Sweet tea is a classic Southern beverage that has been served for decades. But when it comes to storing it properly, you may have to adopt a few best practices to get the most out of its flavor and overall quality!
How long is sweet tea good for? Does it go bad? Sweet tea contains a mixture of tea and sugar. So, it can go bad just like any other sweet food! Sweet tea is best consumed the same day but it can also be stored in the fridge for up to 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to 6-8 months.
Read below to learn more about how sweet tea goes bad and some important steps that can help you extend its shelf life.
What is Sweet Tea?
Sweet tea is a delicious beverage made by steeping high-quality tea leaves in water and then adding sugar to sweeten the mixture.
Extremely popular in Southern USA, sweet tea has been a staple for decades and is consumed during the hotter months to hydrate and refreshen the young and the old!
Sweet tea can be made from any type of tea but the default choice for this beverage is black tea. Once the tea leaves (or bags) are steeped in warm water the mixture is then sweetened and then put in the refrigerator overnight.
How to Store Regular Tea
To highlight the proper storage practices for sweet tea, we must first discuss how regular steeped tea or tea leaves are stored.
Regular tea leaves are dehydrated which preserves their flavor and quality. Dehydration naturally gives them a longer shelf life but as soon as you add moisture, the tea leaves will start to deteriorate. This is why every type of tea should be stored in a cool and dry place!
Once the tea is steeped in a cup of hot water, the leaves begin to leak compounds that give tea its signature look and flavor. The mixture is then strained and the tea leaves are discarded.
Now, what you have left in the cup is purely tea compounds mixed in water. On its own, this basic mixture can last up to 5 days – but due to oxidation, the tea will likely only taste good for the first 2-3 days before it goes bad.
Oxidation is a normal process that happens when organic material is exposed to air. This is why tea always tastes best within the first 24 hours of being prepared.
After the first day, it will begin to take on a different flavor.
After 2-3 days, the tea compounds will have undergone severe deterioration which will lead to an altered flavor and an overall reduction in quality.
During this state, the tea will still be safe to drink as it isn’t contaminated with bacteria, but if it is left for longer than 5 days then it may even be unsafe to drink.
Storing Sweet Tea
We have already discussed how regular tea leaves can go bad within 5 days – but when you add sugar into the equation, things get a bit complicated.
Sugar and water make for the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of harmful bacteria. This cuts the storage life of sweetened teas from 5 days to just 2-3 days. A typical pitcher of sweet tea can contain up to 3-4 cups of sugar which can make it challenging to store properly.
Here is how you can store sweet tea:
Storing tea in the refrigerator is an excellent way to maintain its quality! While the tea is likely to go bad within 2-3 days, the cold temperatures in the fridge will slow down the deterioration of the compounds in the tea.
Here is how to store sweet tea in the fridge:
Step 1: Store the tea in a sealed container. While you can also store it in an open mug, you should seal the top so that the tea doesn’t take on the aroma from nearby strong-smelling foods, like garlic, when it is stored in the fridge.
Step 2: Keep the tea at the back of the fridge at 40F. This will protect it from temperature discrepancies when you open and close the fridge door.
Step 3: When it’s time to enjoy a glass of sweet tea, simply take out the container, serve, and then put the leftovers back in the fridge. Do not leave the sweet tea at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Freezing sweet tea is another fantastic way of prolonging its shelf life. This method is reserved for people who want to store the tea for longer than a few weeks.
Sweet tea freezes well and can last up to 6 months in the freezer at 0F. Here is how you can store it:
Step 1: Store the tea in a freezer-safe container. Do not fill to the brim! Make sure that there is enough headroom in the container.
Step 2: Store the container at the back of the freezer at 0F. Consume within 2-3 months for the best flavor. You can leave the tea in for up to 6-8 months but it may go down in quality and flavor the longer you store it.
Step 3: To thaw the tea, simply move the container into the fridge and defrost it at 40F overnight. Once thawed, serve and enjoy ice-cold and fresh sweet tea!
Pro Tip: You can also store the sweet tea in an ice cube mold to make sweet tea-flavored ice cubes! Simply add them to other tea-related beverages for an interesting twist.
Here is the storage chart for each storage method and its duration:
|Room Temperature (68-70F)
Go-to Recipe for Sweet Tea
Here is our recommended recipe for making a pitcher of delicious and refreshing sweet tea at home!
- A pinch of baking soda
- 2 cups boiling water
- 6 tea bags
- ¾ cup white sugar
- 6 cups cool water
Step 1: Begin by adding 2 cups of boiling water in a sturdy pitcher, then tie together the tea bags and dip them in the water a few times before leaving them submerged for about 15 minutes.
Step 2: Once the tea concentrate is ready, remove the tea bags and make sure you give them a final squeeze to take out as many tea compounds from the bag(s) as possible.
Step 3: Add baking soda and sugar. Mix slowly until the sugar has dissolved. If the sugar doesn’t fully dissolve then you can heat the mixture over the stove at very low heat until it dissolves. Do not overcook the tea!
Step 4: Top the sweet tea concentrate with cold water and then store the sweet tea at the back of the fridge at 40F for at least 4-8 hours. Enjoy cool, fresh, and delicious sweet tea!
Signs of Spoilage
Before consuming stored sweet tea, its best that you first check for a few common signs of spoilage:
Sweet tea has a very dark caramel-like color when it is fresh. If you notice any color changes on the surface then this would indicate spoilage.
We highly recommend that you check the tea while it is in the container before pouring out a glass as that might agitate the tea and make it difficult to see any surface changes.
Fresh sweet tea will either have a light black-tea-ish kind of smell with a bit of sweetness – or it will smell like nothing.
Remember, sweet tea is made from sugar, which means that when it goes bad, it is likely to give off a foul sulfuric odor. We recommend that you carefully smell the jug/container before pouring a glass to confirm its freshness.
Loss of Flavor
Changes in flavor are fairly common in tea that has been stored for a while. As discussed above, this happens due to a natural process called oxidization. Even when tea is stored properly and consumed after 3-4 days, it will likely taste less intense.
If the tea has lost all flavor, then it’s likely that it is past its expiry! While it may still be safe to drink, provided that the tea doesn’t exhibit any of the other signs of spoilage discussed above, we recommend that you avoid consuming bland sweet tea.
Simply rinse your mouth, discard the tea, and disinfect all the containers before reusing them.
Does Tea Without Sugar Last Longer?
Sweet tea that is initially prepared and stored without sugar may be able to survive 1-2 more days but the tea will still be at the mercy of oxidization which means that regardless of the ingredients, unless there is a preservative added to the beverage, it will still oxidize and lessen in quality.
Can Sweet Tea Ferment?
Since sweet tea contains diluted sugar and is prepared in water, it can easily ferment and grow bacteria. We highly recommend that you consume sweet tea within 48 hours of making it. Always store the tea in the fridge when not in use and consume it within 3-4 days for the best flavor and quality.