Have your ever made a big batch of tea and somehow had lots of it left at the end of the day ? You've probably wondered if you can drink it the next day. I know I have, and I know I've tried.
The thing is, there is no fixed answer to this, because tea can be kept in many ways over several periods of time. Let me explain.
So does brewed tea go bad ?
Yes, brewed tea can go bad if you don't store it in an airtight container. It needs to be kept in a very cold place (like the fridge), and out of direct sunlight. In the fridge, brewed tea can last for up to 48 hours. On the counter is lasts for up to 8 hours.
That's a whole lots of ifs and buts. We'll discuss all of them in this article so you're very clear and what can make your tea go bad.
There is a rule from 1996 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that states teas should not be kept for more than 8 hours in the fridge. That is a safe amount of time and your tea will still be fine after 8 hours.
But I've tried ( and several others actually) and tested things out, and I found that some teas can be kept for longer than that. Now let's get into the specifics.
But what does it mean that the tea has gone bad ?
We have to discuss this too. If you mean the taste is off, and it seems kind of stale, but it's not an unhealthy concoction that your tea might just be okay for:
- 8 hours on the counter, room-temp, uncovered. Depends on what kind of tea you've got, since some flavors can disappear quickly.
- 24 hours in the fridge, airtight container, no sugar or fruits added.
If you mean the tea is no longer safe to drink, it's become moldy (or just starting to), then your tea will survive for longer than that. By this I mean tea can be fairly safe for up to 72 hours, if it's been kept in the fridge and covered an no sugar or fruits have been added.
If it's been in the fridge, but uncovered, it will last for less than 72 hours because the aromas and bacteria already inside the fridge will get to it easier.
So the best way to store your brewed tea is:
A glass container, with an airtight lid on it. No sugar or fruits should be added either to the brewing process, or after since they will make the tea ferment faster.
If you do add fruits and/or sugar, understand that you should not keep that tea for more than 24 hours, sealed, in the fridge.
Hot brew vs cold brew
There is a very clear difference between brewing your tea hot and brewing your tea cold. Hot brewed tea is apparently more sensitive to bacteria and will go bad faster that cold brewed tea.
It has to do mostly with the way the tea was extracted from the leaves by the water, and temperature has a big say in that.
So in short, if you want to be sure your tea keeps for longer, try brewing it cold as often as possible. If you brew it hot, it will still keep. But there will be almost an entire day's difference in longevity.
Keeping tea in the fridge will help it last longer
As I said above, keeping your tea cold will keep it 'fresh' for longer. This is because the vitamins and flavors in the tea alter when exposed to air, and heat. They start to lose their power or decompose.
The cold temperature of the fridge does 2 things to your brewed tea (and your food):
- The bacteria has less of a chance of growing, since it usually requires at least room temperature (approx. 20 C/68 F) in order to grow. A cold environment will only slow it down, but not kill it. Your fridge is not the Antarctic.
- The flavors and nutrients in your tea are also affected by heat. They are delicate and start to break their chemical bonds when exposed to heat. So a cold storage will keep them bonded for longer. They will disintegrate anyway, but much slower.
So you could argue that your fridge pretty much puts a pause button on your food and rinks. Well, it kind of does. This is the same reason a stew will spoil if left on the counter overnight, but be just fine if you leave it in the fridge overnight.
Do keep in mind that the cold does slow bacteria and chemical decomposition down, but only to a degree. Some bacteria types can grow when the temp gets to 5 C/41 F, so make sure your fridge is set below that.
Aside from bacterial growth, there is also the flavor to consider. There are some flavors that can get tastier when served cold (like green tea sorts), but will lose their punch (also green tea) is left for too long.
(If you like this article so far, you can pin it to your Pinterest board by clicking the image below. The article continues after the image.)
Keeping your tea uncovered is not wise
Another thing to think of is whether you've covered your tea or not. When you store your tea, whether it's on the counter, in the fridge, you should always cover it. Even if you're going to drink it in the next hour.
Aside from the obvious bugs or bits of stray dust or even stray hairs that can somehow float their way into your nice pot of tea, there are 3 other things that can ruin the tea.
First, your tea can get spoiled by the bacteria we've just discussed. That means the warm jasmine tea you've just made can get contaminated (even if it doesn't immediately taste bad) is you leave it uncovered at all.
It depends on where your keep it of course, but bacteria is airborne too, so even if it's in another room it can still get contaminated.
What you cover your tea pot with is also important, because there will be condensation. That means the little droplets of evaporated water that form under your cover will bring with the all the bacteria they can muster, all the way into your tea.
So make sure whatever you use for cover is absolutely clean and sterilized.
Second. The flavor and nutrients can go off, simply because part of them can evaporate into the air, and part of them can and will react to the air they're exposed to. Basically go stale.
If you leave your tea on the counter uncovered from morning til afternoon, then it will be pretty much undrinkable, especially if it's a warm summer day.
This does depend on your individual taste. I have a sensitive nose and taste, so maybe I'm overly sensitive to that. But in my experience that's when the tea goes too far for me.
Sugar and fruits will make the tea go bad faster
Now, about sugars and fruits. Does this mean you shouldn't ever add sweeteners or fruits to your tea ? Well, that's a matter of taste, but also of chemistry.
I for one add both sugar and fruits whenever the mood strikes me. But I always drink my tea on the spot. The thing about adding sugar is that it breaks down the nutrients in the tea much faster over time.
If you make a cup of tea right now, add sugar, and drink it right away the damage is not much since they didn't have a lot of time to interact.
Fruits have their own sugars which will interact with the tea just like cane sugar. Of course it depends on what kind of fruits you put in. For example berries are less sweet than mango or pineapple for example. Some teas will take fruits, some won't.
But the sugars in the fruits, as well as their tart nature will break down the tea more quickly. If you're making a big pitcher of tea for a party and intend to serve within a few hours of brewing, fruits and sugar are no real problem.
Leaving them in for more than a few hours, like 24 hours for example will alter the tea much more. Citrus fruits are different here, since the oils in the rind will give the tea a nice taste, regardless of what the sugar or fruits have done to it.
Still, it's never a good idea to keep fruit in the tea for more than 24 hours.
In the end, your tea is your tea. You drink it how you like it. Just be aware that:
- Fruits and sugars can make the tea go bad faster.
- Never leave your tea uncovered.
- Always store the tea in a very cold place.
- Understand that room-temperature tea should not be kept for more than 8 hours. It should still be covered.
And as always, whatever you brew your tea in should be perfectly clean before you start. And whatever you store the brewed tea in should be perfectly clean beforehand as well. If you're using a teapot, make sure the spigot is cleaned thoroughly after each use.
I hope you'll enjoy your tea, iced or not. If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?