Do Tea Bags Expire?

Published Categorized as Drink
Expired tea bags

Found a few tea bags past their “best by” date in the drawer? They’re probably drinkable, though chances are they’re past their prime.

You came across a bunch of expired tea bags in your cabinet, and you’re wondering whether or not they’re safe to drink?

Been there, done that. And, before you hurry to drink or throw it away, here’s all that you need to know on the topic.

Tea bags are generally safe to drink past their expiration date, as long as they’ve been stored in a cool and dry place. However, expired tea will have a stale, dull taste as its aroma, flavor, and color fade away with time.

How long past the expiration date can you drink tea?

Let’s say that the jury’s out when it comes to the exact timings, so if you want to salvage those tea bags, you’ll have to use good ol’ common sense.

As a general rule of thumb, tea bags should be safe to brew and drink within 1-2 years past the expiration date printed on the back of the box (though, by that time, they definitely wouldn’t be at their best).

They say that cheaper tea lasts shorter than more expensive tea. Then again, I doubt you’d buy the priciest stuff at the grocery store because it would last longer if you happened to forget about it for a few years or so!

Still, you should always check if the tea bags are off before brewing them. Otherwise, you could end up with a bad stomach ache, especially if you have a weak stomach.

How to Tell If Tea Bags Are Off

There’s a difference between expired tea bags and spoiled tea bags, and that difference determines if they’re okay to consume or not.

Before brewing expired tea bags, it’s important to make sure that they don’t have any mold or bugs in them. The easiest way to check—though it requires you to sacrifice one packet—is to cut through one of them, give it a whiff, and observe its texture.

If you notice dampness, mold growth, or an off odor, you have no way of knowing if the tea bags are safe to drink, and you should throw them in the bin immediately. (Don’t postpone doing so; other folks in your household can make the mistake of drinking them).

Also, don’t forget to wash your hands with bar soap for at least 20 seconds after handling spoiled tea. Nothing will happen to you if you get a whiff of bad tea and all, but you can touch all sorts of things with your hands, so it’s best if you keep them clean.

What to Do With Old Tea (Other Than Drink It)

What if you don’t want to drink that old tea in your drawer, but you also don’t want to throw it in the garbage? Are there any uses for it so that it won’t go to waste?

You can throw bags of old, stale tea in your compost bin, letting nature do its magic. Tea is relatively acidic, so it can help break down other stuff in your compost bin faster.

Another way to make good use of old tea is to brew it, give it an hour or two to cool down to room temperature, then water the plants in your backyard garden with it. The water will rehydrate, and the tea will fertilize them.

The Best Way to Keep Tea Bags Fresh

Tea bags in a food storage container
How I keep tea bags

Everyone tells you to store tea in a cool and dry place. But what does that mean, exactly?

Tea doesn’t get along well with direct sunlight, sources of heat, and moisture. To keep it fresh, store it in your pantry, a drawer, or a cabinet— never on a windowsill, next to your stove, or near the back of your fridge.

Sealed tea bags should be kept in the tin box they came in, in their original packaging. Loose tea bags, on the other hand, should be transferred to an airtight food storage container.

One type of tea can pick up the aroma and flavor of another. Unless you like your green tea to smell and taste like raspberry (and vice versa), store them in separate boxes and containers to prevent that from happening.

Tea is a natural, highly aromatic product that can attract bugs, which is why I always store mine in tin tea boxes with lids that fit tight or in airtight food storage containers.

I’m telling you this because I picked up this habit from my great-grandma, bless her soul, more years ago than I care to admit. And it’s kept my house bug-free ever since, or at least I like to think so.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.