How Long Can You Keep Tea Bags? (do they expire?)

I love all kinds of tea. But since the boxes often have a lot of tea bags in them, I’ve wondered how long can you keep tea bags?

Here’s what I found after doing a little research:

Tea bags can be used for 1-2 years past their best by or expiration date provided they were stored properly. As they age, tea bags simply dry out and lose flavor. Unless exposed to moisture or bugs, they do not expire or go bad. Store tea bags in a sealed container (like a ziplock bag) in a cool, dark place.

But it’s actually not that simple.

So in this article, we’re looking at tea bags and how long they last. But we’ll also look at how to tell when they’ve gone bad. And we’ll explore far past the expiration date it might be safe to use them.

Will it make you sick if you drink expired tea? Yes, we’ll answer that too!

We’re even exploring the differences between regular tea bags and different herbal and green teas. So let’s get started!

Do tea bags go bad or expire?

The short answer is yes. Tea bags can go bad and expire.

When I searched on the internet for information, I mostly found a lot of forums and opinions, so I decided to go right to the manufacturers to see what they said.

While there are dozens, if not hundreds of tea companies, I focused my research on the best-known brands. Here’s what I discovered:

LIPTON

Their teas are date-stamped with a “Best taste date”.

That should not be confused with an expiration date found on perishable grocery items. Best taste dates simply mean Lipton feels the product tastes best when used by that date. It in no way means the product is bad after that date or should not be consumed.

Having said that, tea shelf life varies a little by the type of tea.

Most of their tea bags are designed to be used within 18 months of the production date. Those include:

  • Black
  • Iced Tea Brew
  • Cold Brew Tea
  • Herbal
  • Black Flavored Teas
  • Earl Grey
  • English Breakfast

For their Powdered Iced Tea mixes, they recommend using within 12 months of the production date.

CELESTIAL SEASONINGS

Celestial Seasonings uses a date code to indicate the date when the product should be consumed by.

Here’s how to read that code. It simply shows the day, month and year run together. As an example, “09FEB19” is February 9, 2019.

In Canada, though, the year is the first number and the day follows the month.

But they go on to note that their “Best By” date is, like Lipton, a measure of the taste and quality and not for safety. As they state: “While we cannot guarantee that a tea meets our standards for taste after the “Best By” date, it is perfectly safe to drink when it is past expiration.”

TETLEY

Tetley notes that “Tea does not “go bad like a container of milk.”

They recommend a shelf life of 2 years from the date of production. They also mark their containers with a “Best Buy” date.

They also note that it’s fine to consume their tea up to 2 years after the best by date. Just drink it with the understanding that it may not be as flavorful as it was when it was fresher.

BIGELOW

Like all the others, Bigelow notes that there are no “health or expiration concerns with our teas”.

Like Celestial, they use a date code. Typically, that’s found next to the bar code on the bottom of the box as well as on each tea bag.

Their production code has nine or ten characters. The last of these numbers represent the year. For example, a code ending in 9 means it was made in 2019.

But they also recently started adding a “Best by Date” to their boxes as well.

How do you know when tea goes bad?

As I have noted, virtually all the best-known manufacturers of tea acknowledge that their products are good long past the best by date on the packages.

But, of course, they don’t know you, your kitchen, or how the product has been stored.

But if you’ve kept your tea bags in a ziplock bag in the pantry or a kitchen cabinet, all they are really going to do it dry out (like that container of All Spice you have with your spices). After all, dried spices were once the plant leaves of fresh herbs.

Tea really isn’t much different.

However, if your tea bags ever got wet, moist, or sat out in the sun, it’s possible that they have gone “bad”. So if you have some old tea bags that have been around for 5 years and you just can’t bring yourself to throw them out and buy new ones, look for the following:

  • Smell the tea bags (smell anything unpleasant, musty, or sour? Throw ’em out)
  • Look for evidence of bugs (movement in the tea bags, holes in the tea bags)
  • Obvious mold or mildew

When in doubt, throw ’em out. In most cases, the few bucks for a new container is going to be far cheaper than potentially treating foodborne illness.

How long do tea bags last after best by date?

I covered this above when I researched each individual manufacturer and what their recommendations are.

But as they all noted, their teas (if properly stored), don’t go bad. They just dry out and lose flavor. But as a general rule, here are some guidelines to follow where the flavor will still be decent even long after the best by or expiration date.

Generally, the larger the leaf or the more tightly the tea leaves are rolled, the longer it stays fresh. Typically, the cheaper the tea, the less likely it is to have larger, fresher leaves. Inexpensive teas that tend to have smaller, broken leaves get stale faster since more of the tea is exposed to air.

Do avoid placing tea bags or loose tea in the refrigerator though as moisture is not their friend.

Tea Bags and Loose Tea Cupboard Freezer
  Good After Expiration Date Good After Expiration Date
Black Tea Bags 12-24 Months 2-3 Years
Green Tea Bags 8-12 Months 1-2 Years
Herbal Tea Bags 8-12 Months 1-2 Years
Loose Tea 6-12 Months 1-2 Years
Instant Iced Tea Powder 6 Months 1 Year

Can I drink expired tea bags?

Yes. Tea bags passed their expiration date will simply be older, drier, and less flavorful.

As long as they were stored properly in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, tea bags will be good for well over a year after their best by date.

Black tea will stay the most flavorful past the best by date. By comparison, green and white teas which rely more heavily on oils for their flavor will lose flavor faster.

Herbal teas, which technically isn’t tea at all is probably the most volatile in terms of flavor loss. So use that closer to the best by date than black, green, or white teas.

Just avoid the temptation of steeping the tea longer thinking it will make the flavor better.

While it’s true that older tea bags will make for less flavorful tea, longer steeping time will mostly just make it more bitter. But it does also bring out the caffeine and beneficial flavanols. So over-steeping isn’t all bad.

But unless you see some of the signs I listed above of your tea being bad (bugs, mold, mildew, or an unpleasant smell), brew away; you’ll likely be just fine.

Can old tea make you sick?

As we’ve covered, old tea bags or loose tea are good well past the expiration or best by date and will not make you sick.

As tea ages, it simply gets drier and less flavorful; just like that old pumpkin pie spice you bought last Thanksgiving (or was it the one before?)

But if you’re extra cautious, here are some good recommendations:

  • Brew your tea for at least five minutes in water at least 175°. This kills any potential bacteria
  • Once steeped, avoid storing brewed tea beyond 8 hours
  • Unless being consumed immediately, place brewed tea in the refrigerator
  • Don’t make tea by sun brewing or simply using hot tap water; it won’t get hot enough to kill any potential bacteria

Best way to keep tea bags fresh

Like olive oil (and all oils), tea should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

So don’t just keep the box or tin sitting open on your kitchen counter. Especially don’t keep it near a window or near the stove as heat and light aren’t your friends here.

A kitchen cabinet or pantry is a great place. But since you don’t want any flavors absorbing into the tea, even in a sealed container, I’d keep them away from your spices.

Contrary to some beliefs, most manufacturers do not recommend keeping tea bags in the refrigerator or freezer.

While it can extend the shelf life, the condensation, especially from the fridge, can affect the flavor of the tea. Once you’ve opened the box or tin, a ziplock bag in a pantry is a great way to store them.

Do herbal or green tea bags last longer than regular tea bags?

No is the short answer.

Green tea, like white tea, relies heavily on oils being released when the hot water hits it. Black tea does not have the same compounds. So the older the green tea bag, the more dried out it becomes. This results in fewer oils being in the tea when brewed and a less flavorful cup of tea.

Herbals teas, as I mentioned above, aren’t really teas at all; they are dried flowers or fruits.

Because they are dried flowers and/or fruits, they could be a little more susceptible to mold than “real” teas. But it’s not a cause for concern. Just store them as you would any tea bag; in a sealed container in a cool dark place. And NOT in the refrigerator.

But like green tea, herbal teas won’t be as flavorful past the expiration or best by date as black teas.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about how long you can keep tea bags?

In this article, we took an in-depth look into the world of tea bags and expiration dates.

We explored how long they last if it’s safe to use after they expire, and how to tell if they have gone bad. But we also took a look at different kinds of tea bags to see if one is better than the other in terms of shelf life.

Lastly, we explored some ways you can keep tea bags fresher longer.

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 his wife & 3 daughters, he can usually be found practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Content