Everyone in the South knows that a little sunshine and a glass of sweet iced tea will make any day brighter!
However, if you make the unfortunate mistake of leaving this delicious beverage out overnight, will it still be safe to drink? For those wondering how long sweet tea is good for, we have the tea-rrific details!
Store-bought sweet tea will last through the expiration date as long as it remains refrigerated and unopened. Opened bottles of sweet tea, as well as homemade varieties, are good for up to 4 days when refrigerated. When stored at room temperature, both store-bought and homemade sweet tea will only stay safe to consume for 2 hours. Additional sweeteners such as sugar or squeezed fruit can cause opened tea to ferment if left out too long.
Thankfully, for those wanting to extend their sweet tea’s shelf life, freezing is a fantastic option that will allow for it to last up to six months.
Homemade Vs Store-Bought Sweet Tea
Once brewed, homemade sweet tea should only be stored in the refrigerator for up to eight hours. Thus, only make quantities that you will drink during this time frame.
Conversely, store-bought sweet tea will stay safe through the expiration date. Always discard these products after these time frames, no matter the bottles have been opened or remain sealed.
Otherwise, you run the risk of contracting a food-borne illness.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration both agree that all perishable food products should be kept at room temperature for no more than two hours. This applies to both homemade and store-bought sweet tea.
Sweet Tea Brands — Storage & Expiration Dates
It is important to note that some sweet teas are stored in the refrigerated section at the grocery store while others are found at room temperature in the drink aisle. If you purchase the drinks cold, they need to remain cold.
However, when initially stored at room temperature, make sure to follow the explicit storage instructions documented on the bottle once the product is opened.
For example, Red Diamond Sweet Tea must remain refrigerated at all times, and once opened, should be consumed within five to seven days.
In contrast, AriZona Sweet Tea notes that “after opening the beverage, the shelf life is 7-10 days refrigerated, 2-4 days not refrigerated.” Finally, PURELEAF Sweet Tea advises users to refrigerate after opening their products.
The reasons for these differences are dependent on the way in which the tea is made, the specific ingredients used in the recipe, and whether or not the products contain preservatives.
Remember to always throw out your store-bought sweet tea products after the expiration date has passed, no matter if the bottles are opened or sealed. Bacteria and mold are a threat after these time frames.
Lastly, when it comes to sweet tea products purchased at restaurants like Popeyes, McDonald’s, and McAlister’s, the same storage guidelines and time frames for homemade tea will apply.
Proper Preparation Of Sweet Tea Determines How Long It Is Good For
Sweet tea contains a simple list of ingredients — black tea, water, and sugar. Black tea leaves are 100% oxidized and then dried.
This is an important distinction because research shows that the more oxidation, the less of an instance of bacteria. Nonetheless, when prepared improperly, it can have potential risks. Here are the top ways to keep your homemade sweet tea safe!
Clean Your Sweet Tea Container
There is a common misconception that putting boiling water into a container it will kill all the bacteria. Unfortunately, this is not true, especially with sweet tea.
Cleaning your teapot, tea urn or pitcher is an essential part of making this beverage. Otherwise, dangerous bacteria can begin to build up, leading to unwanted health issues.
Before making your sweet tea, it is imperative that you wash your tea container with warm water and gentle soap.
Avoid using abrasive products that could damage the teapot as well as the decorative embellishments that many times come on this common kitchenware.
Additionally, gently dry the vessel with a dishtowel. You can also allow it to air dry, but make sure to leave the lid off during this process. Always clean your tea container after each use.
Brew Your Black Tea — Time & Temperature Matter
Food experts at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln note that “generally, for black teas — bring the water to a rolling boil. Immediately pour the boiling water over the tea. Allow black tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes.”
In case you didn’t know, a rolling boil is when the bubbles continuously rise to the surface of the water, despite disturbances like stirring.
Moreover, the temperatures must reach a full 212 degrees Fahrenheit in order to meet this classification.
However, food experts do note that as long as you reach 195 degrees F, the beverage should still be safe to drink.
Most importantly though, the hot water from the tap will not achieve these temperatures and therefore is not a safe alternative.
How To Make Sweet Tea
Step 1: Boil The Water & Let The Tea Steep
If you were making a large batch of sweet tea, it is best to utilize a heat-resistant glass pitcher. For 8 cups of this sweet nectar, simply start with six black tea bags and 2 cups of boiling water.
In this instance, place your tea bags directly into the container and then pour the boiling water directly into the vessel.
Cover and allow it to steep for 15 minutes. When the time has passed, remove the teabags, without squeezing.
Step 2: Make Your Simple Syrup
For those who want to go the extra mile or prefer to use a cold brew method of preparation, you can substitute your sugar with simple syrup. Just mix equal parts sugar and water.
