How Long Can Tea Sit Out?
You brewed too much tea, you got distracted, or you forgot to drink your tea last night.
Now you’re wondering: “How long can brewed tea sit out? Can brewed tea go bad?” You don’t want to waste it, but you don’t want to risk any gastric upsets. Especially if you already suffer from a condition like SIBO or IBS.
The short answer is that brewed tea only lasts for around 8 hours at room temperature and for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. But there are a number of factors that could affect this timeline.
To help you decide whether your previously brewed tea is still safe to drink we have a look at what these factors are. We also discuss how you can tell whether your tea has gone bad.
How Long Does Brewed Tea Last?
How Long Does Tea Last at Room Temperature?
Firstly, tea that has been left out won’t taste as good. It will lose some of its subtle flavors and also have fewer healthy properties because the antioxidant plant compounds, or polyphenols, break down over time. (1)
Secondly, and more importantly, bacteria and mold can grow in brewed tea.
The general recommendation is that you should not drink brewed tea that has been left out for more than 8 hours. This period is shorter if sugar, milk, or fruit has been added to the tea as they encourage bacterial growth.
In a very hot climate, or if the tea is exposed to sunlight, tea can spoil in an even shorter time. This is why you should always store brewed tea in the refrigerator.
How Long Can Tea Stay in the Refrigerator?
Tea can last up to five days in the refrigerator provided that nothing has been added. But it will lose some of its flavor.
Once sugar, dairy, or any fresh organic matter has been added to the tea, the storage time is reduced. This would apply to sweetened iced tea and also to herbal teas steeped with fresh herbs and flowers.
Use a clean container with an airtight lid to store tea in your fridge. This prevents it from absorbing odors and flavors from other items in your fridge and also keeps out any bacteria or mold.
You can also freeze brewed tea for up to six months. It might be difficult to imagine why anyone would want to do this, but this tip might come in handy someday. For example, if you are having a party or a wedding and want to prepare a large quantity of tea in advance for iced sweet tea.
How Long Does Sweet Iced Tea Last?
Iced tea is served sweet with added sugar, and possibly also lemon and other fruit. These additives are food for bacteria and mold and kickstart the fermentation process.
This is why sweet iced tea does not last as long as tea without anything added. Due to concerns about possible food poisoning by coliform bacteria, the CDC issued a warning and safety guidelines for this popular beverage. (2)
They recommend that iced tea should be brewed with water that is close to boiling. It should be kept in the fridge and used within 8 hours. Furthermore, the container must be properly cleaned, including urn faucets which are often overlooked.
They were also concerned over a heightened risk of bacteria multiplying when making sun tea, where the tea is brewed in cold water in sunlight. It should not be left out in the sun for longer than 4 hours.
We suggest that if you want to get some iced tea ready before your visitors arrive, brew the tea but omit the sugar. Store it in the fridge and add the sugar, lemon, and fruit just before serving. If you are worried about the sugar not dissolving in the cold tea, dissolve the sugar in a bit of boiling water before adding it.
How Long Can You Keep Brewed Herbal Tea?
Herbal tea brewed with dried loose leaves or tea bags should last just as long as ordinary tea – 8 hours at room temperature or 5 days in the fridge.
However, if you are using fresh herbs or flowers, the tea will probably not keep longer than a few hours outside or two days in the fridge.
How Can You Tell If Your Tea Has Spoiled?
There are two sides to the question of whether tea has gone bad. Are you referring to taste or microbial growth?
Loss of Flavor and Health Benefits
We sit back, relax, and enjoy a cup of tea for its refreshing taste and maybe also for its health benefits. Tea that has stood for a while, whether inside or out of the fridge, will eventually lose some of its flavor.
This is caused by reactions between the various chemical components of tea. The healthy properties will be reduced, the tea will taste flat, and the bitter taste of the tannins becomes more pronounced.
But when this happens the tea will not affect your health.
Growth of Bacteria and Mold
Tea is no longer safe to drink and can cause gastric upsets if there is an overgrowth of microorganisms. Bacteria and molds are everywhere in our environment – also on tea leaves.
Microbes do not multiply on the dried tea leaves because of the absence of water but can start growing once the tea is brewed. Brewed tea could also be contaminated by microbes in the air or on utensils and containers.
The speed at which the microbes will grow depends on factors in their environment – moisture, temperature, and the food available to them. So before drinking old tea, always check whether it’s still safe.
Signs That Tea Has Gone Bad
- The tea has lost most of its flavor and aroma; it could even smell rotten if fermentation has set in.
- The color has changed.
- You see signs of mold on top.
- The tea tastes sour or bitter.
Be Sensible With Leftover Tea
Now you know that tea which stands over can spoil. Tea is most tasty and healthy if you enjoy it freshly brewed. But if you do have leftover tea take the following precautions:
- Avoid tea that has been sat out at room temperature for more than 8 hours.
- Refrigerate tea that you want to drink later in an airtight container, and not for more than 5 days. Or 2 days if sugar or anything else has been added.
- Don’t drink leftover tea if it looks, smells, or tastes strange.
Still feel guilty about wasting tea? Add some more water and use it in your garden as a fertilizer.
- Pastoriza, S., Pérez-Burillo, S., & Rufián-Henares, J.A. 2017. How brewing parameters affect the healthy profile of tea. Current Opinion in Food Science. 14:7-12.
- Schreck, S. 2010. Did you know? Iced tea safety. Food Safety News.