Growing up, I could always count on my grandma to brew me a cup of tea on a cold day. Her preferred blend was Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice, sweetened with a hive’s worth of honey.
Sometimes I would peek in her cabinet full of teas, and it seemed like some of those boxes must have been decades old. That had me wondering, do tea bags get old?
While a little research revealed that as long as you keep tea safe and dry, tea bags can have a near-indefinite shelf-life, the real story is that different teas maintain their flavor longer than others do.
Different Types Of Tea Stay Fresh Longer
Technically, tea bags do not ever expire. As long as they are kept dry, you could brew any of the tea that has been collecting dust in your grandma’s cabinet.
However, the flavonoids present in the tea will degrade over time. Flavonoids are natural compounds and antioxidants found in plants that have anti-inflammatory properties and contribute to the overall taste of the tea.
Lighter tea varieties, such as green tea and white tea, will lose their freshness and overall flavor more quickly than black tea. This is because lighter teas have more flavonoids present, as they are less processed than black tea.
How To Best Store Tea To Maintain Freshness
Protecting tea from light, air, and liquid is the key to ensuring that tea maintains its full flavor. Tea bags will typically stay fresh longer than loose-leaf tea, as the tea bag provides additional protection against these elements.
However, tea (whether loose-leaf or bagged) will stay fresh longest if it is stored in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place. This will ensure that none of the flavonoids in the tea are able to oxidize.
A Tea Box For Every Style
One of my favorite parts of being a tea aficionado is finding beautiful boxes to store the tea in. There are many styles and options, from ornate to functional, classic to modern. Tea boxes not only provide airtight protection for your tea but also provide a way to effectively organize your tea bags.
For a long time, I just had a drawer full of hundreds of random tea bags.
Here are a few examples of tea boxes:
- The Twinings Tea Bags Sampler Assortment Box is a beautiful, ornate wooden box that comes with an assortment of Twinings teas. Once you have tried all the teas, you can use this box to store any of your favorites! Twinings Tea Bags Sampler Assortment Box$39.99 ($39.99 / Count)
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- PERFECT COMBINATION FOR TEA LOVERS: Our Twinings Tea Bags Sampler Assortment Variety Pack contains 80 pack, 16 different flavors.
- WIDE RANGE OF POPULAR OPTIONS: Green tea Pomegranate& Raspberry, English Afternoon, Lemon& Ginger Tea, Green Tea, Pure Rooibos Red Tea, Irish Breakfast, Early Grey black tea, Wild Berries, English Breakfast, Nightly Calm, Chai French vanilla, Berry fusion, Honeybush mandarin orange, Chamomile honey vanilla, Pure Peppermint, Lady Grey.
- GREAT FOR ANY OCCASION AND PURPOSE: Perfect GIFT as a Tea box for Women, Men , Her ,Him,college students, schools’ kids, coworkers, military personal, your family, friends and yourself.
- PREMIUM QUALITY – The bulk tea bag box features premium quality MDF material that ensures it serves you for long in the best condition possible.
- IDEAL GIFT – Worry no more about what to get your family, friends, or even colleagues at work on their special days. This tea box is a perfect gift for all occasions.
- The MyGift Wooden Tea Box has a rustic appeal that tea lovers will adore. It also has a drawer where you can store more tea, tea-making paraphernalia, or your favorite sweeteners. MyGift Vintage Gray Wood Tea Bag Holder Storage Box with 8 Compartments, Clear Lid and Pull Out Drawer for Condiments$34.99
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- Stylish grey wood tea bag storage case perfect for storing tea bags and sugar packets
- 8 compartments provides optimal storage, with clear lid to easily view contents
- Pull out drawer great for holding spoons and stirrers
- Vintage grey wood aesthetic complements rustic decors
- Approximate Dimensions: 14 W x 7.75 D x 6 H; Each Compartment: 3.25 W x 3.0 D x 3.25 H (in inches)
- This Ceramic Canister is an excellent choice if you like to purchase bulk amounts of loose-leaf tea. While there are many similar options, I like the simple and elegant look of ceramic jars like this. All you need to do is fill it with the loose dried leaves and take a scoop or two out whenever you want a cup of fresh tea! Ceramic canister storage jar tea jar herbs container with bamboo lid
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- [Size] This is a SMALL tiny airtight ceramic canister for tea storage.
- [Material] Durable ceramic material with nice matt white glaze, the original bamboo wooden lid has a slight odor what doesn't affect the use.
- [Capacity] The ceramic storage jar can hold about 3.7 OZ (110 g) beans. Fluid/Powder Maximum Capacity: about 12 FL OZ (320 ML).
- [Function] The porcelain canister has great function. You can use it as food storage jar, cookie jar, herb jar, candle jar and etc.
- [Notice] Before purchasing the ceramic storage jar, please pay attention to the size. It is a TINY ceramic canister.
