 5 days in the refrigerator and up to eight months in the freezer.

In both instances, the tea needs to be kept in an airtight container, like this one, to prevent oxygen from circulating to feed the bacteria in the drink.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

Related Questions

Here are some answers to a few common related questions that people ask.

Can Tea Grow Bacteria?

Tea leaves can be contaminated with coliform bacteria. In this case, improperly made and/or stored tea can grow bacteria, which can become harmful if ingested. In such circumstances, expect to ingest Klebsiella and Enterobacter.

It is unlikely but possible that you can also ingest E.coli too. Fortunately, low levels of bacteria will not do you any harm. Therefore, if you store and prepare your tea appropriately, your health will not be in danger.

Is Tea Healthy For You?

Tea has many links to promoting good health. In particular, green tea is known to assist in lowering the risk of cardiovascular problems and similar comorbidities. It is surmised that this is due to the minimal processing involved in making green tea, which means it contains the highest concentrations of polyphenols compared to oolong or black teas.

The research is somewhat inconclusive, however. Plenty of studies show a correlation, if not causation, between tea drinking and health benefits. Some studies suggest that the act of making tea and the behaviors associated with consuming the beverage are more calming than, say, coffee. Drinking three cups of black tea daily for six months was shown to lower blood pressure in one study. Therefore, this reduction in stress can be the reason for lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and cancer rather than the drink itself.

What is Herbal Tea?

Herbal tea isn’t tea in that it does not come from the tea plant Camellia sinensis. It is thought of as tea because it uses leaves in its preparation. Flavorings for herbal tea come from fruits, roots, flowers, or bark emanating from other edible plants. It is also doctored with spices and herbs to give the desired flavor profile.

Generally, unlike tea itself, herbal tea is not caffeinated, so it is preferred by many consumers who aim to eliminate this stimulant from their diet. Finally, because herbal tea can have many origins, it can contain many ingredients that have health benefits, including high amounts of antioxidants and minerals.

For more, don’t miss How Long Does Coffee Last? | Detailed Storage Guidelines.