Do Tea Bags Go Bad or Expire? (How To Tell & 3 Free Shelf Hacks)

Teas are universal. Cultures around the world include tea in ceremonies, celebrations, and everyday life. You can hardly visit a home or office without finding a box or two of these tasty leaves. Since tea boxes usually contain many servings, do tea bags go bad or expire? How long do tea bags last once opened?

Yes, tea bags can technically expire, but this doesn’t mean the tea will go bad. The date printed on a box of tea is the “best by date.” The manufacturer guarantees the tea will maintain the best quality if consumed before this date. After the date, the tea is still okay to drink as long as there are no visible signs of mold or strange smell, but the quality may be diminished.

You will likely find a “best by date” on tea bags rather than an expiration date because the producers feel that the tea will taste better when used before that date. So, what happens after the best-buy date? Does the tea magically go bad? Do you need to throw the tea bags away?

If stored correctly, chances are your tea bags will not go bad by the best-by date. At least not in the sense that drinking will make you sick. The longevity of tea bags is greatly affected by the type of tea and the way it is stored. Black tea has a longer shelf life than green tea. Tea bags stored in air-tight containers have a longer shelf life than those not.

Do tea bags go bad or expire?
Do tea bags expire or go bad?

How long can you keep tea bags?

You’re not alone if you open your kitchen cabinet and find a few boxes of forgotten tea bags shoved in the dark recesses. I opened my own tea and coffee cabinet and found some Chai Roobios tea bags with a best-by date of December 2015. Yep, over 7 years old!

Researchers have found that tea does lose some of its antioxidant effects after 4 months. Over time, the flavor and scent of the tea will also diminish. If stored properly, the tea bags are still okay for consumption, but it may take more tea bags and a longer steep time to achieve the same taste effects.

There is no tried and true answer for how long you can keep tea bags. I’ve had some for 7 years, and after making myself a cup, it tastes just fine. Maybe it’s not quite as strong and flavorful as it was at purchase, but it still satisfies my cravings for a warm cuppa.

The integrity of my old tea is primarily due to the way it was sealed. Each individual tea bag was sealed in a paper wrapper. If I had just thrown the naked tea bags in a drawer, I’m sure they wouldn’t have fared as well. A Tufts University professor states that the “flavor and phytochemical content can be maintained for up to two years” when stored properly.

Larger-leaf teas tend to last longer than their smaller, broken-leaf cousins. Highly oxidized teas like black tea have a longer lifespan than low oxidized teas like green tea.

How do you know when tea goes bad?

It is easy to tell if your tea has gone bad by doing both a visual and olfactory inspection. If you see the presence of mold or mildew or notice an off-putting odor, it’s time to retire the tea for drinking purposes. Below is a list of ways to test your tea. When in doubt, treat yourself to a new batch.

Weird smell

This is the first and clearest sign that indicates your tea is past its prime. Your tea should have a smell indicative of the type of leaves. Fruit teas will smell, well…fruity. Chamomille should smell herbal. Chai should smell spicy. They all should smell pleasing. If you detect a weird smell, it’s time to upgrade your tea stash.

Storing tea in a high-humidity area can affect the smell. Dampness can cause a musty smell.

Remember my 7-year-old tea? It passed the sniff test. It still smells like Chai Roobios tea – slightly spicy with hints of cinnamon and ginger.

Presence of mold

Another easy way to check the condition of your tea is to inspect it visually. This may require you to open a tea bag to see what lurks inside. In some cases, you might find mold on the leaves. This is likely due to moisture getting inside the tea container. Mold is dangerous if consumed, so throw out any tea bags with visual signs of mold or mildew.

Loss of scent and flavor

Chances are, if you have some 10-year-old tea bags lying around, they won’t smell or taste as strong when brewed as they did when you bought them.

Prolonged exposure to air is the likely culprit when tea loses its scent and flavor. The smaller the tea leaves, the quicker they will dry out when put in direct air contact. This is why proper storage is so important.

If your tea has a weird smell, throw it out.
If your tea has a weird smell, throw it out!

Can old tea make you sick?

Drinking old and expired tea shouldn’t have any health implications unless it was moldy. If you notice stomach upset after drinking, then discontinue use. Brewed tea should be stored in the refrigerator to protect it from spoilage.

