Let’s Talk About Shelf Life: How Long Does Brewed Tea Last?
The answer is not that simple. From a strictly taste point of view, if you are consuming hot tea, I'd advise drinking it before it goes cold for maximum taste. As a health and safety concern? I'd say about 8 hours.
There are more questions on the topic, though.
Does black tea last longer than green tea? And, is there an expiration date on that freshly brewed ice tea in your fridge?
Well, you can put your mind to rest because this post tackles these issues and many more.
Can Tea Go Bad?
The short answer to does tea go bad is: yes. Tea can go bad.
As a result, you can’t brew a cup of tea and then leave it untouched indefinitely. The same can be said for iced tea as well.
What isn’t as straightforward, though, is how long brewed tea can be considered OK to drink.
This is because there are a number of factors that come into play here.
How Long Does Brewed Tea Last At Room Temperature?
Now, the first question to tackle is this - how long does fresh brewed tea last?
Before this is answered, however, you first have to consider your definition of “gone bad”.
Some people will consider brewed tea to have gone bad when it loses its taste or flavor. Others focus on whether or not the tea can be considered safe.
Well, let’s take a look at both these scenarios.
The Taste Factor
As you may be aware, most tea leaves and bags don't need to be brewed in boiling water.
Rather, black tea should be brewed in near boiling water while lighter ones such as green and white teas should be brewed at lower temperatures for the best flavor.
The nutrients, antioxidants, and health benefits in the leaves are preserved this way too.
Still, teas taste better at warmer temperatures than room temperature.
This is often to do with the aroma and flavor of the tea – they are more notable with hot tea.
On the flip side, lukewarm or cold cups of tea tend to seem flat and tasteless, even if you try to heat them up again.
So, just by flavor alone, room temperature or cold tea can taste rather awful.
The Presence of Bacteria
Even if you don’t mind the lack of flavors or the taste of “flat” tea, you still shouldn’t reach for a brew that has been sitting out for a while.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first will be discussed in this section, while the second reason will be addressed in the section below…
So, let’s take a look at why you should be dumping a cup of tea that is several hours old.
See, from the first moment that you take a sip of your tea, you introduce microbes from your lips and mouth into the drink.
Depending on the proximity to sunlight and ambient temperature, this bacteria can multiply rather quickly.
Even if you don’t take a sip, microbes on your hands can still transfer to the pitcher, teapot, or the glass.
Once again, this means the potential for bacteria growth in any amount of tea is relatively high.
However, placing the brewed tea in an airtight container or in a cold place could help to slow down the growing colonies a little.
As long as you drink the tea within twelve hours of brewing, it is unlikely that you will become sick. However, this isn’t a chance that you should take as you can’t be certain of the after effects.
Most experts would say that it can safely last up to 8 hours after brewing.
Black vs. Green: Does One Last Longer?
As you are aware, there are several types of tea available to you.
Thus, you may be wondering if there is a difference when it comes to how long the teas can be kept.
Is there a best tea to store after the brewing process?
Well, when it comes to the formation of bacteria, the rate of growth is the same for all teas.
So, it doesn't matter which tea is your favorite, black and green tea will be safe for you to drink up to 8 hours after it has been brewed.
How Long Does Fresh Brewed Iced Tea Last?
Believe it or not, when scientists tested how long brewed tea could last, they weren’t particularly concerned with hot tea.
Rather, they were more focused on iced tea.
This is because there was some apprehension that iced tea could pose a threat to the general public if it wasn’t brewed or stored properly.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained it in this article, tea leaves can be contaminated with coliform bacteria.
Due to this, if the tea is brewed at a lower temperature or if it is stored for too long, this bacteria can grow in the brewed tea.
This is why you are expected to only store iced tea for a period of 8 hours.
Can Brewed Tea Go Bad in the Fridge?
Putting most foods in the fridge typically tends to extend how long they last.
So, you would imagine that keeping tea in the fridge would do the same for brewed tea.
In fact, if you are like most people, you probably keep your tea for days in the fridge.
However, brewed tea can still go bad in the fridge, just more slowly.
This is why it is advised to throw away any brewed tea that has been in the fridge for more than 8 hours.
Of course, there is no need to be this strict.
If your brewed tea is kept cold in the fridge immediately after steeping, then it should be good for about a day.
Technically, you can keep brewed tea in the fridge for about 48 hours without issue.
