Whether you drink it for the taste or for a subtle caffeine boost (or both), tea is a popular drink all over the globe. It is often sold in either a loose-leaf format or in individual tea bags which contain the recommended amount of tea leaves for a single cup. Usually, the latter is a little more popular because of its convenience.
In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a pantry anywhere in the world that doesn’t have some spare tea bags.
Because tea bags (no matter the type or flavor) are considered to be such staples, it is common to wonder: do tea bags expire? The short answer is: not really. While tea bags do usually have a sell-by date, the tea inside the bags does not necessarily expire or go bad.
However, depending on the amount of time that it’s been sitting on the shelf, it will likely lose flavor and scent. That does not mean you can’t drink it, but it does mean that you might need to double up on tea bags to get the intended flavor.
How Long Do Tea Bags Last?
According to the average sell-by dates, tea bags typically last about 18 to 24 months. In short, you can be assured that any tea bags you purchase can be stored in your pantry for up to two years and still maintain an acceptable level of taste and aroma.
There are some teas that might not last as long as that, however. For example, some teas contain things like herbs, pieces of dried fruit, and even flower petals. If the tea you purchase contains ingredients like those, chances are that your tea bags will have a slightly shorter shelf life, but should still last at least 6 months.
Can You Drink Tea Made from Tea Bags Past the Sell-by Date?
As mentioned above, tea bags are usually perfectly safe to use even if they are past the sell-by date. That is, if your tea bags only contain the actual tea leaves and don’t have any other aforementioned ingredients, you will be fine to drink tea made from tea bags past the sell-by date.
If your tea bags contain other things besides the tea leaves, you should probably not drink it past the sell-by date. This doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily dangerous, but it is recommended that you head the sell-by date in this case to avoid, for example, a possible upset stomach.
The most important thing to take into account when making tea from expired tea bags is that the tea leaves will naturally lose their flavor impact over time. They will also have a less potent scent. You can solve the flavor issue by simply making one cup with two bags, but there is no guarantee that the tea might still have a less desirable taste.
In short, while you can (in most cases) still drink tea that is made from tea bags that have passed their sell-by date, you might be disappointed by the result. In order to ensure you have the most satisfying cup of tea, you are better off using tea bags that are still within the sell-by date.
How Should Tea Bags be Stored to Ensure Longevity?
Tea bags should be stored away from direct light and heat. In general, it is best to keep your tea bags in a cool, dry place and to ensure that they are not exposed to significant levels of heat. Light and heat will not necessarily cause your tea bags to expire, but they will likely have a negative effect on the taste and aroma of the tea.
You can also store tea bags in the freezer. Freezing tea leaves will usually ensure a longer life, in terms of both taste and scent, than simply storing them on a pantry or cupboard shelf. Thus, if tea bag freshness is of the utmost importance to you, consider keeping them in your freezer as they approach their sell-by date.
If the tea bags in your household are past the sell-by date and you would rather not drink tea made from them, you do not necessarily have to throw them away. Tea leaves can be used to absorb odors, so an environmentally friendly way to reduce waste is using expired tea bags to mitigate odors in various storage areas like cabinets and drawers.
What Happens if I Drink Expired Tea?
More often than not, you will be absolutely fine if you accidentally drink expired tea. If the tea bag you want to use is past the sell-by date, you should check to make sure that it has been stored in an area devoid of moisture so that there is no risk of mold in the tea leaves because they will naturally want to absorb moisture wherever they are.
Also, as explained previously, if the tea bag contains ingredients like dried fruit or other food-like items, it is in your best interest to ensure that there is no mold or other sign of rot in the tea bag. However, overall, chances are that you will not be severely harmed from drinking expired tea, especially if it is not long past the sell-by date.
In short, what are the main things to remember about tea bags? They have an average shelf life of 18 to 24 months, but can usually be used well past the sell-by date printed on the package. One of the only detriments to drinking tea made from expired tea bags is that it will likely not have as pleasant a taste.
Also, tea bags that have aged past their sell-by date will typically not have the same potency of aroma as they did when they were fresh. For the tastiest cup of tea, it’s probably best to stick to tea bags that haven’t aged past their sell-by date. However, drinking expired tea is not likely to harm you, especially if the tea bags only contain leaves and no extra ingredients.