If you want to be extra cautious when brewing tea bags that are out of date, follow the following guidelines:

  • Make sure you brew your tea for a minimum of 5 minutes in water at 170°. This will get rid of bacteria contained in it.
  • Once steeped, do not store brewed tea for a period longer than 8 hours.
  • If you are not ready to drink the tea immediately, place the brewed tea in a refrigerator.
  • Do not make tea by using hot water from the tap or by sun brewing. The heat generated from these sources will not be enough to get rid of the bacteria if present.

Can tea bags grow mold?

Tea bags can grow mold if stored in certain situations. Mold growth is affected by extreme temperatures, high humidity, and air.

Let’s look at these environmental factors that contribute to mold growth:

Temperature: Temperatures between 60°F and 80 °F are ideal for mold to grow. This is also the temperature range in most of our homes. This is why the elimination of the next two factors is so important.

Humidity: Mold is a common food problem. Mold has a greater chance of growing in areas with high humidity. Make sure to store your tea in an area where humidity levels are ideally below 60%. Once humidity levels hit 70%, mold growth can get out of hand quickly.

Air Quality: Just like humans, mold requires air to live and survive. This is why air-tight storage of tea bags is so important. Many tea manufacturers sell tea bags in vacuum-sealed containers for this very reason.

If you see mold, treat yourself to new tea bags.
Throw away moldy tea bags

How can you extend your tea bag’s shelf life?

Storing your tea bags the correct way will extend their shelf life and avoid waste. Air, heat, moisture, and light are common elements that can zap your tea bags’ quality. To ensure top flavor and smell, follow these storage tips:

1. Use air-tight storage

Many tea bags come individually wrapped in paper. For an extra layer of protection, keep them in an air-tight tin or sealed in a Ziploc bag.

2. Store in a cool, dry place

Moisture causes mold to grow. Keep your tea bags moisture-free by storing them away from steam and water. Heat can destroy antioxidant properties. Choose a cabinet away from the stovetop and sink. Do not store tea bags in the refrigerator.

3. Keep away from direct light

Direct sunlight breaks down the tea’s flavonoids. Try to find a storage spot away from the harsh, afternoon sun.

What can you use old tea bags for?

If your tea bags have seen better days, you don’t have to throw them in the garbage can. Old tea has a number of practical uses. Let’s look at a few creative ways to recycle tea:

1. Tenderize meat

After steeping your old tea bags, pour the tea over raw meat like steak or chicken for a flavorful marinade that will tenderize.

2. Absorb odors

Dry tea bags can absorb less than pleasant odors. Try them in stinky tennis shoes or gym bags.

3. Amend soil

As long as the tea bag material is biodegradable, you can use it in your house plants or garden soil. Tea bags scattered around your houseplants help them retain moisture. You can also brew old tea bags and water your garden with the tea to help out plants that thrive in acidic soil.

4. Reduce skin inflammation

Green tea is a popular ingredient in skin care products today. If you have old tea bags, use them to reduce eye puffiness or cool a sunburn.

5. Get creative

Brewed tea can be used as a fabric or paper dye. It can also be used as a natural alternative for Easter egg dyeing. Brew strong tea and apply it to your creation. The longer it sits, the richer and darker the color will be.

Summary of “Do tea bags go bad or expire?”

As a general rule, tea bags don’t go bad or expire. The date printed on the tea bag package is the “best-by date.” Tea manufacturers use this date to communicate how long they guarantee the tea will taste the best. If stored correctly, tea bags can still be good to use after this date; however, the taste and smell may decline over time.


Can tea bags last 10 years?

Tea bags can last 10 years if stored correctly, although the taste and scent will decline.

How do you know if tea bags have gone bad?

You know if tea bags have gone bad by doing both a visual and olfactory inspection. They shouldn’t be used for drinking if you see visible mold or notice an unpleasant odor. If the tea bags have lost their scent and flavor, they are past their prime.

How long do tea bags keep?

Experts say tea bags can keep their properties for 2 years if stored properly in an air-tight container in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. It is possible to extend this time, but the taste may not be as pleasing when brewed.