I love hot tea, cold tea, but I’ll be honest room temperature tea, not so much. But as a regular tea drinker room temperature tea happens- Which begs the questions: How long does brewed tea last at room temperature? How long is brewed tea good for? And at what point does brewed tea go bad?
How Long Does Brewed Tea Last at Room Temperature?
In general, brewed tea will begin to lose flavor after a few hours. Brewed tea may last up to 8 hours at room temperature before bacteria may start to grow to unsafe levels. Tea left out beyond 8 hours for safety reasons should be discarded to avoid any serious health problems.
How Long Can Tea Sit Out?
As a general rule, tea should sit out no longer than 8 hours for the safety of your digestive health. If you have added milk to your tea, consider that the FDA recommends milk should not be left out for more than 2 hours and even less time in higher air temperatures above 90 degrees as bacteria start to grow faster.
Can Brewed Tea Go Bad?
Yes, brewed tea will go bad. Brewed tea will go bad through both oxidation and bacterial growth. Brewed tea left out or not properly stored will oxidize, creating a difference in taste and color. While oxidized tea in itself is not unsafe, although it may taste stale, the real problem is the growth of bacteria after about 8 hours, at which point the tea has gone bad.
How Long is Brewed Tea Good For?
Brewed tea will begin to oxidize in just a few hours. You will notice a difference in taste, such as more bitter taste or a loss of some of the complex flavor profile, floral notes, and vegetal notes.
Brewed tea is good about 8 hours before bacteria begins to grow, deeming it unsafe. Although the CDC only recommends tea being kept for 8 hours, many people are rule-breakers and have found that plain brewed tea can last about 3-4 days when stored in the fridge in an airtight containter before going bad.
Tea made with sugar will only last 1 day before losing its flavor, even when stored in the fridge, as the sugar is an accelerant for bacteria growth and faster fermentation.
Can you Reheat Tea?
Yes, you can reheat tea as long as the tea has been brewed within the last few hours. Any temperature change will affect the taste of tea. If you find you frequently need to reheat your tea, you may want to consider a mug warmer or thermos type mug that will help keep your tea hot for a longer period rather than reheating it to preserve flavor. If you choose to reheat your tea, it is best to heat it above 175°F to help kill off any bacteria.
How to Make Brewed Tea Taste Better
If you want good-tasting tea, you have to invest in high-quality tea leaves. Good tea leaves make good-tasting brewed tea. This is true for any type of tea, whether its black tea, green tea, white tea, or an oolong tea, or any other different type of tea, including herbal teas. The quality of the tea leaves is always going to be reflected in the taste and freshness.
The short answer to finding high-grade tea that will taste good is to opt for quality whole-leaf tea or loose-leaf tea over tea bags. Whole-leaf tea is better in quality than tea in bags as the tea leaves are more intact. Tea in bags tend to be made up of dust and fannings, which have less flavor and less essential oils.
Tea leaves are not constricted when you steep loose-leaf tea in an infuser or in a pot (not in a teabag). There is room for the tea leaves to absorb water and expand as they infuse. This allows water to flow through the tea leaves, extracting the vitamins, minerals, flavors, and aromas from the leaves.
To maintain the freshness of the tea, you also don’t want to add sugar, juice, milk, etc., until you are ready to drink it, so the tea stays as fresh as possible. Whether you have brewed tea and are keeping it warm for guests or have decided to store it in the fridge, avoid adding anything until the tea is ready for its first sip.
Sun Tea & Iced Tea Safety
When it comes to leaving tea out, it’s important to look at safety regarding sun tea that is brewed by being left in the direct sun for hours.
There is some controversy over the safety around the practice of sun tea as the tea never reaches a temperature hot enough to burn off bacteria while setting optimal warm conditions for bacterial growth from the sun.
If you choose to make sun tea, use a clean and preferably sterilized storage container and filtered or previously boiled water to limit bacteria growth may help. You also don’t want to allow the tea to sit in the sun for a long time, no more than a couple of hours. It’s also recommended to drink sun tea the same day it is made.
Overnight tea or cold brewing tea in the fridge is generally safer as the cold temperature of the fridge slows bacteria and growth significantly. The slowing of the growth of bacteria is the same reason we keep leftover food items in the fridge.
If you are brewing tea to make into an iced tea, you can try making a stronger or smaller brew knowing the ice cubes will water it down.
How to Store Brewed Tea?
Storage conditions are key in preserving tea for taste as well as warding off bacteria. If you want to keep your tea as a hot brew, consider investing in a good tea thermos that will keep tea hot for an extended amount of time. You can find single-serving sizes as well as larger sizes for hosting.
To store tea such as a cold brew, the best way is to store it as cold tea in an airtight container in a cold place such as the fridge helps prevent it from absorbing any smells or flavors from other items in the fridge. Storing tea in a sealed container also helps to ward off bacterial growth and food poisoning.
Brewed tea is best stored without any additives such as sugar or milk. Sugar can feed bacteria, and milk may also break down the flavors and complexities quicker. Tea mixed with sugar may go bad after 1 day.
You may also consider freezing brewed tea for later use. This is a great way to meal-prep your favorite cold brew tea, ice tea, or for storing leftovers. I’ve found that a freezer-safe glass container such as a mason jar works best for liquids. Just make sure to not fill the container all the way to the top, leaving an inch or two for the liquid to expand when frozen.
Any temperature change will affect the taste of tea. After the tea has been frozen, it would best be served as an iced tea rather than a hot tea.
Health Benefits of Iced Tea
There’s not much information available on what happens when tea is left out from a nutritional standpoint. Still, one can only assume that fresher is better when it comes to preserving the numerous health benefits and antioxidant properties of hot tea and cold tea.
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.