Tea is a shelf-stable dry good that can be brewed and safely consumed long after the best by date on its packaging.
Tea does, however, degrade over time, weakening its flavors and reducing its antioxidant properties.
For the best experience, tea should be brewed within 6 to 12 months of opening, with slight variations depending on the type of tea.
How long does loose leaf tea last?
Loose leaf tea is just processed tea in its most basic form.
After being dried, loose leaf tea is packaged exactly as is into bags or cans.
Generally speaking, loose leaf tea in airtight cans or canisters will last longer than loose leaf tea in bags.
For the best flavor, brew and drink loose leaf tea within 6 to 12 months of opening.
How long do tea bags last?
The tea in teabags is exactly the same as loose leaf tea.
It is just cut differently to provide an easy fit into the tea bags and to prevent tears.
There is nothing in tea bags to speed or slow the aging process of tea.
So, for the best experience, the tea in teabags should be used in the same time frame as loose leaf tea – 6 to 12 months.
How long does black tea last?
Black tea is the most processed of all tea varieties.
It is dried slowly, allowing the tea to oxidize, which is what turns it brown and gives black tea its strong flavor.
Due to this slow-drying, oxidizing process, black tea has the longest lifespan of all teas.
Left in its original packaging, black tea should retain most of its flavor (as well as its caffeine and antioxidants) for at least 12 months after opening.
How long does green tea last?
Green tea goes through a quicker drying process than black tea, preventing the tea from oxidizing as much and retaining more of the original flavor of the freshly-picked leaves.
Since green tea is “fresher,” in a way, it loses its flavor and other properties much more quickly than black tea.
Left in its original packaging, green tea should retain most of its flavor for at least 6 months after opening.
How long does oolong tea last?
Though it shares some properties with both black and green teas, oolong tea is considered neither a black nor a green tea.
Oolong tea is partially-oxidized, giving it a finish somewhere between the two.
This makes oolong the second most processed tea after black tea.
Given that it falls somewhere in the middle, it might make sense that oolong tea tends to last somewhere between black and green teas.
Left in the original packaging, oolong tea should retain most of its flavor for 9 months or more.
How long does white tea last?
It’s not as popular as green tea, but white tea is similar to green tea in its minimal processing.
In fact, it is the least processed tea variety of all.
This makes white tea very susceptible to tea’s four biggest enemies: air, moisture, light and heat.
Left in the original packaging, many white teas will lose their flavor within six months.
How long do tea leaves last?
The tea you purchase for your home lasts as long as it does because it is dried and oxidized (even white tea goes through some oxidation).
Tea leaves that are freshly picked and unprocessed last hardly any time at all.
You can think of them like any other form of plant life or produce. Once picked, the leaves start to wither almost immediately.
That is why tea leaves are typically processed within hours to retain their fresh flavor.
How long does tea last in the fridge?
While tea lasts a long time in its dried form, tea isn’t just dried leaves, it is also a drink.
And, once brewed, tea starts to degrade IMMEDIATELY.
The utterly whack CDC advice is to store tea for no longer than 8 hours in a refrigerator.
Which, of course, sounds insane to those of us who always have a pitcher of tea in the fridge.
Most of us know tea can be stored in the refrigerator for longer than eight hours and still taste fine and not make us feel the least bit sick.
Many of us have probably even had a pitcher of tea go bad, which generally consists of visible mold in the tea or pitcher.
So, as for how long tea lasts in the refrigerator, if you want to be on the safe side, the CDC says 8 hours.
But in our personal experience of drinking tea for decades, we say tea usually holds up and tastes fine for 3 to 4 days.
Shelf Life of Tea
While tea does lose its essential properties (flavor, caffeine, antioxidants) over time, it never actually expires.
Tea doesn’t go bad the way other foods go bad. It doesn’t rot or spoil and can be safely consumed pretty much forever without any danger of getting sick.
That said, if you want to keep tea fresh and tasting good, remove it from the bags or cardboard boxes it comes in and store it (either loose leaf or teabags) in opaque, airtight containers.
Airtight containers stored in a cool, dry place can extend the freshness of tea for months or even years, keeping tea in good flavor for up to three years.
Though it will always be safe to drink. And, as with many things, the fresher it is when brewed, the better it will taste.