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Jan 7, 2013 09:36 AM

Loose tea in tins- how long does it keep? Does loose tea in never-opened sealed tins expire?

I've got several tins of loose tea that have been in the pantry for at least a couple years, and some tins that have been in the pantry for more than 5 years. Does the tea expire or go stale, if the tin has never been opened? With tins that have been opened, how long is the tea still considered good enough to drink?

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  1. I don't generally make a cup of tea more than 2-3 times a month. I used to buy loose Constant Comment in a tin because the unit price is lower. But I found, time and again, that it became stale before I was even halfway through the tin. The effect is probably magnified in the case of CC because of the volatile oils in the citrus peel. I switched to the individually-enveloped bags many years ago. I can't recall how long the loose was good for, ir if unopened tins last longer but I rather doubt it. Worst case scenario is that the tea will be flat or weak, and you may be able to compensate by using more of it. You might also be able to use it for grilling/smoking meats (e.g. tea-smoked duck). Or use it along with fresher tea when making iced tea or mixed punch.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      I've kept teas in tins or glass jars for years. They are fine. I just made a pot of Twinings Earl Grey that had been sitting loose in its tin for well over two years. The tea and the Bergamot oil were strong and delicious. In some ways, better than original. The oil and the tea have blended over time, dried together, softened and refined themselves yet have their distinctive flavors. Now, this Earl Grey has wonderful side notes, layers under the original flavors still in prominence. Quite amazing! Time itself is a blender of tea, maturing it over time just as it does with all relationships.

      Probably bought that tin in about 2011. Tea, as a plant product, can indeed mold or rot, and the essential oils can become rancid or evaporate. However, the dry leaves in a dry tin work together to preserve the essential oils.

      But it depends upon how long the tea is left exposed to the air. If you don't use a tea very much and keep it in its tin, and your climate is fairly dry, it'll last for years. When you open it often to get tea, that oxidization and moisture will certainly reduce its shelf life. But enclosed in tin and rarely opened, it will remain strong and true for years. Better, in fact. This Earl Grey exceeds a new tin of the same. Too bad I'll have to wait two more years for the next batch!

    2. We had an exchange student from Shanghai whose father is something of a tea collector and connoisseur, and while she was with us he sent us some very expensive Chinese teas. He sent us so much we were afraid we could never use it all but he told us that it's much like wine, that it actually improves as it ages.

      I'm sure hoping that's true.

      They're in large pressed discs the size of Frisbees. It's been five or six years now and we keep them sealed in Ziplocs and have not noticed any degradation in quality, but then we are not experts.

      1 Reply
      1. re: acgold7

        The pressed discs, I assume, are pu'erh. This tea is more expensive the older it is.

        Other types of tea degrade quickly. They are still good enough to drink. If they were very good to begin with, I try to use in one year's time. If they were not high quality, it doesn't really matter.

      2. I cant speak for past two years...but I've had loose tea tins opened in the cupboard for two years and the tea was fine. I's have no problem using the teas myself.....with better packaging, most dry foods today have very long shelf lives....with regards to teas, they rarely come paper lined inside the cans an longer. Most come vacuum sealed now....I do not recall when the changeover took place, but again, your cans are sealed....I do not see a problem. At worst case scenario, you just need more loose tea leaves to make the strength of your tea to your preference.

        One thing I would like to add with regards to loose tea.....many discard the tea leaves after making one cup or pot. ...that's just waste. You can reuse the leaves easily twice, be even three or four times before you discard depending on how much you originally started with. If the tea finally become noticeable where it's a little weak...just add a pinch of more tea to the cup or pot.

        1. Tea does indeed stale: volatile compounds are lost or degrade over time, with the result that the tea will be bland and lack aroma. As a guide, the greater the degree of initial oxidisation, the longer the life. Black tea might remain relatively fresh for around two years; green and white teas tend to be past their best after a year.

          Might as well prepare some and drink it: it won't kill you; at worst it will be insipid.

          1. Just finished a can of Russian black tea that I purchased in Moscow over 20 years ago. No noticeable decline in flavor over 20 years.