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There are times when we have made a pot or cup of tea, but something comes up and we can’t drink it right away. On occasion, that tea may get forgotten about and end up sitting on the counter for a while. But how long can tea sit out without it being unsafe?
How Long Can Tea Sit Out?
You can let tea sit out at room temperature for about 8 hours. Any longer than that and you run the risk of bacteria growing and potentially making you ill. If you place tea in the refrigerator, covered, it can last 2-5 days depending on the brewing method, quality of leaves, and other factors.
Different types of tea, and the way they are brewed, will also have an impact on how long they will last. Sugars in the tea, the temperature of the room where the tea is sitting, and the type of tea are all factors in the length of time that tea can sit out.
Heat can also break down the chemical bonds of flavors and nutrients more quickly, so tea that has been brewed with hot water can go bad more quickly than tea that has been cold brewed. In addition, since the temperature will be dropping instead of rising, the possibility of going through a wider range of bacteria-friendly temperatures is more likely.
How Tea Goes Bad
Bacteria can grow in just about any type of food, including tea. The main thing that limits bacterial growth is temperature. Room temperature is right in the middle of the danger zone, the temperature range that bacteria needs for active growth. This range is normally between 40 °F and 140 °F.
A single cell of bacteria, when all conditions are perfect, can generate one million cells in about 5 hours.
As bacteria grows, it first begins to change the flavor of the tea. You will probably notice that the original flavors and scent are beginning to fade, and once more bacteria is produced the tea will start tasting bitter. If you find the texture changing, the appearance of strands, or if the flavor is very different than when brewed, do not drink the tea.
Sugar provides a friendly environment for bacteria, as it increases the speed of bacterial cell division. Sweetened iced tea, or tea that has already been prepared to drink with sugar or honey, will go bad much faster than tea that has not had any sweetener added. If you are planning on saving tea for longer, avoid added sugars.
How To Make Tea Last Longer
Since moderate and higher temperatures are the top reasons that tea goes bad, the most logical thing to do is reduce the temperature through refrigeration. You can leave tea in the refrigerator for 2-5 days before it will go bad. Simply sticking a cup of tea in the refrigerator is the easiest way to go about it, but there are other considerations that will help your tea last even longer.
Here are some tips to make sure that your tea lasts as long as possible.
Cool Tea Down Quickly
The longer that tea sits around room temperature, the more likely it will grow bacteria and break down. The more quickly you can get tea into the refrigerator, the faster your tea will get out of the danger zone.
If you have strong temperature resistant cups or jars, you might be able to cool your tea quickly by partially submerging the vessel in ice water. We do not recommend you try this with Pyrex or other materials that can crack (or even explode) when experiencing thermal shock at this level. In those cases, let the tea cool down to room temperature first, then shock it in ice water.
Store In A Sealed Container
When you place your tea in a sealed container like a mason jar or Tupperware, it will last much longer than if it is exposed to air. Oxygen can increase the breakdown of scents and flavors in tea. Combined with an average temperature of under 40F, bacterial growth is slowed down tremendously.
With an open-top, the tea can absorb bacteria that may be floating in the air of the refrigerator. Another issue with leaving an open cup in the refrigerator is that tea can absorb aromas or odors from other food in the fridge. Something like spoiled milk or raw onion can make your tea taste extremely bad.
Cross-contamination is also a possibility with open containers, so be sure to seal the top of your tea before leaving it for a few days in the refrigerator.
Freeze Your Tea
Freezing tea after brewing it will make it last much longer than when you use simple refrigeration, normally up to six months or so. Try to keep it in a container that has the smallest amount of air between the tea and the lid in order to limit the possibility of freezer burn.
You may decide to use an ice cube tray to freeze your tea, which will make it useful for adding to things like iced tea. If you decide to go this route, be sure to remove the cubes from the tray and store them in a Ziploc or other freezer-safe container.
Some reasons why you might want to freeze tea:
- You made a large batch and you are not going to be able to finish it before it goes bad.
- Make ice cubes out of tea to put into iced tea so you do not dilute the flavor.
- If your tea leaves are about to, or starting to, lose their flavor and aroma, brew a large batch and then freeze it. That will allow you to enjoy the full flavor of the tea at a future date.
Can Tea Go Bad And Make You sick?
Yes. When you leave brewed tea out for too long it can go bad, and not only in its taste or smell. Because of bacterial growth, it is possible to get food poisoning from tea that has gone bad.
Is It Safe To Drink Tea Left Out Overnight?
When the tea is left out overnight, it may or may not be safe to drink. The temperature of the room the tea is in, if it is very cold, may limit bacterial growth. In addition, if the tea is left out for under 8 hours, if will probably be safe to drink.
Can Tea Give You Food Poisoning?
Yes. The bacteria that generally grow in tea that sits out too long, coliform bacteria, can give you food poisoning symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Whether you forget that you left a cup of tea on the counter, you get pulled away before you can finish your cup, or your company that you brewed a pot for never arrived, it is very easy to let the tea sit out for a long time.
Tea can sit out for up to 8 hours and still be safe to drink, but that does not mean it will taste as good as it did immediately after brewing. In order to hold your tea for a longer period of time, pour it into a sealed container and place it in the refrigerator. This will give you another 2-5 days of storage before you should not drink your tea.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.