If you’ve ever found a box of old tea bags in the back of your cabinet, you’ve probably wondered if tea goes bad. While most foods like tea bags have an expiration date on them, this can sometimes be an indication of when quality will start to deteriorate in the product rather than when it should be tossed.
Tea does go bad over time since the chemicals that give tea its distinctive flavor and smell will fade away after exposure to oxygen and sunlight. The resulting tea is not dangerous to drink, but it won’t have the delicious taste and fragrance of fresh tea.
Tea bags might last for a long time, but they don’t last forever. Keep reading to learn more about how quickly tea expires and what you can still use it for once it has.
Does Tea Expire?
Like many food items, almost all commercial tea bags will come with a clearly labeled expiration date. This date will typically come with the tag “best by”. “Best by” means that to get the full flavor and quality of the tea as intended by the manufacturer, you should drink the tea before or on the date displayed.
Does this mean that tea past this date is unsafe to drink? Not necessarily. As long as it is kept in proper storage conditions, tea doesn’t spoil very easily. This means it’ll be safe to drink months or even years after the intended “best by” date. It may not taste as good as it would if you drank it while it was fresh, but it will still get the job done in a pinch if you’re out of tea otherwise.
Is It Okay to Drink Expired Tea?
You should be perfectly safe if you decide to be brave and chance a cup of expired tea. The worst that could happen is that you brew a cup of tea with a stale and somewhat flat flavor compared to the cups of fresh tea you’re used to.
This effect is mostly the result of the smell of the tea being diminished over time, which has a major impact on its final flavor. Is old tea bad for you? Probably not, but it won’t be as enjoyable to drink.
Tea bags don’t go bad like some other types of dry goods do. However, tea bags can still grow mold if they aren’t stored correctly. In general, tea is more susceptible to growing mold than some other products because of the way that it’s processed and transported. So why is it so easy for tea bags to develop mold?
- Humidity: Tea bags don’t have to get wet to develop mold. Just being exposed to a humid environment can help set up the right conditions for mold to grow. Unfortunately, every place that tea grows well is a humid tropical environment, making it very easy for tea to develop hitchhiker molds.
- Trace elements: Tea contains a wide range of trace elements, making it easier for mold to establish itself.
- No heat sterilization: Unlike other food products, tea bags are not sterilized with heat since this would adversely affect the taste and flavor of the tea. This leaves tea with unsterilized surfaces that can easily grow mold. Tea bags are more likely to develop mold than unbagged teas.
- Airflow: Tea that is exposed to air is more likely to come into contact with mold spores that are carried on the air current.
Without the right storage conditions, tea bags are the perfect microclimate for mold growth. It’s a good idea to rotate out your old tea bags regularly and keep them in airtight storage to keep mold from forming.
Note that tea bags can develop mold from spores they picked up before you stored them, however, so you’ll need to check your tea each time before you brew it to make sure it’s fresh.
How to Prevent Mold on Tea Bags
The way to prevent mold on tea bags is to keep your tea stored properly. Tea bags typically come in a cardboard box at the grocery store that exposes the tea to oxygen and moisture. Here are the qualities you’ll need to look for in your tea storage to help prevent mold :
- Airtight: Keeping oxygen and airflow out of your tea bags prevents them from being contaminated and also keeps them from oxidizing further. This can lead to them tasting stale otherwise.
- Dark: Tea bags should be kept in a dark place since exposure to ultraviolet radiation from light can cause the tea to break down. For this reason, tea bags shouldn’t be stored in glass or transparent containers.
- Dry: Avoiding humidity is important for preventing mold on tea bags, so keep your tea in a dry, temperature-controlled room that won’t expose tea bags to steam or other sources of moisture.
As long as you keep tea bags in a container that meets the above requirements, you’ll be able to keep your tea fresh and avoid most mold that might show up in the bags. Since you can’t see the mold in tea bags without opening them, preventing it in the first place is a lot easier.
Is Tea Still Good for Several Years?
Tea may not taste or smell as good after a few years versus a few months after you purchase it, but you’ll help preserve its qualities by storing it properly. You can still drink old tea if you don’t want to waste it.
However, since old tea can be repurposed elsewhere in the house, you’re better off buying some new tea for brewing if you want a delicious drink.
What Can You Do With Old Tea?
If your tea is past its expiration date, that doesn’t mean that you’re forced to throw it away and replace it. While it’s a good idea to get some fresh tea for drinking, old tea bags can serve a new function in other ways. Here are a few methods for repurposing expired tea bags that helps you avoid throwing them out:
- Reduce eye puffiness: Even though old tea bags may not taste as good as fresh ones, they still contain many chemical compounds that can help clear your complexion and reduce eye puffiness.
- Composting: Expired tea bags can be buried in your garden to help add much-needed nutrients to the soil. Tea bags can also help increase the water retention in your soil to help keep your garden nice and moist. Tea leaves are good for many types of plants.
- Cleaning: Tea has antibacterial properties that can make it a useful ingredient to include in homemade cleaning products. Wipe down kitchen counters with hot green tea to kill influenza virus and wipe out other harmful bacteria.
These are just a handful of the many ways you can recycle old tea bags around the house without throwing them in the trash. Be sure to save your next expired tea box and find a new life for it somewhere else in the house.
Tea Doesn’t Last Forever
Tea lasts for a long time if you store it in an airtight, dark container, but it still doesn’t last forever. Rotate in new tea bags regularly if you don’t drink a lot of it to make sure that your next cup of tea is as fresh as it can be!