Many of us like to try different types of tea and will have more than one type on the shelf at any one time.
Unfortunately, this means that you run the risk of opened packets of tea going stale!
Modern tea drying techniques mean that most teas retain their fresh flavor for a considerable amount of time, but a stale, weak cup of tea is always a big disappointment.
So, how long does a packet of green tea last? And can you use green tea that is past its expiry date? Green tea does not expire but will lose freshness and develop a stale flavor over time. To preserve the fresh flavor of green tea, it should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
Got a packet of old green tea lurking at the back of the food cupboard? We’ll figure out if you can use it safely after it has expired, and how to tell if it is past its best.
What Is Green Tea?
Tea is an affordable treat that many people enjoy, and most tea fans will prefer different types of tea depending on the time of day.
Black tea is the perfect wake-up call in the morning, chamomile tea is the ideal bedtime drink, and green tea is often the drink of choice for a midday boost.
But what exactly is green tea? Green tea is a type of ‘true tea’ – this means it is made from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. This is the same plant family from which black tea and white tea are harvested; the difference lies in the variety of plant, when the leaves are picked, and how they are processed.
Green tea is grown in China and Japan, where it has been popular for many years. However, green tea is now being increasingly consumed in many other countries around the world, mainly due to its many health benefits.
There are many different types of green tea, but the basic flavor is fresh, mellow, and very refreshing. It is normally slightly sweeter than black tea and contains fewer bitter tannins.
With green tea, the leaves are harvested by hand and immediately dried and preserved using heat. This creates a very different flavor to black tea, where the leaves are left to oxidize before they are dried.
Green tea made in Japan is heated using steam and then dried, while in China it is dried using heat without moisture. This variation in methods gives Japanese green tea flavor notes including grass, citrus, and seaweed, while Chinese green tea is mellower, with nutty, floral, and woody flavor notes.
This fresh-flavored tea is normally consumed alone, without the addition of milk, creamer, or sugar. This can lead people to mistakenly think that green tea is a herbal tea, but like all true teas, green tea does contain caffeine.
Some types of green tea benefit from a squeeze of lemon juice to enhance the citrussy flavor notes.
There is no doubt that green tea has a deliciously fresh taste, but how long will your tea taste this good for? Will green tea expire, or can you enjoy the great flavor for many months? Let’s find out!
Does Green Tea Expire?
Green tea leaves are carefully processed and packaged to keep them fresh for as long as possible. Your packet of green tea will normally be marked with a ‘Best Before’ date. This is a guarantee from the manufacturers that, if used before this date, the food will be in perfect condition.
For green tea, the best-before date can be as long as 36 months, but this depends on the type of tea and how it has been processed and packaged.
After this date, the tea may still be fit for consumption, but the quality may have deteriorated.
The good news is that best-before dates are used for foods that will not be too harmful if they are consumed beyond this date.
The other date commonly referred to is the ‘Use By’ or ‘Expiry’ date, which is for foods that can go bad such as meats and fish. Food that has gone past the use-by date should probably not be eaten.
There is no doubt that the best cup of tea is one made from leaves that are as fresh as possible. But, if stored correctly, you can enjoy the great flavor of green tea for several months.
How Long Can Green Tea Be Stored For?
OK, so we have two different answers to this question! We’ll start with the tea aficionado’s response, and then move on to what the rest of us do in the real world.
Tea fanatics will tell you that tea should be consumed when as fresh as possible to enjoy it at its best.
The delicate, complex flavor and aroma of green tea really get to shine when you brew a cup from a freshly opened packet – there is nothing quite like it!
So, any tea sommelier will tell you that green tea should be consumed at least six months before the best-before date.
After this, the tea will still be drinkable, but the flavor will have started to deteriorate.
Back in the real world, where many of us would struggle to get through a batch of green tea that quickly, it is perfectly acceptable to use green tea right up to the best-before date.
How long this will be will depend on the type of green tea you have purchased. Generally speaking, the larger the leaves, the longer they stay fresh for.
So, large loose-leaf green tea can have a best-before date of up to a year if stored correctly.
Green tea in bags tends to be more finely chopped, which helps them brew faster when added to a cup of hot water. This gives green tea bags a shorter shelf life than loose-leaf tea.
And if you’ve splashed out on some matcha, a delicate green tea powder, this has a shelf life of just a couple of months.
How To Store Green Tea
As with most shelf-stable food products, green tea must be stored correctly to keep it in the best possible condition.
The main detrimental factors that will cause your tea to go stale quickly are heat, moisture, light, and air.
When green tea is exposed to air, the moisture content increases, causing the leaves to deteriorate at a faster rate.
Air will also cause the chlorophyll, which gives green tea its color, to deteriorate and oxidize. You will notice that the leaves turn a brown color, which can happen long before the expiry date.
If you were to accidentally leave an open packet of green tea in direct sunlight for just one hour, it would quickly lose most of its delicate flavor profile and color.
Luckily, if stored correctly, green tea can retain its great fresh flavor for up to a year after purchase.
The ideal way to store loose-leaf green tea or green tea bags is in a container that is airtight and will not allow light in. For this reason, most people choose to store their tea in a tea tin. These are specially designed sealed containers which provide the perfect storage conditions for loose tea.
And not only will tea tins keep your green tea in perfect condition, but they also come in a range of amazing designs that will look great on your pantry shelves!
So, if you’re a fan of different types of tea, it may be time to start building your collection of decorative tea tins.
Glass containers such as mason jars can also be used to store tea. However, as they allow light to penetrate, they should be stored in a dark cupboard. Tea kept in a glass container on a sunny shelf will deteriorate very quickly.
How To Tell If Green Tea Is Stale
So, you found a long-forgotten packet of green tea lurking at the back of the pantry shelves. Is there any way to tell if this green tea is stale without brewing it?
It is not always easy to tell if green tea is stale, but there are certain key signs to look out for.
The first thing to point out is that brewing and drinking stale tea does not pose a health risk to humans. The tea might not be as flavorsome as you would expect but is unlikely to have any detrimental effects on your health.
There are some situations where tea may have gone bad if exposed to air and moisture. This will look very different from stale tea leaves, but more on that later!
Firstly, check that the tea leaves still feel dry and free from moisture. They should have a slightly crispy feel and may crumble when touched. Any hint of moisture will have caused the tea leaves to deteriorate, and they are probably not going to taste good.
Have a look at the color of the leaves. Good quality fresh green tea has a green-brown color. If they have started to darken, they have likely oxidized. This is a key sign that green tea has gone stale.
Another key indicator of whether green tea has gone stale is the smell. Take a good sniff – can you smell a strong grassy odor? If not, your green tea has likely started to lose freshness.
If you are not 100% sure whether your green tea leaves have gone stale, the next step would be to brew up a batch. Pop some tea leaves or tea bags in a heated teapot with hot water. Within a few minutes, you should smell a pleasant grassy aroma.
How To Tell If Green Tea Has Gone Bad
If a packet of green tea has not been stored correctly, the leaves may start to go bad. This is a very different matter from stale tea, as when tea goes bad the leaves will have deteriorated to the point where they should not be consumed.
This normally happens when the dried tea leaves have been exposed to air and moisture. This causes the leaves to begin to rot and they will develop mold. If the leaves appear at all damp then they should not be consumed.
When green tea goes bad, it will also develop an unpleasant odor. Good quality green tea should smell fresh and grassy. If you smell anything different from this, the leaves should be discarded.
What Does Stale Green Tea Taste Like?
Most types of tea are relatively forgiving and will store for a long time if stored correctly. However, the problem with green tea is that the predominant feature of this tea is its fresh flavor. Unfortunately, this is the first thing to be lost when the tea becomes stale!
While old black tea will still brew up to give you a reasonable drink, stale green tea leaves will be less than satisfactory.
The tea won’t necessarily taste unpleasant, but it just won’t have those fresh, zingy, grassy flavor notes that we all adore.
So, to avoid a dull, flavorless cup of tea, ensure that your green tea leaves are stored in an airtight tin and consumed before the best-before date.
Now we’ve got green tea all figured out, let’s take a look at some other common tea-related questions!
1. What Does White Tea Taste Like?
For years we’ve all thought that green tea was the freshest-flavored tea out there, then along comes white tea! White tea has a delicate and intricate taste and is far fresher and grassier than green or black tea.
This delicate flavor is because the buds are picked earlier and are air-dried to prevent oxidization of the leaves. White tea is intended to taste as close to freshly picked tea leaves as possible.
The grassy, floral aroma should smell like the leaves that came straight from the plant!
For the optimum flavor, white tea should be brewed in hot water for 3 to 5 minutes. It is normally consumed without any milk, lemon, or sugar, as these tend to overwhelm the subtle, aromatic flavor profile.
2. What Is The Best Tea To Drink Without Caffeine?
Many of us drink tea every day, and the range and popularity of different tea brands are increasing all the time. But what if you are trying to avoid caffeine – does this mean you’re stuck with dull-flavored herbal teas?
Not at all! There are some great teas without caffeine, and you can still enjoy a hot beverage without adding to your caffeine intake.
The best teas without caffeine include rooibos tea, Chaga mushroom tea, and fruit tisanes.
Cutting down your caffeine intake can have many health benefits, including an improved sleep pattern and reduced anxiety.
3. What Is Brown Rice Green Tea?
Brown rice green tea, also called ‘genmaicha’, is an alternative form of green tea from Japan with many health benefits. Genmaicha is made by blending roasted brown rice and green tea together.
It is also known as popcorn tea, because of the noise the brown rice makes when it is being roasted.
Brown rice green tea was originally developed as a low-budget version of green tea. However, the addition of brown rice to green tea had other unexpected benefits, and this drink is now very popular around the world.
Genmaicha has a more robust and nuttier flavor than green tea. The brown rice kernels are roasted before being added to the tea, giving a more intense taste. This perfectly complements the slightly astringent tang of green tea, resulting in a smoother and more balanced drink.
I pulled up a great youtube video that talks about how to tell if your green tea is expired: