Tea is an ancient drink our ancestors have enjoyed for centuries. This delicious beverage has been a staple in our homes since it was discovered many years ago. Since then, over 3000 varieties of tea have been created. If you have a cupboard full of tea, you may be asking yourself, does tea expire?

There is certain to be at least one that suits your tastes, whether you enjoy a Chai, Darjeeling, Matcha, or green tea there are quite literally thousands to choose from. So, you should come across one you like eventually.

3 Cups of Tea with loose tea on marble counter

As a tea lover, you might be inclined to collect a variety of teas to try and enjoy over a long period of time, or perhaps you are on a quest to find the perfect tea. In any case, will your tea expire before you get through it all, or is it a nonperishable drink you can enjoy at any time?

In this article, we will answer these questions and more. But first, let us look at the origin of tea, and where this delicious drink first came from.

The Origins Of Tea

As with all things of importance, there is an old story that is said to be the origins of this delicious beverage.

This legend begins in 2737 BC when a Chinese Emperor named Shen Nung was sat beneath a tree, he was waiting for his servants to boil the drinking water, so he could quench his terrible thirst.

The story goes that the wind blew some leaves from the tree into the water and when Emperor Shen Nung saw what had happened he decided to try the drink that was accidentally created.

He was a renowned herbalist and wanted to see what properties this new beverage might have. So, he drank the tea, and that is where this delicious beverage came from, according to legend anyway.

But, there is no real way to know if this story is actually true. Regardless, it is a fun story, and imagining this was how this drink came about is a fun thought.

Other stories state that tea was a medicinal drink in China since about the same time period, and continued to be used for medicinal purposes for millennia afterwards. It was not until much later on that tea became an everyday drink and the cultivation process to make it available for everyone truly began.

4 cups of tea on a saucer

How Tea Used To Be Prepared And Stored

So, how was tea stored before all the technology and packaging that we have today? There were many methods used to keep dried tea leaves out of the damp. One such method was to steam and compress the leaves into pricks. This allowed the tea to dry and get preserved with relative ease.

Once the tea brick was dried, you could easily grind as much tea as you needed, add the hot water and make yourself a nice hot cup of tea.

China especially changed its production and preparation methods for tea over time. This was so that the leaves could be shipped to wherever they needed to be without the fear of spoiling. The method they came up with started with rolling the tea leaves by hand, oxidizing the leaves before firing them, this yielded great results and is still part of the method we use to make tea today.

In the late 17th century and early 18th century, tea was stored in silver, china, metal, wooden, or glass containers. Because tea was a valuable commodity at the time, cabinetmakers would design ‘tea boxes’ which held these containers. These cabinets would be lined with containers designed to keep the dampness out so that the tea would not spoil.

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Tea Today

The process of tea making is still a finicky yet simple method, the difference being that today we have automated factories that do a lot of the work for us.

It starts with a process known as ‘Withering’, this is when the tea leaves are still fresh and full of moisture. When the tea first arrives at the factory, it is laid out in large wire meshes in a trough, then air is blown on them, which gently dries out the leaves until they are bendy and ready for the next step in the process.

Clear jars of loose leaf tea

Before the wonders of technology, tea was rolled by hand, today we have a machine that does this all for us. The rolling machine is designed to twist and roll the leaves until they are thin and wiry, breaking a few in the process. This is good and sets the tea leaves up for the next process.

When the tea leaves are oxidized, the color, taste, and strength will be determined through this process. The rolled tea leaves are placed in troughs or laid out on a table, they will be left there for 30 minutes to 2 hours, and be surrounded by a steady temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The enzymes reacting to the air will change the color of the leaves, some will turn a deep brown, while others may go beige or green.

As previously stated, this princess affects the strength of the tea as well, so, a lighter tasting tea will have leaves that are a light brown while a stronger tea will have coppery brown leaves.

The final process is the drying or firing stage, the oxidized leaves are taken through a hot air fryer which reduces the water content of the leaves further. Once this process is complete, the tea leaves will be ready to be sorted and packed into the handy little tea bags we have today.

Does Tea Expire Or Go Bad

Tea as a general rule stays fresh for long periods of time, it will be at its freshest for 3 months for tea bags after manufacturing and up to a year for a tin of loose tea leaves. At the end of this time, the tea is not necessarily bad or expired, it is simply not at its freshest and may not taste as strongly.

In fact, tea is an extremely forgiving beverage. If it is not stored as it should be, in an airtight glass or metal tin, it will merely grow duller in flavor, and you will have a weaker cup of tea than you want. Tea will only ever go bad if it is exposed to moisture or excessive heat, at this point it might go moldy and go bad.

Tea can be affected by moisture, heat, and air, as such, it is best to keep your tea bags or loose tea leaves in a special tea tin. You can also use a mason jar in a pinch. In addition to a good tea tin, it is a good idea to keep your tea in a dark place that is not in direct light or exposed to heat.

Final Thoughts

Tea has been around a long time, it has lasted for generations and is still one of the top beverages in the world. It has a rich history and a fascinating production process, all of which we have learned about in this article.

Of course, we answered the important question regarding tea expiration. The summarized answer to this is that tea is unlikely to expire or go bad unless it is improperly stored or exposed to moisture, heat, or light. So, if you want to keep your tea fresh, make sure to drink it soon after it has been bought so that it retains the beautiful strong flavor. After that, you may end up with a less strong tea, but it will still not be expired.

That is all for this article, now it is time for you to go and make your own steaming cup of tea.