But, you may experience a loss in taste.
And, even when in the fridge, make sure to keep any amount of your cold drink in an airtight container.
Should You Freeze Brewed Tea?
OK, so keeping brewed tea in the fridge doesn't do much.
So, what about putting the beverage in the freezer?
Well, you can place brewed tea in the freezer and freeze it just as you would with water.
With frozen brewed tea, the problem of microbe colonies goes away since they can't develop in the freezer.
Still, it is a good idea to consume the cold or frozen tea a day or two after it is placed in the fridge.
Now, there are a few things to remember these points:
- For this purpose, use a good quality plastic container or pitcher as a glass jar will shatter.
- If using a glass container make sure to leave some - about an inch or two - of headroom from the lid.
- Prepare the tea without any amount of sugar as this can cause the frozen tea to granulate.
The only problem with this way is that when the brewed tea has been thawed out, the flavors will have diluted quite a bit.
This is especially true if you try to re-heat the drink rather than drinking it cold.
There is also no guarantee that the tea will have maintained its nutrients and health benefits for this time period as well.
A Warning - Avoid Sun Tea At All Costs!
When the Center for Disease Control were testing out cold tea beverages, they were specifically focused on sun tea.
This is where loose tea leaves or tea bags are placed in a large container of room temperature or cold water.
People then place the batch out in the sun or on a counter for several hours to steep slowly.
The issue is that this method of brewing creates the perfect environment for more bacteria to grow.
In turn, this increases the risk of food poisoning.
So, it is best to make cold tea in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature
How Do You Know if Brewed Tea Has Gone Bad?
So, it is clear that tea that is left out on the counter or in the refrigerator can go bad.
What isn’t as obvious, though, is how to tell if your tea is no longer safe to drink. Naturally, you aren't going to want to be a participant in this experiment!
These are some of the signs that you should look out for :
- A sour of "off" smell
- Has thickened
- Lots of strands of ropey specks similar to mold
This means it is time to toss the tea - use this knowledge to keep yourself safe.
How to Extend the Shelf Life of Brewed Tea
The good news is that there are a few things that you can do to your brewed tea last longer. These are several of the tips and guidelines offered by the CDC:
Clean Equipment and Utensils Thoroughly
It doesn’t matter whether you are using a regular tea kettle, teapot, pitcher, and cup or an iced tea maker.
Make sure that the lot of them are thoroughly cleaned before you pour your tea into them.
This reduces the accident risk of contamination.
You should the same for any of the containers that you will use to store the tea.
If using a dispenser, clean out the spigot thoroughly.
Brew at Appropriate Temperature
As you are aware, higher temperatures can kill bacteria.
Thus, if you are planning on storing your tea for longer, make sure to brew it at the right temperature and time.
The water should be at least 195F and the tea leaves should be left in the water for 3 to 5 minutes at a time.
For green tea, though, follow the necessary brewing instructions.
Place in Airtight Container
Proper storage will limit the time the tea is exposed to air and airborne particles.
Therefore, you should place all the batches in a good quality airtight container before placing it in the fridge.
At the very least, choose one with a tight lid.
In addition, this method will prevent the odors from the other food from interfering with your drinks.
It is a good idea to choose a glass airtight container as this will preserve the taste of the tea more.
As a whole, you will be left with a fresher, better tasting tea.
Avoid Adding Sugar or Other Ingredients
With sweet iced tea, don’t add the sugar, fruit, sweeteners right away. These can ferment if stored for longer periods.
Instead, store the tea in the fridge as it is. Add the sugar, fruit, and other ingredients just before serving and consuming the tea.
In conclusion, this article answers the questions does tea go bad and how long does brewed tea last. As this post shows, the answer is varied.
If you wish to enjoy a fresh brew, it is best to drink the beverage before it gets cold.
As for iced tea, experts will advise you to consume it within 8 hours.
However, you do have a grace period of about 48 hours before it needs to be discarded.
Dr. Dheena Sadik
Consultant Nutritionist and Dietician
Dr. Dheena Sadik is a consultant Nutritionist and Dietician. She has over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry. However, her love for tea began long before she understood the health benefits of tea. Growing up in Sri Lanka, Dheena had the privilege of being surrounded by the world-famous Ceylon tea. This is what got her started on her exploration of the various types of tea. She has now extensively tasted and examined teas from all over the world.