Camellia sinensis is a beautiful name that sounds like a magical word, and the truth is it kind of is. It’s the scientific name of the plant that has been a bare necessity for most of us when it comes to relaxation for thousands of years; the tea plant. I personally think there are few things better than a hot cup of soul-warming herbal tea on a winter’s evening.
Having said that, you naturally don’t want to drink old herbal tea that has gone bad. I know I don’t!
So, I did my research, and here’s what you need to know to be on the safer side and keep your herbal tea game on-point. Read on to learn how to make sure each cup you brew is safe to drink and full of flavor.
What is the Shelf Life of Herbal Tea?
The date on your herbal tea package indicates something different than its usual meaning. It’s more of a ‘best-before’ date rather than an expiration date. This is because herbal tea does not naturally ‘expire’ unless it is contaminated with something else.
Instead, it just loses its aromatic qualities and pleasant flavors due to degradation and oxidation over time. So ideally, you should consume your herbal tea within 18 to 24 months from the day it was produced to not waste any of its taste and delicate aromas.
How Long Does Loose-Leaf Herbal Tea Last?
Typical loose-leaf tea should be in good condition for 2 years if it’s not contaminated; however, it all comes down to proper storage. It probably still won’t make you sick after that much time, but it will definitely be less flavorful and aromatic.
Correct storage is even more important in the case of loose-leaf herbal tea, because it mostly consists of a combination of dried tea leaves and dried flowers and/or fruits, which tend to have less moisture and thus, are prone to degrade in quality more than black or other types of tea.
How Long Do Herbal Tea Bags Last?
Herbal tea bags can ideally last about 18 months from the day they were produced. But, again, it comes down to proper storage.
Their expiration date is a bit shorter than their loose-leaf counterpart because the bags are generally filled with fannings (smaller pieces of leaves) and dust (minuscule pieces of tea leaves). If not stored in the right conditions and temperatures they degrade and lose their flavors more quickly.
How to Store Herbal Tea
If you are an avid tea drinker, you should know how to store your herbal tea properly to ensure the best taste and flavor. More importantly, storing your tea in the right environment and conditions helps to avoid spoilage and contamination, and thus, getting sick.
Here’s what I have found to be the best conditions to store your tea in:
The type of container you use really effects the quality of your tea over time due to oxidation. Dried tea leaves and dried flowers/fruits have quite a lot of volatile compounds that are lost to the air over time if left out. That results in a bland, unsatisfying tea.
By using airtight containers, you’ll prevent airborne particles from contaminating your tea.
Avoid humidity and moisture
I recommend avoiding humid places in your kitchen and moisture in general when choosing a place for your tea jar. This is because what makes tea shelf-stable is the fact that it’s completely dried. Dry tea will absorb moisture or any kind of water if it comes in contact with it before use. This will, again, result in a loss of flavor and an unsatisfactory experience.
Avoid heat sources
You should keep your tea jar at a distance from any kind of heat source such as your stove or oven. When herbal tea is exposed to heat, it activates the enzymes in the dried leaves and causes it to degrade in flavor and aroma.
Avoid Direct Sunlight and use Nontransparent Containers
Just like heat sources, sunlight and UV lights will cause your tea to lose its delicate scent and flavor. Because of this, it’s best to opt for a nontransparent container, like a colored glass jar or stainless-steel jar. Keep that jar in a dark place that is not exposed to direct sunlight.
Avoid Contact with Other Smells and Spices
Dried tea leaves and dried flowers/fruits have a tendency to absorb other odors and aromas very easily. Because of this, you should keep your tea and other strong-smelling spices, like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon etc., separate from each other.
What Happens When Herbal Tea Expires?
It all comes down to how you define ‘expiration’. Will herbal tea go bad and make you sick? Probably no. Will it taste the same after its expiration date? I’m afraid this is a no as well.
The expiration date printed on the tin or bag is more of a best-before date rather than an expiration date. Herbal tea won’t spoil and make you sick unless it’s been contaminated with something else, like mold or bacteria. Both of these can be avoided by following the techniques for proper storage listed earlier.
Usually, the worst thing that can happen to herbal tea after expiration is that it may lose its nuanced flavor and pleasant taste. Dried tea will decrease in quality over time due to certain environmental factors that I have mentioned above.
Can You Drink Expired Herbal Tea?
Yes, you can drink expired herbal tea. However, you may not want to. There are a couple of things that you should be aware of before drinking expired tea.
Staleness and loss of flavor
First and foremost, expired herbal tea will be more bland tasting. Even though it is harmless, it will definitely be a dissatisfactory tea drinking experience.
The potent and impressive aroma of your tea will mostly be lost to air. If you want to drink an herbal tea that has a pleasantly hit-you-in-the-face flavor and taste, you should consider buying a fresh bag.
Possible contamination hazards
Expired tea may just be bland, but there is also a chance, albeit small, that it has been contaminated somehow. Bugs may have infested your tea or it may have mold growing on it. There’s also a chance that airborne bacteria can contaminate tea that has been left out for too long.
Whatever the contamination may be, you should look out for it because any of them can make you sick.
But how can you tell if your tea has gone bad? Read on and I’ll explain below.
How Can You Tell if Herbal Tea has Gone Bad?
Thankfully, we all have a built-in survival instinct to warn us of any kind of danger to our health. Apart from some of the telltale signs of spoilage that I’ll talk about, you can rely on your senses and instincts to determine whether your herbal tea is spoiled or not. If you just get a sense that
By its smell
Expired herbal tea will have a musty and unappetizing smell if it has gone bad. It may have gotten moisture from somewhere and have become damp. No matter the reason is, you should discard it immediately.
By its look
If you see discoloration, and even tiny specs of mold on your tea leaves/tea bags, you should not drink it and throw it away immediately. Aside from the bad taste aside, consuming mold will likely make you sick.
How Long Does Brewed Herbal Tea Last?
Let’s say that you brewed yourself a nice cup of herbal tea but now you have to leave it and go because of some emergency, and you don’t want to throw it away?
You can store brewed herbal tea in the fridge for up to 5 days, although it is usually recommended that you consume it within 8 hours for maximum flavor.
You can also opt to brew your herbal tea in bulk and store in fridge for up to 5 days if it’s close to expiration.