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Iced tea is a very popular drink around the world. It’s easy to prepare, delicious, and the go-to drink for many non-alcoholic drinkers. An iced tea served in a glass with ice and lemon slices can be just the thing you need on a hot summer day.
The standard practice is to brew a batch and store it in the refrigerator for continuous consumption over the next few days. But, if you’re not so sure about the fate of an iced tea left for a few hours unrefrigerated, this guide is for you!
How Long Does Iced Tea Last Unrefrigerated?
According to a memo on Bacterial Contamination of Iced Tea from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should avoid iced tea that’s left unrefrigerated for more than 8 hours. This is because as time passes, bacterial growth triggers the fermentation of sugar present in the iced teas.
But this doesn’t mean all iced tea in your refrigerator is fit for consumption. As a rule of thumb, discard the drink if there’s a change in color or smell — even if you’ve only just taken a glass out of the refrigerator.
Generally, the fermentation process is slow in refrigerators (which is why we store iced tea there in the first place). Room temperature catalyzes the chemical reaction, and drinking iced tea kept outside a refrigerator for more than 8 hours is a big NO!
On a lighter note, is there any fun drinking a warm, flavorless, flat iced tea? Not really!
Why Refrigerate Iced Tea?
First things first, why would you have “iced” tea without refrigerating it? Refrigeration makes it more refreshing, cold, and flavorful. While there’s no harm in consuming warm iced tea, you probably won’t get the best possible flavor.
That said, the flavor isn’t the main concern here; iced tea needs refrigeration to save it from spoiling. Keep it outside the fridge for some time and see the results for yourself — the sugar in the iced tea starts to ferment.
Also, 8 hours is a long time to finish your freshly brewed iced tea. And if you have prepared a lot of iced tea, don’t take all of it out at once. Only remove the amount of iced tea from the fridge that you’re going to drink in one sitting.
Tips to Prolong the Lifespan of Your Iced Tea
As mentioned earlier, sugar in your iced tea will start to break due to fermentation at some point, whether or not the iced tea is in the fridge. Here are three ways to prolong the lifespan of your iced tea:
Use an Airtight Container
Don’t keep your iced tea in a pitcher — not even in the fridge. Instead, use an airtight jar or container that will keep it fresh. Besides freshness, the airtight container won’t let the iced tea absorb the flavors of other food items in the fridge.
Surprisingly, tea lovers can keep their iced tea fresh for as long as two days using an airtight container.
Freeze the Tea
Freezing is a time-tested method to keep food items fresh for a very long time, and iced tea is no different. Freezing freezes bacterial growth and ultimately fermentation.
And not just iced tea; feel free to freeze any other type of tea, be it liquid or solid, expensive or cheap, tea bags or tea leaves.
Leave the Sugar Out of the Brewing Process
Why don’t we just eliminate the culprit of it all — sugar!
Sugar escalates the fermentation and growth of harmful bacteria. Sure, sugar is a key ingredient here, but don’t use it while brewing if you want to prolong the lifespan of your iced tea. Instead, use simple syrup to sweeten the tea.
In addition to the above, consider the following to enhance the quality and lifespan of your cold brew tea:
- Brew the iced tea at 195F for 2-5 minutes
- Use a clean brewer and storage dispenser
- Properly store cold coffees
Signs That Your Iced Tea Has Gone Bad
Here are three signs that your iced tea is no longer fit for consumption:
Change in Color
The first sign of a deteriorated iced tea is a color change. Typically, iced teas are bright orange, but they’ll discolor upon going bad due to mold growth. This could be because of improper storage.
Good iced tea has a wine-like odor. Damaged iced tea, on the other hand, has a characteristic funny smell due to the fermentation of its ingredients.
Change in Flavor
This is probably the most easily recognizable fault in an iced tea. Typically, an iced tea that tastes fermented and bitter doesn’t demand a second sip. And if you’re an avid coffee drinker, all you need is one sip to tell the difference.
How Long Does Packaged Or Unopened Iced Tea Last?
Bottled or unbottled, the lifespan of your iced tea hinges on its storage. An unopened, bottled iced tea should be stored in a dark and cold area, such as a refrigerator. Keep it away from direct heat and light sources.
Sealed bottles, when stored at room temperatures, will last you anywhere from 18-24 months without a compromise in their quality, provided that you’re storing them well. After that, the taste, color, and/or smell of the unopened iced tea may change. That said, properly packed and stored bottles are far safer to consume than opened and leftover iced tea.
You can even drink unopened iced tea after the expiration date, provided that they’re properly stored and undamaged. This, however, is not something we recommend. The bottles come with a “Best Before,” “Best When Used By,” “Best By,” “Best if Used By,” or “Best Before” tag. These dates are carefully calculated to determine the longevity of your iced tea.
While there are no hard and fast rules for the storage and consumption of iced tea, refrigeration is a must. We hope you now know the answer to the question of how long iced tea lasts unrefrigerated. It’s advisable to drink it as soon as possible, but if this isn’t possible, avoid iced tea kept unrefrigerated for more than 8 hours.
Curious about how to properly store cold brew? Check out our article here.