Does Herbal Tea Expire? (No, so here’s how to know if it’s bad)

It seems like everything you can purchase at your local supermarket has some sort of expiration date, include your favorite herbal teas. But does herbal tea expire?

I decided to check it out and here’s what I discovered:

As a general rule, herbal teas do not expire, but instead, simply lose flavor the longer it goes beyond the best-by date. Exposure to moisture can cause mold or mildew, but otherwise, herbal tea will not go bad if kept in a cool, dry place, and ideally in an airtight container.

How long it lasts after the best by date depends on what it’s made of, and the method of storage.

While you can drink herbal tea for quite a bit of time after its “best by” date, it will lose its flavor over time. But that’s only the beginning of the answer. So let’s dig in a little further.

After all, bugs can sometimes infest your pantry. But also, because herbal tea isn’t really tea, it can be more susceptible to mold than black or green tea.

Let’s jump in!

Can I drink expired herbal tea?

As a general rule, brewed herbal tea made from tea bags past their best-by date will be fine to consume. However, once brewed, the tea should ideally be consumed within 5 days as it can mold in the refrigerator.

Bottled herbal tea past its best-by date should be fine to consume unless fruit or other flavorings have been added.

It may just not taste the best. In fact, the “best by” date on tea boxes refers more to the tea’s flavor rather than actual expiration. This means that drinking tea past its expiration, or “sell by” date, isn’t necessarily harmful.

Unless there is mold present or any sort of bug that has found its way into the tea bag, you don’t need to worry too much about getting sick from drinking expired tea.

How long can you keep herbal tea?

Herbal tea bags can be enjoyed with optimal flavor for up to 6 months after the best-by date but should be discarded 24 months past the best-by date as the flavor will have degraded considerably. Just ensure the tea is properly stored in a sealed container in a cool, dark, and moisture-free location.

But it really all depends on how your tea is stored.

To store your tea properly, you can follow these general guidelines:

  • Keep tea away from direct sunlight
  • Store your tea in an opaque jar or tin
  • Keep away from humidity
  • Reduce airflow with a tightly sealed container
  • Keep tea flavors separated to maintain the best flavor
  • Keep away from heat sources and excess warmth

Failing to stick to these storage guidelines can lead to excessive moisture, air, and light exposure. This can cause flavor loss, possible mold growth, and foul odor.

Herbal tea is a bit more volatile than other teas when it comes to flavor loss particularly.

Because it is not actually tea – rather just dried flowers, herbs, and fruits – it is more susceptible to mold and overall decay.

But if you are curious about black or green tea, you can read more about how long tea bags last in this recent article.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do you know if herbal tea is expired?

Almost all herbal teas will have a best-by date on the packaging letting you know when the tea will no longer be as flavorful. But pure herbal teas, whether loose or in tea bags do not expire. Instead, they have a best-by date when the flavor will be optimal.  

There are a few telltale signs that your tea may be going bad or somehow spoiled.

  1. There is an odd smell coming from your tea. This smell can be described as sour, musty, or just anything that is unpleasant and doesn’t smell the way it should. You should easily be able to tell if your tea doesn’t smell right.
  2. There is mold in or on your teabag. This should be an obvious one. You may notice it first on the box or bag. Even if you only see mold on a few tea leaves, it is better to throw it all out to avoid making yourself sick.
  3. Your tea has lost most or all of its original flavor and scent. The tea itself may not necessarily be bad, but you also don’t want to drink a warm cup of water when you’re expecting tea.
  4. Your box of tea is over 3 years old and has been opened previously. Even if nothing else seems to be wrong with the tea – no odor, mold, or bad taste – it’s just best that you throw out any herbal tea that is older than 3 years just to be safe.

How long does herbal tea last in the fridge (once brewed)?

As a general rule, it is perfectly safe to drink your refrigerated herbal tea for up to five days after brewing. But the optimal flavor will be within 8 hours of brewing.

If you are getting close to your tea’s expiration date, you may be looking for a way to use a lot of it quickly so that you don’t waste it.

The best way to do this is by brewing it in bulk and storing it in the fridge. This way you can either drink it iced or reheat it for a hot cup of tea.

So, just how long can you keep that tea in the fridge before it is no good?

This can be a bit of a tricky question. It really depends on how it is brewed, meaning the brewing method, and if anything was added to the final product.

If you are really strict with your iced tea brewing and consumption, it is recommended that you only store your tea in the fridge for a maximum of eight hours. However, we all know that we drink our homemade iced tea for much longer than that.

The flavor may not be as good on day three as it was within those first few hours of brewing. But there shouldn’t be anything off about the tea itself.

To maintain the best flavor, it is best to cold brew your tea.

Brewing with hot water or with the sun tea method doesn’t hold up its flavor as well.

You may also notice that if you add fresh fruit or sugar to your brewed tea, it may actually start to ferment. This can cause it to taste off or even go bad after a bit of time in the fridge.

To keep your refrigerated tea tasting the best it can, follow some of the same guidelines you would for keeping your dried tea fresh.

Keep it in an airtight container or jar in the fridge. Also, try to avoid using sugar in the brewing process; choose to sweeten your tea by the glass, not the pitcher.

Can expired herbal tea make you sick?

No. Herbal tea that has gone beyond its “best by” date should not make you sick unless you see signs of mold or mildew. It may not be as flavorful, but you should be able to drink it without issue.

However, as I mentioned, you need to examine your tea closely before you decide to brew and drink it.

If your tea has been stored in a somewhat damp or humid environment, you will need to inspect it carefully for any sort of mold growth.

This can be the case for both bagged and loose leaf tea. Mold can start growing on the box or bag itself before it makes its way into the tea.

If you notice any mold growth on your tea, do not drink it. It can make you very sick.

You also need to make sure no bugs have gotten into your tea as well. Ingesting a creepy crawler of some sort may not make you really sick. But it won’t be the most appetizing for sure.

To be safe, if you do choose to try your tea past the expiration date, you can brew it for at least five minutes in water that is at least 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

This can help to kill any potential bacteria.

Also, mothers of newborns who are breastfeeding need to be especially careful when drinking herbal teas due to possible risks to their baby (source).

Final thoughts

When it comes to herbal tea and its expiration date, there are a lot of factors that come into play.

We talked about the best storage methods for dried tea; keeping them in an airtight container away from heat and light. And, we also talked about how to tell when your tea has truly expired and shouldn’t be consumed.

Overall, there is no true expiration for herbal tea and it is safe to drink beyond its “sell by” date.

You may just lose some flavor. But you may have an increased risk for bacteria and mold growth if it is left too long in a humid environment. Hopefully, we answered all your questions about herbal tea and its shelf life.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with 3 daughters, practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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