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?

Trader Joe’s Tea Selection – Still Not There Yet

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about Trader Joe’s tea on my old tea blog.

I shop regularly, but infrequently at Trader Joe’s, mainly picking up items like canned clams, bulk bags of raw nuts, and cheese.  There are some things I absolutely love about Trader Joe’s: many of the products I like most (and buy most) are ones that I think offer exceptional value, combining low price with consistently high quality.

Some of the cheeses cost almost half what I’d expect to pay for a cheese of similar quality: there’s a New Zealand grass-fed cheddar for around $5 a pound, and for closer to $4 you can get domestic cheddars that far surpass the quality I have been able to find in a typical supermarket.  And there are other little details that keep me coming back…the 500 gram bar of 70% dark chocolate for under $5, jars of Kalamata olives that taste great and are really cheap, $1 CLIF bars.  I even like some of their packaged bread.

A decent company, treating their employees well

In addition to this, I have a decent feeling about Trader Joe’s as a corporation: I’ve known many people who have worked there and they have all told me that the company treats their employees well.

Weaknesses of Trader Joe’s

In other areas though, Trader Joe’s really falls short.  Their seafood selection is not the most sustainable, as assessed by my looking up of their offerings on the Seafood Watch website.  And I’m not a huge fan of their produce, although they sometimes have things I think are worth buying.  And tea is yet another part of the store where their selection just doesn’t do it for me:

The tea selection at my local Trader Joe's
The tea selection at my local Trader Joe’s

The selection changes somewhat over time, but the gist of it has stayed the same since I discovered this chain back around 2006.  The tea is all cheap, for what it is, $2 for a box of teabags that would probably cost closer to $3 in a typical supermarket, but the problem is what it is: low-quality tea in tea bags.  There is no loose-leaf tea, and there isn’t any tea that I would consider high-quality artisan tea.  As much as I prefer loose tea, there are some very good brands of high-quality, whole-leaf or at least larger-broken-leaf tea in sachets, including Two Leaves Tea, Novus Tea, or even predominately loose-leaf brands like Rishi or Adagio.

Brands I’d prefer to the selection offered

Even if Trader Joe’s were going to stick with basic tea bags, I think they could do better.  In my old post, I recommended Ten Ren, Foojoy, Harney and Sons, and Jacksons of Piccadilly as companies that offer much higher-quality tea bags than anything I’ve ever tried from Trader Joe’s.  Ten Ren and Foojoy really stand out as their prices are competitive with Trader Joe’s teas, suggesting Trader Joe’s could stock them as-is.

And can’t they sell at least one loose tea?  Even most supermarkets have something, maybe Lipton’s loose black tea or Twinings Earl Grey.

What do you think?

  • Do you ever shop at Trader Joe’s?  How do you feel about the chain as a whole?
  • If you’ve tried it, do you like the tea in Trader Joe’s?
  • Would you like Trader Joe’s to stock loose tea?
  • What do you think of my recommendations of the brands that I think are superior (both in terms of quality and value) to what Trader Joe’s offers?  Do you agree?  Or would you have a different perspective on what brands might be a better choice?