Although loose leaf tea is not perishable, tea does expire. In fact, by the time most tea hits the supermarket shelves, those teas are already old and past their prime.
What does this mean for tea lovers who want to know how long their teas should last? We talked to the tea farmers themselves to find out how to store tea properly, how soon to drink tea after picking, and which teas actually get better with age.
Freshness matters. Fresh tea tastes sweeter, and fresh teas are more aromatic, more complex, and packed with more antioxidants. That's why everyone goes crazy for fresh spring tea, and that's why so many tea lovers want to make sure their favorite teas do not go bad.
Luckily, expired tea is something you can avoid if you know what to look for and how to store your tea properly: seek out teas that list their picking date with transparency and keep your tea away from light, heat, and moisture to keep them tasting great.
"Seek out teas that list their picking date, and keep your tea away from light, heat, and moisture."
Can Tea Expire?
To answer this question, it is important to understand what a tea expiration date really means. The expiration date printed on a tea package does not actually tell you if a tea is fresh or not. Instead, the expiration date on a bag of tea only shows how long the seller is willing to take responsibility for consistency and for product safety, not how long the tea actually tastes good.
So, does tea go bad? Not exactly. High quality tea kept dry and sealed is safe to drink indefinitely. In fact, that’s why people crafted tea in the first place - fresh tea leaves can’t last as long as teas that have been crafted into green tea, black tea, oolong tea, and others.
However, while good tea does not go bad, it can go downhill, losing sweetness, complexity, and antioxidants as the leaves undergo a variety of chemical changes - especially if your tea is left out.
Lighter teas like green tea “expire” the fastest, while black teas and roasted oolongs hold their flavor and quality much longer. Some teas like pu’er are finished in a special way that lets them actually get better with age, like wine.
How Long Does Loose Leaf Tea Last?
Before you worry about how long a tea has been in your cupboard, consider how old a tea might be before it even reaches the shelf. Most tea stores do not source teas directly from the farmers growing and making their teas. Instead, teas pass through layers of distributors and importers around the world, and this means teas can easily be over a year old before you even buy them.
On the other hand, teas coming directly from small family farms are more likely to be fresh and flavorful. Direct sourced teas provide clear picking dates, and these teas have a much shorter journey from the farm to your cup.
In general, your tea should taste great for about one year after it was picked. Different tea styles do have different shelf lives, but if you get a fresh tea and you store it carefully, you can get the most out of your tea while it is still good.
How Long Does Black Tea Last?
The first black teas came from Wuyishan, China, and became an overnight hit in Europe thanks to their long shelf life. Black teas are fully oxidized - this gives them a longer shelf life than green tea, as well as sweet and malty flavors.
Because of oxidation, quality black tea can last for two years, and certain aged black teas can be enjoyed even longer.
• Always look for loose leaf black tea with a picking date listed
• Drink black tea within two years to enjoy their full flavor and aroma
• Expect aged black tea to take on deep woody flavors
Does Oolong Tea Expire?
Green oolongs are meant to be enjoyed within one year, while roasted oolongs can generally last for two years. Some oolongs are actually finished with aging in mind and last for decades, getting better, like wine. It all depends on how the tea was crafted.
• Greener oolongs are aromatic and hyper seasonal.
Make sure to choose teas with clearly listed picking dates
• Most roasted oolongs are allowed to rest for a few months after they are crafted.
Once release, roasted oolongs last for about two years
• Aged oolong teas are crafted specifically to last decades.
Look for aged oolo