Then, bring the mixture to a boil for at least five minutes. Finally, pour it into a heat resistant container and give it time to cool.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You will not need nearly as much simple syrup as sugar. The general rule is a 4 to 1 ratio of teaspoons of sugar to ounces of simple syrup.
This recipe calls for ¾ of a cup of sugar or 36 teaspoons. Thus, you will need nine ounces of simple syrup. An easy way to get this amount, and a little extra, is to use 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar.
Step 3: Combine The Sweet Tea Ingredients
Finally, you will add 6 cups of cold water, along with either ¾ a cup of granulated sugar or 9 ounces of simple syrup into the newly brewed tea.
If using sugar, stir until completely dissolved. Refrigerate the mixture until cold and then serve!
How To Make Your Sweet Tea Last Longer
Sweeten Your Tea Later
While slightly acidic, sweet tea is still susceptible to contamination of various types of microorganisms. One of the main reasons that sweet tea spoils so quickly is the sugar.
This food source is a favorite of bacteria. Moreover, black tea can contain small amounts of yeast. The combination of sugar, water and this fungus can also lead to mold growth.
As mentioned, refrigeration is the main step in the preservation of your sweet tea. However, for those wondering “how long does iced tea last?”, plainly brewed black iced tea will stay safe for up to five days in the fridge.
Thus, if you would like to extend the lifespan of your brew, simply hold off on adding the sugar until you plan to have a drink. Better yet, sweeten your iced tea by the glass!
Limit Oxygen & Pay Attention To Labels
Additionally, oxygen is another factor that can expedite spoilage. Therefore, an airtight container is your best friend when it comes to saving your sweet tea!
Furthermore, for commercially made teas like Arizona, Milo’s, or Red Diamond, follow the instructions for storage dictated on the bottle.
Moreover, always use the tea prior to the expiration date. Ignoring these guidelines can lead to food poisoning. It is also important to look for signs of spoilage.
A cloudy coloring, changes in smell, crystallization, or indications of evaporation all point to a beverage that has gone bad. Lastly, even if the tea looks good, a sour taste indicates that it is past its prime.
Always Keep Your Homemade Sweet Tea Cold
This signature Southern refreshment is many times referred to as Sweet Iced Tea. This means, keep it cold!
If the intent is to keep this drink out for longer than the safe room temperature time frame, ensure that it is not kept in direct sunlight and that you utilize insulated ice buckets to keep this sweet tea cool.
Freeze It For Later
Our favorite remedy to this truncated time frame is to simply freeze your sweet tea for later use! Simply freeze the mixture once it has properly cooled, but before the eight-hour window is up.
Simply purchase freezer-safe drink containers and fill them up with your sweet tea. Liquids expand at extremely low temperatures.
Thus, make sure to leave at least ¾ of an inch of space between the top of the tea and the base of the lid.
You can also transfer sealed bottles of store-bought sweet tea directly into the freezer. Do not freeze open products.
You can also freeze your excess sweet tea in ice cube trays. You can even add mint leaves, raspberries, blackberries, lemon slices or basil leaves to give them a little extra zest!
Once frozen, it is best to transfer the cubes to a freezer-safe ziplock bag. Remove as much air as possible before sealing. Lastly, note the date of the initial freeze and use your frozen tea within six months.
IMPORTANT NOTES: First, freezing will cause tea to lose some of its original flavor. Therefore, allow the black tea to steep slightly longer to help counteract this problem.
Second, when frozen, the sugar in sweet tea has a tendency to separate. Thus, once thawed, you will need to shake up the bottle to help mix this ingredient back into the water.
Thaw In The Fridge
As with freshly made sweet tea, this drink needs to always remain cold. Hence, you must defrost your frozen tea in the refrigerator. Thawing on the counter is not a safe option.
Additionally, don’t forget that you must drink this within eight hours once it returns to liquid form. Therefore, only thaw what you intend to drink in that time frame.
We Thought You Would Like
To say this drink is a fan favorite in certain regions is quite an understatement! For those who love this beverage, but need to cut back on their sugar intake, a healthier alternative to sugar and simple syrup is sugar cane juice!
The natural sweetener has a low glycemic index and it is brimming with vitamins and minerals.
This makes it an ideal choice for diabetics, but if someone with this chronic health issue experiences insulin shock, a glass of the sugary version is best to help them stabilize their blood sugar levels.
Keep in mind that no matter which sweetener you use, sweet tea will only be good for as long as eight hours in the fridge.
Therefore, whether you make this drink fresh or you pick up your sweet tea at McDonald’s or Popeyes, drink up before it is too late!
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.