How Long Does Tea Last?

Does tea expire? Not exactly, but if you don’t learn how to store tea properly, it can certainly transform into something far less tasty.

tea pot pouring into blue mug

GMVozd/Getty Images

In case you missed it, tea time is in full effect. When you look at global intake levels, three cups of tea are consumed for every one cup of coffee, according to estimates from the Pew Research Center. In fact, water is the only other beverage humans drink more frequently than tea, research proves. Stateside, tea ranks as the fourth most popular drink, just after water, coffee, and sweetened drinks like juice and soda, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. 

It’s clear that tea is no passing fad or buzzy food trend; humans have been drinking it since about 2700 BC, according to historians at the UK Tea & Infusions Association. But the teas aren’t nearly as timeless. So what’s a sipper to do if they don’t make the most of those leaves ASAP? 

Read on to discover how to store tea to maximize its flavorful life. We’re also diving into FAQs about this popular beverage, including how long does tea last? and does tea expire? All of the above are terrific questions, so we tapped tea pros and dove into the science to help you sip wisely.

How Long Does Tea Last? 

Just as food expiration dates are almost always more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast food safety rule, drink date labels like ’Best Before’’ and ‘’Best Used By’’ relate to optimal quality in terms of flavor and texture, explains Nadia De La Vega, the director of tea sustainability and content at DAVIDsTEA.

“Only foods that have strict compositional and nutritional specifications, such as infant formula, require expiration dates,” De La Vega says.

So if you’re wondering does tea expire?, technically, no. 

“Tea doesn’t really expire; it just loses freshness over time. Though some tea types like sheng or some shou pu’erh teas evolve over time—like wine that’s meant to be aged—and can be stored for years, most teas lose freshness with age,” De La Vega explains. 

How long does tea last, then? To make sure you’re always getting the best cup of tea possible, De La Vega recommends you aim to polish off your leaves accordingly:

  • Tea blends with fruits and nuts: consume within 6 months after buying
  • Single-ingredient teas made with tea leaves only: consume within 12 months after buying

Just like with dried herbs and spices, it can be tricky to know how much time tea leaves have already spent on store shelves before you purchase them. With that in mind, the sooner the better if you want to experience a strong cup with fresh flavor.

In addition to tasting weaker and more stale, a cup of tea made with older tea leaves will likely deliver fewer polyphenols (the molecules in tea, coffee, cocoa, berries, vegetables, spices, and more that are linked to multiple health benefits because of their antioxidant effects), per a March 2020 study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.

How to Store Tea to Extend Its Lifespan

The best way to make tea last longer is to master how to store tea properly before you buy your next batch. 

Since tea is susceptible to speedier degradation from air, heat, light, and moisture, “keep loose leaf tea and tea bags in a well-sealed container. Store them in a cool, dry and dark place, away from strong aromas like spices, garlic, onions and other highly perfumed items like scented candles,” De La Vega says. 

Opaque tea tins work great. If you’re using a mason jar or other clear container, be sure to store your tea in a dark pantry, drawer, or cabinet rather than on a counter that receives direct sunlight.

The Best Uses For Older Teas

Most of the time, it can be challenging to tell if your tea is past its prime. Fresh tea should be aromatic, bright, flavorful, and taste similar to the first cup you brewed after purchasing the leaves. It should also appear about the same hue. (Tea leaves can turn darker or change colors if exposed to heat or light.)

If the tea leaves have gotten wet, they may begin to grow mold. If this is the case, discard the tea immediately. 

Otherwise, older tea leaves will simply be less flavorful, so if you notice any decreases in flavor quality or overall experience, restock your tea and try this “recycling” trick.

“I love adding used tea leaves to my compost or to house plant soil. They add nitrogen to the mix, balancing any carbon-rich materials that might already be there. They also add to the soil structure and improve drainage,” De La Vega says. (Learn more about how to make compost to feed your plants and reduce waste.) If you’re more of a crafter than a gardener, you can use tea as a natural Easter egg dye, watercolor base, or fabric dye.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles