Yes, Tea Will Spoil Just Like Any Other Food in Your Kitchen—This Is the Easiest Way To Tell if It’s Gone Bad

Photo: Stocksy/ Marc Tran
Though it’s usually blatantly obvious when bread or berries have gone bad—they're mushy and moldy—other foods aren’t as visibly easy to detect if they’re past the point of no return.

Case in point? Tea. We spoke with Navdeep Kaur, director of education at Dona, a company that sells tea leaves, concentrates, and spices from farms around the world, who shared how to tell if tea is bad—because unlike a soggy strawberry, tea requires a bit more of a closer look (plus smell, plus taste) to really tell its freshness state. But rest assured: Inspection is easy with the help of this tea expert’s tips, which take no more than a minute to complete.

Experts In This Article

How to tell if tea is bad, according to a tea expert

According to Kaur, calling upon your senses to scope out a bad batch of tea is one of the easiest ways to tell if it’s actually gone bad. “Bad tea leaves lose color, smell, and taste,” Kaur says.

In terms of color, it’s helpful to know what a fresh batch of the same tea looks like so you can do a before-and-after comparison and scope out the differences between them. But when that’s not an option, and all you have at hand is only the container of tea in question, relying on taste and smell can help point to other tell-tale signs that your tea has gone bad or if it’s ready for brewing.

For starters, giving the tea a whiff before you start boiling the water to brew a cup is usually a great way to tell if it’s fresh or not; the stronger the aroma, the fresher it likely is. “The essential oils in the tea leaves evaporate, causing it to no longer be potent, fragrant, and flavorful,” Kaur says.

But if you’re still unsure based on your sniff test alone, the next best thing to do is make a cup and give it a taste. According to Kaur, fresh tea should be fragrant and flavorful; if it lacks aroma or has a stale aftertaste, it’s likely past its prime. (That being said, while flavored tea is prone to insect infestation, it’s rare for tea to develop mold in the first place.)

For starters, giving the tea a whiff before you start boiling the water to brew a cup is usually a great way to tell if it’s fresh or not; the stronger the aroma, the fresher it likely is.

Which types of teas last the longest?

“Just like any other perishable good, tea expires, loses flavor, and deteriorates with time,” Kaur says. However, some teas tend to expire more quickly than others. “Teas which are not oxidized—like green and white—have a shorter shelf life than the ones which are fully or partially oxidized, roasted, and fermented, like black, oolong, pu’erh tea,” she says.

How to store tea to prevent it from going bad

The key to preventing tea from going bad is to slow down oxidation and exposure to elements like oxygen, heat, and light. “When left in contact with air and out in the open for long, tea loses its flavor and freshness,” Kaur says. Thus, an ideal storage container for tea should be air-tight and kept in a cold, dark, dry place in your home. And if matcha is your tea of choice, Kaur recommends storing it in the refrigerator to preserve its freshness for even longer.

Of course, even if your favorite tea has sadly spoiled, there are still great ways to make the most of it—and not simply pour your money down the drain. According to Kaur, you can use stale tea for other DIY projects around your home. “Tea leaves can be used as compost for soil and painting or dyeing fabric,” she says.

But that’s not all; if tea has simply lost its potency—and isn’t actually rotten, it can still be consumed. “Teas that have lost their flavor and aroma could also be used as toppings in soups or broths and as a skincare product—like a facial scrub or brewed to make a refreshing facial spray,” Kaur recommends.

BTW, do you get tea headaches? You may have an intolerance or sensitivity.

This herbal tea is ideal for calming you before heading to bed:

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