Or, if you are like my grandma, you can keep your tea bags in one of those old Christmas cookie tins. Those will keep them fresh quite nicely as well! You might also be interested in our guide on how is tea transported.
Can A Tea Bag Go Bad?
Tea bags don’t typically have an expiration date. Some tea companies will provide a best-by date when they feel their tea should be consumed for optimal flavor, but the truth is that dried tea will not spoil or be unsafe to consume. As long as it is kept dry, ideally in a dark place, the shelf life of tea is essentially indefinite.
The main exception to this is if a tea bag gets wet. If the dried tea is exposed to moisture, this can create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. If you find that any of your tea has gotten wet, it may be best to throw it away.
What If I’m Not Sure If The Tea Got Wet?
I’ve had a few times when I wasn’t sure if old tea bags had gone bad. Especially for people that live in humid climates, tea bags can also get wet just from exposure to the air. The best advice I can provide is to smell the tea, and if it smells dank and musty, it is probably best to throw it away.
While “tea” refers to a specific plant native to South and East Asia, we tend to use “tea” to refer to any dried herbs, plants, and aromatics that are steeped in hot water. Popular examples of herbal teas include chamomile tea, rooibos tea, and peppermint tea.
Generally, the same rules apply to herbal teas as true teas. Herbal teas will lose their flavor over time due to oxidation. It is best to store herbal tea in an airtight container to improve its shelf life.
As well, just like with true teas, if herbal tea gets wet, it can mold – so it is important to make sure it is not moldy before steeping yourself a cup.
Matcha And Yerba Mate
I am a bit embarrassed to admit that, for a long time, I didn’t realize matcha and yerba mate were different things. I was never totally sure what either was, but over the last decade, they have both become widely popular choices.
Matcha is ground green tea, so its storage is similar to any other green tea. It is best to keep it in a room temperature, dry airtight container and to make sure it does not get wet!
Yerba mate is a variety of holly indigenous to South America that also contains a large amount of caffeine in its leaves. It is brewed in a similar manner as tea to create a hot, caffeinated beverage. Like with tea, it won’t spoil but will lose its flavor over time.
So, it is best to store it in an airtight container, where it will remain cool and dry.
Pu-erh tea is prized by tea enthusiasts around the world, though it may be a new tea even for more seasoned tea drinkers. Pu-erh tea is made by fermenting tea leaves. Typically, Pu-erh is formed into pucks or discs of fermented tea leaves.
When aged correctly, the Pu-erh tea’s flavor becomes more complex and interesting over time. Unlike other teas, which go stale as time passes, Pu-erh tea can continue to ferment for years and even decades. Some need not be opened for 25 years!
Pu-erh tea may not be for everyone – it took me a while to come around to the ripe flavor of the fermented tea. Fermented products can take time to get used to. But, compared to the other teas described in this article, Pu-erh tea has the longest shelf life when it is stored properly.
Learn more in our guide on the four types of fermented tea.
How Long Do Tea Bags Get Old And Stay Fresh?
As we can see, tea bags do not go bad, so much as they become stale and lose their flavor, but what about brewed tea? Sometimes in the summer, I like to cold brew a pitcher of sweet tea and keep it in the fridge until I’m thirsty, but I don’t want to drink spoiled tea.
The biggest factor in how long you can keep brewed tea depends on whether or not you have added sugar to the tea. Unsweetened tea can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days before it starts to go bad.
However, if tea is sweetened, it is best to drink it all the day it is made. This is because sweetened tea can start to ferment pretty quickly – you might accidentally start making kombucha if you keep sweetened tea for too long!
Brewed tea will also keep well in the freezer for up to six months. One trick I have learned is to use an ice cube tray to make tea-infused ice cubes. Then, when you want to drink some iced tea, you can add tea cubes so you don’t water your cup down! Or, you can zap the cubes in the microwave or heat them on the stove to make yourself a hot cup of tea. Our guide to drinking overnight tea explains more.
Other Ways To Use Stale Tea Bags
Once tea goes stale and loses its flavor, you do not have to immediately toss it in the garbage. There are actually a lot of things you can use old tea leaves for! So, don’t throw your old tea bags in the trash right away.
Tea Can Be Used As A Natural Dye
Black tea is a great natural dye, perfect for at-home DIY projects! The brewed black tea will turn white fabrics into a lovely tan shade. This can be great if you want to give some white items in your wardrobe a new look or if you have other home art projects!
DIY Beauty Routines
Tea is rich in antioxidants. Tea can be steeped and mixed with other ingredients to make hair and skin masks.
If you still want to throw away your stale tea, a great option is to add the tea to your compost pile or compost bin. That way, instead of ending up back in a landfill, the tea leaves can return to your garden as soil! Just make sure the teabags are plastic-free or remove the tea from the tea bag entirely!