Tip Top Tea's online tea store blog

Shelf life of tea

How do I know if my tea is still good to drink? How long does tea stay fresh for? When does it go off? These are some typical questions about tea shelf life that we have been asked… read on to find the answers!

In fact this leads into one mission of Tip Top Tea – to sell tea that is within its peak condition in terms of shelf life. We don’t want to be the type of merchant who sells tea that is past its best, or on the way out! It is true that shelf life varies by type of tea, and specific examples within types, but the quality and freshness of our tea stock is always on our mind. Unlike many other foodstuffs, dry or otherwise, high quality tea is somewhat unique in that stored well it does not strictly ‘go-off’ it just changes over time – often for the worse, but sometimes for the better! In our experience the following table gives a general guide to the timeframe in which tea is in peak condition (stored well) and where it is still decent, but has lost some of what makes it sparkle when fresh.

Tea type Peak life Still decent Notes
Black 0-24 months 24-36 months Soften and mellows with age, but less oxidised    black teas can loose brightness (eg. Darjeelings)
Green 0-12 months 12-18 months Looses fresh & vivid qualities with age, best kept refridgerated IF air expelled & moistureproof
Oolong Light 0-18 months 18-24 months Looses fresh & vivid qualities with age, best kept refridgerated IF air expelled & moistureproof
Oolong Dark 0-24 months 24-60 months Some dark oolongs eg. Wuyi origins can age well and much longer IF stored properly & monitored
White Light 0-18 months 18-24 months Looses fresh & vivid qualities, but softens and thickens in taste. Some keep better than others
White Dark 0-24 months 24-36 months Can thicken & soften to a more cohesive profile. Generally taste better longer than light white’s
Raw Pu-erh 20+ years stored well. Require exposure to seasonal climatic cycles to age best
Ripe Pu-erh 15+ years stored well. As above but can require airing to prevent bad aromas


In the table above ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ refer to how oxidised the tea is. Generally light oolongs are under 20% oxidised, while dark are up to 70% oxidised. A simple way of telling (if you are not yet a tea expert) is the colour of the leaf. Greener leaf (especially lighter to dark green) indicates a light oxidation, whereas very dark green to bronze/brown indicates a heavier oxidation. The same colour indication can be used for white tea, where oxidation can vary from 5% in light to 12% in dark. The colour of the wet leaf confirms the actual colour from oxidation.

Of course there are exceptions. Aged oolongs are prized in parts of China and Taiwan. The key here is that they have been well stored and cared for as they age, the condition checked regularly and refired or aired as neccessary to remove moisture and any bad aromas. We often undertake this ourselves with the occasional tea that we has not sold quickly, where appropriate. By all means please challenge us if you find such an ‘old’ tea on our website. We should be able to reassure you with a quick and honest assessment of its condition.

Another exception is an Autumn picked green tea from Yunnan we bought in 2013 which continued to taste delicious and not hugely changed up to 3 years later! However this is quite rare of green teas, which tend to have the shortest peak in our opinion. Also we did refire it to remove moisture.

More often than not you will find a short best before date on our teas, usually 12-18months depending on the tea. This is because we want you to drink it when it is at its best! It can even be as low as 6 months for Matcha due to its high surface area which looses freshness quicker than whole leaf tea.

This is why we try to buy our higher quality teas in smaller quantities and seasonally; we want to maintain a reputation of selling great tea.

We also want to be able to drink the freshest best tasting teas available ourselves 🙂

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One thought on “Shelf life of tea

  1. Amanda Rosenberg

    Wow, great tea blog! Browinsg is easy, and reading deeper informative thanks to great content. I’ll be checking for updates and updating some of my tea drinking habits 🙂

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