Let’s Talk About Shelf Life: How Long Does Brewed Tea Last?
Sometimes, you just need to brew a big batch of hot or iced tea.
Before you go ahead and do that, though, there are some questions that you have to answer first.
For instance, how long does brewed tea last? 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 here 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 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 the food safety answer.
Well, let’s take a look at both these scenarios.
The Taste Factor
As you may be aware, most teas don’t need to be brewed in boiling water.
Rather, black tea showed be brewed in near boiling water while lighter ones such as green and white teas should be brewed at lower temperatures.
Nevertheless, teas tend to be tastier and more enjoyable when they are consumed when warm.
This is often to do with the aroma of the tea – it is more noticeable when the liquid is hot. Furthermore, lukewarm cups of tea tend to seem flat and tasteless.
Thus, if you are solely going by taste, you can say that tea is no longer good once it has reached a lukewarm temperature.
The Presence of Bacteria
Even if you don’t mind 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 one 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 of your tea, there is a good chance that microbes on your hands will come in contact with the pitcher or the glass.
Thus, once again, the potential for bacteria growth is relatively high.
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.
In case you were wondering how long does brewed green tea last, it too should be good for around 8 hours.
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 Center for Disease Control (CDC) explained it, 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, even if it is kept in your refrigerator.
Of course, if you are like most people, you probably keep your iced tea in the refrigerator much longer than that.
Nevertheless, avoid storing iced tea for more than 48 hours.
In fact, try to drink it within 24 hours – you may notice that it loses it taste after this time period.
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 fridge 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 take a sip to learn this lesson!
These are some of the signs that you should look out for instead:
- Smells sour or “off”
- Has thickened
- Contains strands of ropey particles
If you notice any of these, it means that bacteria has become prolific in the drink. Therefore, you should toss it out immediately.
How to Extend the Shelf Life of Brewed Tea
The good news is that there are a few things that you can do to extend the lifespan of your brewed tea. These are several of the guidelines offered by the CDC:
Clean Equipment and Utensils Thoroughly
It doesn’t matter whether you are using a regular tea kettle, pitcher, and cup or an iced tea maker. Make sure that are all the utensils are thoroughly cleaned before you pour your tea into them.
This reduces the risk of contamination.
You should the same for any of the containers that you will use to store the tea.
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.
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.
Needless to say, following these instructions for green tea will result in a stronger, perhaps a more bitter brew.
Place in Airtight Container
You will need to limit how much the tea is exposed to airborne particles. Therefore, you should place the tea in an airtight container before placing it in the fridge.
Taking this measure will also prevent the odors from other foods from interfering with your tea.
As a whole, you will be left with a fresher, better tasting tea.
Avoid Adding Sweeteners or Other Ingredients
If you prefer drinking sweetened iced tea, don’t add the sugar or other sweeteners right away. These can ferment if stored for longer periods.
In fact, you should avoid adding fruit or other additions as well as these may ferment as well.
Instead, store the tea in the fridge as it is. Add the sugar and other ingredients just before serving and consuming the tea.
In conclusion, the answer to how long does brewed tea last is a varied one. If you wish to enjoy a freshly brewed cup, 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.