Tea leaves, when stored properly, will have a long shelf life. However, the flavor will change with age. So here are some tips on how to tell if your tea is stale and its time to feed it to your garden plants.
- Tastes flat or like paper. Those paper wrapped tea bags are meant to be used quickly, usually under a year. So don’t second guess yourself when you feel like you can taste the tea bag. If you need to keep those tea bags longer, get them into a resealable plastic bag. If it is not tea bag tea, and it tastes like paper, it’s also stale.
- Your tea starts to brew darker than normal. For green and white teas, this will start to come after the one year point. Generally you may not notice it if you are drinking it daily, as the change is gradual. There is nothing wrong with the darker brew, it is just an indication that the tea is aging. Eventually your white tea will brew like a green tea and your green tea will brew like an oolong or black tea if you keep it long enough. To really get the original taste, you need to drink your white teas within 1 year and your green teas in under 2 years.
- If your tea is blended with spices or nuts, the shelf life is dictated by those ingredients and not the tea leaves. Those other ingredients will go stale before the tea leaf does, especially the nuts. So if your favorite blend starts to taste weak or has an odd after taste, it is not your imagination, the other items in the blend have gone stale. If there are nut slivers in your tea, you really should drink it all before the 6 month mark to ensure good flavor. Your favorite chai should be consumed within the year to get the full effect of the cardamom and cinnamon.
- The hardest tea to tell if it has gone stale is black tea. If stored properly, it can hold its flavor a long time. For stronger blacks, you will notice the ending bite fade and the tea will taste more like stale bread. For the softer Chinese blacks, they will develop a bite that wasn’t there before.
Storage is critical to keeping your tea fresh, which you can learn about here. However, drink your tea regularly. It is meant to be enjoyed.