In my recent article Do Coffee Beans Expire?, I talked about the apocalypse.
And the potential lack of caffeine that might come with said apocalypse.
Hey, it’s a valid concern.
So, if you’re worried about your tea habit in a post-apocalyptic world, just like in the coffee article, I come bearing positive news.
Tea bags DO NOT GO BAD. Like coffee beans and ground coffee, teabags and loose leaf tea never actually expire.
They do get less pleasant tasting as time goes by, but since they won’t ever make you ill, you can always give them a try.
Do teabags expire?
If the question is “Do teabags go bad?,” the answer is both yes and no.
No, teabags don’t go bad. Not in a way that will make them unsafe to drink.
They don’t spoil. They don’t rot.
Teabags can, however, go bad in terms of flavor and caffeine content.
Tea (both loose leaf and the tea inside of tea bags) does degrade, and that starts almost immediately upon their picking.
Once processed, light, air, moisture, and heat are all destroyers of the magical properties in tea, which is why packaging tells you to store tea in dry, dark and cool places.
Do tea leaves expire?
Tea leaves are simply what’s inside of teabags (though they are sometimes cut bigger in loose-leaf teas), so they are subject to the same rules as above.
They don’t spoil or rot.
But they do lose flavor, caffeine, and nutritional properties as they degrade.
Do teabags go stale?
Yes. That may be the best way of putting it.
While they don’t go dangerously bad, teas do go unpalatably bad.
The expiration date listed on teabags is based on flavor, not danger.
Barring contamination, you can safely use teabags after the expiration date listed. (In some cases, long after.)
It just may not taste as good.
Does Green Tea Expire?
Despite the fact green tea (and white tea) is less processed than black and darker teas, it still uses the same processing technique for preservation.
This process dries the leaves out, turning the tea into a shelf-stable food item.
Like black and darker teas, green tea is safe to drink at any time (barring contamination), no matter how many decades have gone by.
However, green (and white) tea is less processed than black and darker teas, which means it degrades faster.
Like black tea, it will lose flavor and caffeine as it ages.
It will also lose those precious antioxidants that makes tea, but green (and white) teas especially, a healthful choice for many.
If you’re into green (or any) tea for its health benefits, you’ll want to drink it as quickly as possible after processing.
You’ll get your best antioxidants and flavor early on.
Expired Tea/Expired Tea Bags Risks
Just because tea leaves and teabags don’t go bad doesn’t mean there are not some potential risks in brewing up old teas.
The main risk in old, expired loose leaf tea or teabags is mold.
The good news is this should be easily visible growing on the tea and occurs only when tea is exposed to too much moisture.
If you’re uncertain about using old teabags, it’s always a good idea to break one teabag open and look for signs of mold before brewing and drinking.
If the tea is stored in a non-airtight container, it may also be contaminated by other substances or pests.
Unless the contaminant is something that has been sprayed on the tea (like a household cleaner or pesticide), any contaminant should be easily visible.
It is highly unlikely tea (even years old) will be contaminated with a substance that cannot be seen or smelled prior to brewing.
Can You Drink Expired Tea?
Safely? Yes. Absolutely.
The question is, can you personally drink expired tea?
Will it be palatable to you?
There’s only one sure way to find out.
Before brewing a long-expired tea, just make sure to give it a smell test first.
If the tea still smells like tea, it will probably still taste like tea.
And, as long as it’s not contaminated, it is always safe to drink.