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Does Tea Expire? How to Store Your Tea So It Lasts Longer

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Does Tea Expire? How to Store Your Tea So It Lasts Longer

Does Tea Expire? How to Store Your Tea So It Lasts Longer

October 21, 2021

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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."


loose leaf tea stored in resealable bagsloose leaf tea stored in resealable bags
loose leaf tea stored in resealable bags

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.

"Best Before" dates - what does a tea expiration date really mean?"Best Before" dates - what does a tea expiration date really mean?

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.

Laoshan green tea vs. Laoshan black tea
fresh picked Laoshan tea leaves

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 oolongs with a clear age statement

How Long Is Pu’er Tea’s Shelf Life?

Pu’er (普洱) - sometimes spelled pu erh or pu-er - was an accidental discovery that proved some teas can actually become even better with age. Pu’er teas do not expire, and both sheng pu’er and shu pu’er are prized for the complexity they can develop over decades.

Interested in aging your own pu’er? Explore our top picks, and follow these tips:

  • Avoid big factory labels that do not disclose their growers and sources

  • Look for pu’er from small family workshops and biodiverse plots

  • Good in, good out: pu’er with aging potential should also taste great when it is young

Does Green Tea Expire?

Green tea has the shortest shelf life of all teas. Fresh seasonal green tea is sweet - not bitter - and deeply aromatic. It can last for up to a year but, because green tea does “go bad,” it is best to drink green tea within six months.

  • Look for seasonal green tea that lists both picking date and farmer

  • Drink spring harvest in the spring and autumn harvest in the autumn

  • Use older green tea for cold brew or cooking

How Long Does White Tea Last?

White tea is finished to lock in the freshest “tea” flavor possible, and well made white tea lets the natural flavor of the fresh leaves shine for months after picking. For fresher, green flavor, drink white tea within one year of harvest

White tea can also be aged and - if properly stored - white tea does not expire. Instead, well-crafted white tea can develop deeply woody and herbaceous flavors over time.

  • For fresh, sweet, floral flavors, drink white tea within a year of picking

  • After a year of aging, white tea becomes darker and more toasty

  • After many years of aging, white tea becomes cooling and spiced

Does Herbal Tea Expire?

Herbal tea’s shelf life is no different than green tea. Since most herbal teas (also called tisanes) are generally finished through simple drying, they are not ‘heat-fixed’ like black teas. Therefore, herbal teas are best brewed within a year of picking

Some tea farmers - like the He Family in Laoshan and the Zhenyuan Dongsa Cooperative in Qianjiazhai -  are applying experimental tea craft to herbal teas. This additional craft extends the shelf life of our partners’ herbal teas

  • Look for herbal tisanes that say when they were picked

  • Try herbals from farmers that are applying tea finishing techniques to herbal tea

  • Use stale herbal tea for mixed drinks and cooking