Tea drinkers would have asked themselves this question at least once in their lifetime – Has my tea gone bad? Tea lovers are known to hide stashes of tea in their pantry and discover it after ages and often get struck with this question! With people gifting tins of tea or one collecting tea from their travels, its somehow bound to happen that an old hamper sits around unnoticed for a while, and once found makes us wonder if we can really consume it. Well, the good news is that tea, as much as it’s a magical drink, is also very forgiving and relatively stays fresh if stored properly.
Does Tea have an expiration date?
Tea does go into the category of “best before” items but certainly does not expire like milk. The way tea expires in the true sense, is it losing its aroma, flavour and taste. This happens when tea leaves are stored improperly or kept away for an absurd period of time. We can prolong the shelf life of tea by storing it well which would of course not happen if its hiding behind a bottle of wine!
Green teas are known to have the shortest shelf life which is because they are unfermented. On the other hand, black teas can stay fresh over longer periods. It is in fact said that black tea was oxidised so it can stay longer especially during long transportation to other countries.
The trickiest of all teas in terms of storage would be Japanese green teas. They are grassy and have a fresh aroma, hence shorter shelf life and the need for proper storage.
Light oolongs are also bright green and fresh requiring great care for storage. With time and improper storage, these teas lose their aromas and turn grey while brewing.
In summary, black and dark oolongs are best before 3 years while green teas and light oolongs are best consumed within two years.
How to store Tea well
A wise tea drinker always stores his tea well. The best place to store tea is in a cool and dry place, preferably the pantry but of course not the topmost shelf. Now you wouldn’t want to lose sight of it, would you? In the absence of a pantry, any normal cupboard would do, a place away from heat and air source. If the package is opened, its best to seal it back tightly. The presence of air circulation is what ages a tea. If you ever feel that the packaging cannot be sealed tightly then move it an air tight container.
It is interesting to note that white teas are the most peculiar of the lot. When stored properly, it has very good shelf life but when aged (probably because of air circulation), it could even get better in terms of taste and flavour! There’s a famous Chinese saying around this – one year its tea, two years makes it a medicine, seven years transforms it to treasure. Now there’s one reason why you can buy white tea in bulk and forget it for a sweet surprise!
This is how you know if your tea is still fresh
You might know by now that tea does not really go bad but for improper storage conditions. This brings us to the point that just because it is safe to consume old tea, it doesn’t mean it would retain its original flavour and taste. They do gradually degrade in terms of quality. The very first cup of tea brewed from a tea box might not stay the same after a decade. The only way to know if your tea is not fresh would be to check if it tastes stale or if the brew looks a different shade. Also once brewed its good to consume tea immediately, its never a good idea to reheat a cup of brewed tea which has been sitting on the counter for long.
What to do if at all tea loses its flavour
The best thing about tea is that it need not be discarded even if it goes stale. It always has ways of finding meaningful purposes just like it was at its prime!
Tea leaves are wonderful as odour absorbers in the kitchen, refrigerator or bathroom. They’re also an excellent supplement to your garden. Use them as a fertilizer and watch your plants bloom like never before!