If you are anything like me, every time you see a new flavor or brand of tea, you snatch it off the shelves and head home to try a cup (or in my case, a few cups).
That is how it goes in our house! Of course, as you can imagine, that also means that we have a few boxes of expired tea bags in our pantry.
If you find yourself in the same situation, you might be wondering if you have wasted your money. If you place a lot of emphasis on the product expiration date, you might be ready to throw your expired tea bags away, but maybe you shouldn’t.
Just how important is that “best before” date or expiration date on the tea bag packaging? Let’s find out.
Can expired tea bags be used? Yes, expired tea bags can be used, but it really depends on what is in the tea bag and how it is sealed (the packaging). Properly packaged teabags will be safe to drink for 1 year or even longer after the expiration date. The only time tea should not be used is if the tea bags were not correctly sealed and there is visible mold or a strange smell.
Obviously, how quickly tea expires depends on the type of tea that you are storing. The above is based on dry tea bags. Powdered tea and ready-to-drink iced tea shelf life may vary greatly from that of dry tea bags. If you want to take a closer look at what to expect when drinking expired tea bags and what you can do to preserve the lifespan of your tea bags, read on.
Do Tea Bags Go Off?
If you do a bit of online reading, you will find a plethora of sources that state that the expiry date on products is not something to be followed strictly – it is just a rough guide based on quality. The expiration or best before date on unopened tea is simply to advise the time frame in which the tea will be at its very best quality. Once this date has passed, the manufacturer advises that the product will deteriorate in terms of quality. While expired tea bags do not really go “off”, they can start to lose their vitality. By this, it means that the tea may start to lose its flavor intensity or fragrance. And of course, the packaging that it is in may fade in terms of color brightness.
Things get a little trickier when it comes to fruit teas. If the tea bags have real pieces of fruit inside them, it is the fruit that might go off. If you have found old, real fruit tea bags, give them a sniff. If they smell weird, they might have a bit of mold growing on the fruit. Tear the tea bag open and inspect the contents. If there is no mold growing on the bag itself or on the pieces of fruit and tea within the tea bag, you can safely use the tea bag.
If the tea bag packaging has been open and the pantry is damp and dark, the tea bags might be harboring mold spores. If the tea bags feel damp and show mold growth as a result, rather throw them away instead of drinking the tea. Drinking mold is not good for your health.
What to Expect from Expired Tea Bags
When you choose to drink expired unused tea bags, you can expect for the tea to be slightly lacking in the product’s promised characteristics. For instance, the following changes are to be expected:
- The tea may lack in flavor – maybe add a squeeze of lemon or some sugar to add a bit of interest and taste. You could also use more than one tea bag to ensure that you get a nice full flavor from your cup of tea.
- You may have to steep the tea bag for a bit longer than usual, to ensure that the full flavor is released. The longer you steep the tea, the more time it is for the flavor to release into the water.
- The tea bag might not smell right. Generally, expired tea bags that are okay to use but getting quite old will smell less potent or have no smell when sniffed.
- The color of the tea might not be what you are used to. As the flavors and fragrances break down, so does the actual appearance of the tea. The tea might appear weak or dull when you look at its color.
Ideal Storage Conditions to Extend the Lifespan of Tea Bags
Some people wonder if freezing their tea bags will ensure that they can keep them for longer. This is flawed logic because when defrosting, the condensation will cause the tea bags to become damp and grow mold or spoil. Avoid freezing your tea bags if you want them to last. Below are a few ways in which tea should be stored to retain its quality and extend its lifespan.
- If you buy the tea bags individually wrapped, leave them that way.
- Leave the tea bags sealed in their original packaging as long as possible.
- Place the tea bags in an airtight container.
- Store the container of tea bags in a cool, dry place away from heat and direct sunlight.
The Danger of Drinking Expired Tea Bags
Some people believe that they should throw their tea bags away as soon as the product reaches its best before or “sell by” date. This is not true. In Asia, it is known that tea lovers drink tea that is many years old. You just have to store it correctly.
What is the danger of drinking expired tea? There is no real danger to drinking expired tea. The only thing you need to be aware of is the loss of quality. That is the only danger. For instance, if you are drinking green tea in order to enjoy its many anti-oxidant health benefits, you need to drink it as fresh as possible. Even green tea that is 6 months old will not have the same health benefits as fresh green tea.
What to Do With Expired Tea Bags That Are No Longer Good
There are instances where expired tea bags just are not good anymore – they have turned bad. Perhaps they are growing mold or they have lost their flavor to such an extent that you do not enjoy drinking it anymore. What do you do with these tea bags? Because tea bags have some anti-oxidant and nutritive value, they can be used for more than just making a cup of tea.
- Create a garden feed – brew the tea bags up and water your pot plants with the water. Alternatively, you can feed the garden by breaking the tea bags open and emptying the dry contents into the garden beds before watering the garden.
- Remove bad odors from the house – stash old tea bags in cupboards, drawers, and rooms that seem to have a bad smell. You can also mix the dry leaves into your cat’s litter tray to neutralize odor.
- Use as a carpet sprinkle – if you have washed a stain or smelly mark off a carpet, sprinkle some dried tea leaves on the surface of the drying carpet. The tea leaves will help absorb the moisture and odor. Simply vacuum the leaves away when the carpet is dry.
The simple fact of the matter is that tea bags, when correctly stored, do not actually expire. While they may lose their health benefits, aroma, and taste, they don’t really go bad. Some tea lovers drink tea that is many years old. If you have expired tea in your home that is still sealed, there is every reason to believe that it is absolutely safe to use.