How Long Does Iced Tea Last?
Okay, short answer: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), iced tea should only be stored in the fridge for eight hours, max. If you take comfort in following the rules, go ahead and follow this one! It’s the safest route, and there is nothing wrong with that.
However, those of us who are rule breakers -- or are just forgetful -- have probably already discovered that tea can last a lot longer than eight hours in the fridge. Generally speaking, we’ve noticed that the tea is usually best within one day, but good for three or even four days. After that the flavor can get weird and, if you’ve added sugar or fruit to the tea, it can even start to ferment.
Speaking of flavor, the CDC also recommends brewing your tea in water hot enough to kill off any possible pathogens (195 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). If you’re going with a hot brew or sun tea method, this is good advice -- but it means that the flavor of the tea is likely to go “off” faster. For some reason, hot-brewed tea is just more delicate than its cold-brewed sibling.
Fortunately for those who like cold brewed iced tea, bacteria and flavor don’t seem to be as big of an issue. Theoretically, the water never gets warm enough to facilitate bacterial growth, and the cold water extraction process results in a crisper, cleaner beverage that tends to taste great for days in the fridge.
(It should be noted that when the CDC released its initial guidelines to answer the question of how long does tea last in the fridge, it was 1996 and the cold brewing craze was still over a decade off; everyone was making sun tea, or brewing tea hot and icing it down. As far as we can find, the CDC hasn’t released any updated guidance on iced tea or, specifically, cold-brewed tea, and very little study has been done on the topic in general. That said, use the brew method you feel is best and safest for you.)
No matter which method you choose or how long you feel comfortable storing your tea, make sure you are using clean, sterilized brewing and storage vessels. If your iced tea vessel has a spigot, make sure you clean that thoroughly as well. This will help cut down on possible bacteria as well as help ensure good flavor.
And if you do notice ropy strands in your tea, or it starts getting thick or smells sour, these are signs of bacteria formation. Don’t drink that tea!
Making Iced Tea Last Longer
Alright, so you’ve chosen your iced tea brewing method and you want to get the maximum flavor and storage time out of your tea. Here are a few of our tips for that very purpose:
- Protect the flavors. Keep your iced tea stored in an airtight jar or container so it doesn’t absorb the flavors of other things in the fridge.
- Leave the sugar out of the brewing process. Sweet tea is delicious, but brewing with sugar can can cause tea to ferment and grow bacteria faster. Instead, sweeten your iced tea by the glass with simple syrup, honey dust, or maple dust.
- Use your good tea leaves. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the higher quality of tea, the longer the flavor seems to last. Pick up one of our iced tea themed "grab-bags" for three high-quality teas that taste great iced!
- Amp up the flavor. Make your iced tea even more flavorful -- and keep it from being watered down -- by adding tea ice cubes to your glass.
- Use your tea in recipes. If you don't think you're going to use the tea quickly enough, try mixing it up with a fun recipe like this green tea sangria.
photos by Margo Millure, author, Margo Millure