Hot beverage drinkers have been subject to various fear-mongering campaigns of recent years warning about moldy coffee or tea and the potential health risks that can come with poor quality ingredients.
If your afternoon is just not complete without a peaceful cup of tea, these rumors may have you worried, too
Can tea bags go bad? Yes, unfortunately, if your tea bags are stored in conditions that lend themselves to bacterial growth, they can become moldy. Even under perfect conditions, over time, tea bags can go stale, making the tea almost as unpleasant as if it were moldy.
Before the panic sets it, this article will explain why and how tea bags go bad, but also how you can stop it from happening so you never have to waste your tea!
Do Tea Bags Go Bad?
Tea bags can go bad, but it’s not common. Many commercially-produced tea bags are individually packaged. This helps to keep your tea bags sterile and safe from packaging to your home.
Once they’re in your possession, you simply have to store the tea bags properly to protect them against going bad.
If you’re not confident in your history of storing tea, it is important to understand that tea bags can go moldy and/or get stale over time.
Can Tea Bags Get Moldy?
Mold can grow on nearly any edible item under the right circumstances. If there is any amount of moisture, there is a risk. That risk increases if there is also warmth and light and food that the bacteria enjoy eating.
Tea leaves are certainly enticing enough for bacteria to want to eat, but if they’re dry, mold won’t be able to develop. It needs moisture to survive or thrive.
If you leave your teabags exposed on the counter in your kitchen, where humidity often fluctuations as you cook foods and clean your dishes, there will be enough moisture to sustain mold.
If those exposed tea bags are also by a window where there is natural light and warmth, the environment for mold growth is nearly perfect.
Does Tea Go Stale?
If you manage to keep your tea bags bone dry, away from all warmth and natural light, the next natural question is does tea go stale? Will your teabags last forever?
Tea will absolutely go stale after a while. But how fast that happens will depend a lot on the quality of the tea and the ingredients in the tea bag. Simple black teas and green teas will stay fresh a lot longer than herbal tea blends.
The more ingredients in a single tea bag, the more the flavor will change over time. This is because not all ingredients will age at the same rate, potentially creating an odd combined effect.
Does Tea Expire?
Tea doesn’t necessarily expire. It will, however, usually come with a date stamped on the packaging. This advises you of when the quality of your tea will start to degrade, assuming you’ve stored it properly.
Depending on the type you have, the shelf-life of tea can vary from 6 months to 2 years or more.
As a broad rule, teas such as black tea or oolong tea that are commercially dehydrated will last longer than herbal teas, or teas with various fruit or herb ingredients.
Herbal teas are often sun-dried, which isn’t as reliable a method of killing pathogens as a commercial drying facility. So this can lead to faster spoilage.
Also, the more varied the ingredients, the more varied the potential for contamination.
Finally, organic tea will not typically stay fresh in your cupboard as long as teas with conventionally grown ingredients.
Even though you may prefer the lack of pesticides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers for your health, it means there’s more potential for contamination. The lack of preservatives also means it simply won’t stay fresh as long.
The exception to this rule is Pu-erh tea. Pu-erh tea is fermented. As such, it actually improves in flavor over time as long as it’s stored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
How Long Can You Keep Tea Bags?
Tea that is properly stored will last a long time because they’re dried. This not only protects against spoilage but also extends the life of the flavors and fragrances of your tea.
While it’s always best to follow the advice of the manufacturer and drink your tea before the best before date comes and goes, you can usually keep tea bags for at least 1–2 years if stored properly.
How Long Do Tea Bags Last After Best-By Dates?
Tea bags are an item that can sometimes be pushed to the back of a cupboard and forgotten about.
If you’ve found a box during your spring pantry clean, you may be wondering if expired tea bags are safe to drink.
If your tea is individually packaged and stored safely, you can make tea years after the best by date without worrying too much about safety. The flavor, however, may no longer be at its best.
To decide if your tea bags are still fresh enough to enjoy, whether or not their best before date is still valid, check these factors before brewing:
- Are there any obvious visible signs of mold on the tea bag?
- Is the tea inside the bag still loose and free-flowing, or has it clumped together into one piece?
- Does your tea smell bad, acidic, or strange in any way?
If there are no visible signs of mold, the tea inside is still loose and free-flowing, and you don’t notice any unpleasant odors, your tea bags are probably still fine to use. Prep your favorite teacup and enjoy!
If you brew a pot of tea and you don’t like the taste, you can discard it to be safe.
The Best Way To Store Tea Bags
To protect your tea bags from getting moldy, you want to make sure they’re safely stored at the correct temperature, humidity, and location.
Making sure your tea bags aren’t exposed to any moisture is the most important step and you can achieve this in 2 ways:
- Make sure humidity levels remain between 50% and 65%. Any higher than 65% and you risk mold, and lower than 50%, and your tea will dry out quicker becoming stale.
- Store your tea bags in a completely airtight container. If no airflow or oxygen surrounds your tea bags, mold cannot grow. Just as importantly, the flavor will stay strong and your tea bags won’t go stale.
Beyond keeping your tea bags protected from moisture and oxygen, you also want to store the airtight container in a temperature-controlled space that stays cool.
You want to avoid temperature fluctuations as much as possible, and keep your tea bags out of direct light, especially sunlight.
Light can break down the fragile flavors and aromas more quickly, turning your tea stale, and it also encourages mold growth.
Can Tea Bags Be Frozen?
Tea bags can be frozen. Storing your tea in the freezer is a great way to prevent mold growth and retain flavor and fragrance for as long as possible.
If you buy your tea bags in bulk, the best way to store some in your freezer is to first transfer the tea bags, whether they’re individually packaged or not, to a freezer-safe bag or container.
This will add an extra layer of protection against the drying air of the freezer and any airborne flavors.
Can Tea Bags Be Composted?
Unless your tea bags come in a fancy, pyramid-shaped plastic tea bag, they can be composted. Not only will traditional paper and natural fiber bags degrade naturally, but the tea inside is nutritious and a great addition to your soil.
You may need to remove plastic-coated paper tags or any staples from the bag, however. It’s also a good idea to check the box if you still have it, as many brands will tell you whether the bag is compostable.
At the very least, the tea inside the bag should always be compostable.
Do Tea Bags Have Caffeine?
Some tea has caffeine, whether it’s loose-leaf or in a tea bag. Black tea has the most caffeine, consisting of slightly less than a coffee of the same size.
Oolong tea, which is similar to a black and green tea combination, is next, with green tea next in line with about half as much caffeine as a standard brew of coffee.
White tea has a very minimal amount of caffeine and herbal teas are generally caffeine-free unless otherwise stated.
What To Do With Expired Unused Tea Bags
Most people who find expired tea bags in their cupboards will simply toss them in the garbage, but as long as there is no mold on the bag, there are uses for your tea even if it’s gone a bit stale.
Consider one or more of these options:
- Use brewed tea in your cooking or baking – even if the flavor isn’t as potent as you’d like it to be for drinking, it can still add subtle flavor and nutrition to your food.
- Include brewed tea in home-remedy skincare mixtures.
- Use to fortify the nutrition in your soil (check for plant preferences first).
- Brew tea and use it as a natural dye for art projects.
- Toss them into your campfire for a more pleasing smoke-scent.
Can You Reuse Tea Bags?
You can reuse tea bags, as long as they haven’t been exposed to air and contamination for too long.
If you don’t like your tea overly strong and you think you’ll be able to make another cup or pot out of a single bag, the best thing you can do is immediately place it in an airtight container to protect it from exposure.
Once it has cooled to room temperature you can store it in your fridge until you’re ready for another cup.