How can I prevent tea from molding or turning on my counter?
January 10, 2014 12:09 PM   Subscribe

We just recently bought one of these drink dispensers. I thought we went through enough iced tea to fill it, so the two times I've made tea, I made about 2.5 gallons. Both times, the tea spoiled before we could drink all of it.

The first time, I cleaned the inside with soap and water, and made green tea. No sweetener or fruit was added. I cooled down the tea and iced it as I poured it in. The ice only lasted the rest of the day, and by day three on the counter, there was a musty taste and the beginnings of white mold globs on the surface of the tea.

The second time, I cleaned the inside with bleach and water, and made black tea. I added some stevia and some citric acid for flavor. I poured it in hot, and let it cool on the counter. Again, by day three, there was an odd taste - different than before, more like what I'd associate with the taste of gargling with hydrogen peroxide. When I poured it out, there was a largish weak, dark blob in the bottom, the consistency of wet tissue.

I am familiar with kombucha, but don't want that. Neither time tasted like a kombucha starter. For that matter, kombucha is usually fueled by added sugars, and I'm adding none.

I live in Florida, and the container is way too big to fit in the fridge.

Are there any safe, drink-able preservatives I can add to the tea that won't affect the taste, or do I just have to make less and drink more? Are there any better sterilization practices I can use that will help the tea last longer on the counter?
posted by tomierna to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience, tea does not sit well at room temperature for more than a day or so. I don't think there's a lot you can do about that, it develops an odd, bitter-yet-musty taste even when completely plain. So yeah, make less, drink more, or find a way to refrigerate it are your options.
posted by donnagirl at 12:17 PM on January 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've had that same thing happen to a number of drinks that were stored at room temperature for any length of time. I think your tea problem may be two-fold: a problem with ANY drinks left at room temp, and a problem with the tea itself kinda breaking down over time.

I can't really help ya with item #2 (I'm not the boss of tea, and it's gonna do what it's gonna do), but as far as #1 goes, I'd probably try soaking your tea-dispenser in an acid-based industrial sanitizer (like the cheap, excellent Star San) prior to filling it. I suspect the "blob" that you found (and that I myself have found on occasion) is a harmless but gross overgrowth of normal "bugs" in the environment (bacteria, yeasts, whatnot). Those "bugs" aren't eliminated by standard dishwashing, but the Star San will demolish them.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2014

Not sure if this will totally solve the problem, but for parties, I stick a bunch of whole lemons in the freezer and use those to chill punch bowls and such without watering down or significantly altering flavor. Maybe a handful of frozen lemons every morning would keep it cool enough to extend the life? Maybe freeze half of the batch in a few bundt pans and use that to ice the drink (so that it melts over the day into more tea).

But, personally, I wouldn't drink it if it's been out for more than a day, unless it still feels objectively cold.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tea isn't meant to keep at room temp for more than a day.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2014 [12 favorites]

I don't think tea is meant to be left out for more than 2 days... I'm a pretty die hard tea drinker, and I've never had it still taste good more than 24 hrs later, and after 48hrs it's usually not worth drinking.

My impression is that those tea/juice/drink dispensers are meant to be used at a party or the like, not for daily drinking of a weekly batch...
posted by larthegreat at 12:26 PM on January 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Even without sugar there's a lot of suspended organic matter in tea, basically tiny particles of tea leaves, and this is going to provide the fuel for bacterial growth. There's really no way around it. Maybe if you pasteurized the tea and/or microfiltered it, but I doubt it's worth the effort. Make less tea, more often.
posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you can't just leave tea out like that. When summer comes, it'll be worse. At my restaurant in Atlanta we had to dump tea made at 9am before dinner time, even in super air conditioning. You'll either have to make less or make peace with dumping a fair amount.
posted by stormygrey at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing that leaving tea out for more than a day on the counter isn't gonna work. Or any kind of beverage, actually - especially in the container you have, which isn't even an insulated thing. You'd be better off with something you can put into the fridge at the end of the day and take out again.

Or, just make less tea more often.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2014

Get one of these instead and put it in your refrigerator.
posted by woodvine at 12:42 PM on January 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

We cold brew tea a gallon at a time. Throw 14 teabags in a gallon of cold water and leave in the fridge for 4-12 hours. It's generally ready to drink in 4, but the tea bags often get left for 8-12 hours with no noticeable negative effect. It may be my imagination but I think cold brewed tastes better too. It has a brighter, almost fruity undertone that I didn't ever get from boiling water. Give it a try.
posted by COD at 12:48 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could make a very strong tea concentrate that you keep in the fridge and just put plain water in your countertop dispenser. Make tea by pouring a small amount of concentrate in a glass and topping off with water from the dispenser.

Those dispensers are better used for a party or event where a large volume is consumed within a few hours. Very few beverages will survive sitting out on the counter in Florida. You'll start growing things in most anything that has more than water in it.

You can keep sterilizing with stronger chemicals, but I'm betting that most of your mold spores are in the air rather than in the container.
posted by quince at 1:30 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make what you drink, and drink what you make. I know it's tempting to fill that thing, but you really only need to fill it up for your next house- or garden-party; beyond that, stick to what you know you can drink, and little more.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:06 PM on January 10, 2014

Thanks for your comments folks.

We'll use the big dispenser for gatherings, and I'll be getting one of the fridge dispensers that woodvine linked to.
posted by tomierna at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2014

In my experience, those dispensers are convenient but they're a bitch to clean, even if you only use water in them. Lots of little nooks and crannies that gunk will eventually form on, even in the fridge.

I make my tea in a 2 quart mason jar (four to six teabags, fill the jar with almost-boiling water) and I leave it on the counter, with a lid on it. I do drink it all by the end of a couple of days; I get weird floaties and bad taste if I let it go longer. Easy to clean and easy to pour from, too.
posted by lemniskate at 7:40 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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