If you’ve got an old tea you’re not sure of, you’ll want to know if it’s expired or not. No worries, you’re not alone. I once found this 3 year old black tea in my mother’s pantry and it was completely gone. No flavor at all.
But how to you tell if your tea is expired ? And is there a difference between tea expiring and tea losing its flavor ? We’re going to touch on both here, starting with the ‘spoiled, do not eat’ version.
1. You notice a dank, pungent smell coming from your tea
This is the first, and most obvious sign, I know. But it’s still something some people ignore, somehow. When you bought your tea, you were very aware of how the tea was meant to smell, taste, and even feel in your hands.
This is the same story, whether you use loose leaves or teabags.
A moist, dank smell will be coming from your tea is you’ve kept in in a high humidity room, with some airflow for the tea to get the humidity from. This partially brewed your tea.
If it’s been left like this for several months, or even a year, then you might just find a very musty smell in your tea.
So why do some people still drink this bad tea ? Well, some people simply have a very poor sense of smell.
Your tea might not look very different, and it might not be overly moist when you take it out of its box. Smell is the key point here, and some people are just not good with smells, unless they’re obviously bad.
So if someone with a very fine nose were to smell the dank tea, they’d immediately know something was wrong. But if you had a poor sense of smell, or had a cold, or were a heavy smoker (not including vaping here), then your nose won’t pick up on the odd notes.
Aside from all this, some people simply aren’t attentive to details, even in cases like this.
So if you know your nose is not the best, ask a sharp-nosed friend to take a whiff of the tea. They might be able to tell you if it’s gone or not.
You can also try it with a cat or dog, since both have keen senses of smell. Though they might recoil even from a regular, safe tea so keep that in mind.
2. You find mold in your tea, even if it’s just on a few leaves
Another obvious sign, but more insidious than a dank smell. Mold can grow on pretty much anything, even if it’s not entirely organic.
But if you’ve got a box of tea, so you’ve got teabags, and the mold started in one tiny corner at the bottom of the box, you might not notice it at first.
It might be a small patch, it sometimes does not smell, especially of the tea retained some flavor. And drinking a cup of tea made from a bag that sat in a moldy box or tin is going to give anyone a bad time.
Now if you’ve got loose leaf tea, this is even more important since mold can easily find new territory, moving from one leaf to the other. And you can’t really take out the leaves and not have them fall to the bottom of the box, where the mold might be.
Best to take the leaves out on a clean paper towel, and few pinches at a time, and check them if you’re not sure.
If there is a problem, you’re going to find it.
With teabags this is easier to do, since the teabags are easier to handle and halt the time they’re individually wrapped anyway.
So if you do find mold on your tea, don’t drink it. Try and check it every few months, if you know you’re not drinking it often. Better yet, try and get smaller batches so it doesn’t have time to go bad.
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3. All flavor and scent is gone from your tea
When your tea’s completely lost its scent and flavor, it might be too far gone. Even if there is no mold or dank smell, you can be pretty sure you shouldn’t be touching that tea. There’s nothing left in that tea.
You can try making a cup of tea from this tea if you really wanted to, but you’d probably only find a very dull, watery brew.
This can happen when your tea’s been left in contact with air, like out in the open. Or if you left it in a tea tin, but didn’t close it properly so now the tea’s lost its flavor.
This can also happen if you leave the tea in a very well closed jar, but it’s transparent and catches direct sunlight. That too will ruin the tea, and pretty much erase any flavor from the tea leaves.
This is true for true teas and herbal teas as well. Herbal teas are more sensitive, and they fade much quicker than true teas. So for example if you’ve got a mint tea, with actual mint leaves that were sun-dried and you kept them for a year, they’re gone.
4. The tea is over 3 years old and has been opened before
If your tea’s been opened before, this is definitely something you should remember. Try and write down on the ta box or tea tin the date you opened it, so it will give you an idea of how long it’s been sitting there.
If it’s past 3 years, don’t even bother checking the tea. Most teas last for up to 2 years, at the latest. Green tea only lasts for a year.
Pu’er tea, once you break it from its original brick and place it in a tea tin, will only last for 2 years as well. The brick will last longer.
But what if you’ve got a box if tea, with teabags, still sealed, and it’s 4 years old ?
Well, I would recommend you throw it out, just to be safe. Even if the tea were to be safe, ad still have a bit of flavor, erring on the safe side is best in my opinion.
After all a box of tea is just tea. No point in risking an upset stomach or worse for a few dollars.
And if you’ve got a box with teabags that’s not sealed, and was forgotten somewhere in the back of a cupboard for the past year, you can pretty much throw it out.
Tea expiring VS tea losing flavor
Now let’s touch on this important distinction. Tea expiring means the tea is not safe to drink, at all. As it, it would be a health hazard. This involves mold, bugs in your tea, weird smells, sticky leaves, and so on.
But what about tea losing flavor ? That’s a much tamer version of expired tea, since it’s still drinkable. As in, it would not harm you if you were to drink the brew made from such a tea.
The flavor would be very much gone, the scent as well, and you’d probably need to make tea with more bags or leaves. This is never worth it, and in my opinion tea’s gone bad when it’s lost its flavor as well.
So it’s best to get yourself tea in smaller batches, that you’re sure you can enjoy within 6 months or a year.
Tea’s ‘best by’ date is for flavor, not food safety
What about the ‘best by’ date on the box if tea you just bought ?
That’s more of a guideline in terms of the eta keeping its flavor, rather than the tea becoming a health hazard.
So if you were to buy a box of tea that has a best by date labeled 4 months from now, you’ll know it’s already on its way to losing its flavor.
And if you were to find one that claims it’s good for another 2 whole years, then you can pretty much believe that it’s going to keep its flavor for that long, as long as you keep it sealed.
Once you’ve opened the box of tea, loose leaf or not, it will quickly lose its potency. Especially if you drink several cups a day, and keep opening and closing the box or tin to get another teabag or some leaves.
If you’ve got a nice brick or cake of Pu’er, then there is no expiration date or best by date. Pu’er tea ages like a wine, and you can age it as much as you’d like. I’m sure there is a point past which it’s not safe to drink anymore, but I don’t know when that is.
Keeping tea properly will keep the tea safe
Okay, so how do you make sure the tea doesn’t lose its flavor, and doesn’t get moldy and dank ?
You store it properly, is what you do. I’m going to give you the general guidelines here, though a much more in-depth version will be here.
- Keep tea away from direct sunlight, use an opaque jar or tin
- Keep tea away from humidity, it will slowly extract the tea and will promote mold growth
- Do not allow any kind of airflow into your tea
- Store one tea flavor separately from any other flavors or spices or coffee
- Do not use wooden boxes, except for Pu’er teas
- Keep your tea away from any heat sources, or warm rooms
This can all be achieved by using a proper tea tin or tea caddy, and making sure you keep the tea in a cool place. The kitchen can be a very bad place for tea, if you cook often and for longer periods of time.
Making sure the tea you drink is both flavorful and not a health hazard will be easy enough, as long as you keep these signs in mind.
And using the proper storage methods will also ensure that your tea does last for a few months longer. Otherwise you’ll be very unhappy with your tea.
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