Harvest, Packing, or Expiration Dates on Boxed and Packaged Teas

One thing that I think is a really great idea, and that I’m surprised is not universal, is the idea of putting expiration dates on teas.  Here is a box of Prince of Peace Organic White Peony tea, clearly showing an expiration date:

Back of a box of tea bags, showing an expiration date, circled in red
Prince of Peace is one brand that puts expiration dates on their teas.

It’s pretty obvious why an expiration date is important.  At the risk of earning the label “Captain Obvious” as some of my friends have called me, I want to state that tea doesn’t stay fresh forever, and if a company doesn’t put an expiration date on their product, they risk people buying (and drinking) a product that is not fresh, and not liking it.  This can alienate potential customers who might have been impressed with the tea if only it were fresh.  Captain obvious or not, I’m amazed at how many companies don’t print any dates on their tea.

Lot Number

The box here also shows a lot number.  This can be useful if responding to customer inquiries.  Displaying the lot number shows a commitment to a certain level of quality control, because a lot number is often necessary (and at a minimum, very helpful) for troubleshooting a bad or spoiled batch of tea when responding to customer complaints.

Packing Date is Better Than an Expiration Date

Ahmad Tea, one of my favorite brands, does an even better job than what is shown above…they not only list an expiration date but show the packing date as well.  I think this is more important or useful, because I don’t necessarily know how each company decided on an expiration date–it could easily be arbitrary.  Showing both demonstrates freshness and also communicates how long you expect the product to stay fresh.  Given how inexpensive Ahmad Tea is, I think there is no excuse for other companies to not print the packing date on their boxes.  If Ahmad can do it, nearly anyone can.

Lastly, I want to say that I think a gold standard, which I have seen with some companies, is to list both harvest date and packing date.  This is probably only practical for single-origin teas, but it’s something I love seeing and I encourage any company able to list this info to do so.

Date-Stamp Each Tea Bag When Bags are Individually Sealed

As much as I don’t like increasing resource usage in society, I think that stamping individual tea bags is one expenditure that would be worth it.  I also think that, when I look at the showy and involved packaging and print on tea bags, a basic stamp of the date would be a relatively inexpensive addition to the printing and packing process.

The fact is, many people don’t keep teas in their original packaging; they empty the original boxes into another box or basket, and they frequently trade individual tea bags with each other.  Several of my friends who are casual enthusiasts of bagged tea, keep big baskets or cupboards full of tea bags of all different brands.  Very few of the tea bags are stamped with dates; you can look at the wear and tear on the bag to get a rough guess at its age, but that’s about the best you can do.

I actually have a basket myself of tea bags that I’ve been sampling and sharing with other local reviewers on RateTea, and I checked through them and not one of them has an expiration date stamped on the bag.

I have seen an expiration date stamped on a tea bag before; it was actually recently, and it was what inspired the thinking that led to this post, but I’m blanking on the specific brand.  Looking through my tea cupboard, I was able to find, however, a single-serving loose-leaf tea packet, recently given to me by Evan Draper, which has a date stamped on it, presumably the packing date because it is from last year and the tea is very fresh:

Single-serving loose tea packet with chinese characters and a date stamped on it
This single-serving loose tea packet has a date stamped on it, presumably the packing date.

This tea, incidentally, was very yummy…bitter and grassy and very fresh…not the sort usually preferred by mainstream tastes in the U.S., but definitely the sort that I like.

What do you think?

Share your thoughts and feelings about harvest, packing, and expiration dates!

  • Do you think packing date is more important than expiration date?
  • Have you ever brewed tea from a sealed tea bag, and wondered how old it was?
  • Do you think it would be worth it for companies that sell individually-sealed tea bags to stamp packing or expiration dates on each tea bag, or does this seem like overkill?

8 thoughts on “Harvest, Packing, or Expiration Dates on Boxed and Packaged Teas”

  1. I do agree with you. Knowing when a tea was put in a box/harvested/transformed and when it is supposed to be no longer fresh or good is something really important and a field that is still in need of much work from the tea companies.

    1. Haha…the issue is the essentially the same, however, for loose teas. And, in the area of loose teas, whether those in a bag, a bag inside a box, a tin, or a bag inside a tin…some of them are labelled with packing and/or expiration dates, and others of them are not.

  2. I think expiration date is more useful for most users than packing date. In the last case you need to now how long your tea will be good enough.

    However the loose leave expirations date depends on storage…. Once opened… It also depends on the amount of tea in the package and what about stores that measure the tea specially for the customer? A good date can become quite complex to calculate.

    1. I agree that an expiration date would be more useful for casual tea drinkers, people who don’t have knowledge and experience with tea storage, and who just need a simple way to know whether or not the product is fresh enough to buy.

      But once people become experienced with ordering fresh tea and storing it, and sometimes drinking old tea, I think the packing date becomes much more useful, and the expiration date a bit less so…although I think that if the companies are honest about the expiration dates, they can still be very useful.

      My experience has been that the companies that take the time to actually print expiration dates on their products, generally don’t over-estimate the time that their teas will stay fresh for. I’ve drunk tea past the expiration date and it’s tasted fine.

      The teas that have truly tasted stale to me, have usually been ones that either weren’t stored properly, or never had any dates printed on them to begin with (and who knows how old they were?)

      1. Once you put an expiration date on it you make a promise. The promise is not that it expires on that date, but that it is good till at least that date. So it is wise to put on a date that is safe. There are too many unknown factors, like storage, to give an accurate prediction.

        Better storage can accounted for can extend the normal expiration date.

  3. I don’t really need expiration dates, because I think there are too many variables affecting how long it will be perfectly drinkable. As to packaging dates I don’t trust them that much because I don’t know how long the tea was in storage before being boxed up. For me a harvest date works best. However, I realize that’s difficult for flavored, or blended teas. One thing I miss on Upton’s site is that a lot of teas lack info about their age.

    1. Yeah…Upton is great about printing the packing dates on the containers but it doesn’t say when it obtained the teas, which is I think a major downside.

      I’ve never had a problem with freshness from Upton…and their lots often tend to sell out fast (and are often discounted if they’re not super fresh–I’ve bought some really cheap first flush Darjeeling out-of-season, which was still very tasty).

      But for the most part, Upton doesn’t deliver the freshest-of-the-fresh smell that I get from companies like TeaVivre where it’s much closer to farm-direct.

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