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Why Does Iced Tea Get Cloudy? (And How to Fix It)

When it’s hot outside, we all have our go-to drinks, and for many, iced tea is at the top of the list.  For some reason, it just quenches your thirst and doesn’t leave you wanting more.  But sometimes, that pitcher of tea can get cloudy.  But just why does that happen, and what exactly causes that cloudiness?

Cloudiness in iced tea is caused during brewing when the tannins and the caffeine in the tea bind together as the tea cools.  It can also be caused by the traces of natural oils that occur during brewing.  Cloudiness doesn’t affect the taste of the tea, but it definitely affects the look. 

Fixing or preventing cloudy iced tea isn’t hard to do. There are only a couple of factors at play, especially since there are only two ingredients in tea: tea and water.  Getting the correct method down can take a little bit of practice but once mastered, it’s simple!  

What Causes Cloudiness in Iced Tea?

Understanding how your tea gets cloudy is the first step in learning how to avoid it.  Cloudy iced tea happens when the caffeine and tannins in the tea combine during the brewing process.  Tannins are a chemical compound in tea.  They’re what give tea the dry, slightly bitter taste and dark color we know and love. 

The amount of cloudiness is directly affected by the temperature at which you brew the tea.  Cooks Illustrated discovered that tea brewed at temperatures above 100° F all had some degree of cloudiness.  

This is because the hotter the water you brew with, the more tannins and caffeine are released.  

So, if you have time and want crystal clear iced tea, the best way to brew is with room temperature filtered water.  

How to Make Crystal Clear Iced Tea 

Since higher temperatures cause cloudiness during brewing, the best way to get that crystal clear iced tea is to start your brew with room temperature water.  

Now we know why sun tea has always been such a popular way to make a batch of iced tea! For best results, here’s how to make a quart of tea without all that cloudiness:

  1. Pour 1 quart of room temperature filtered water into a large glass pitcher or other container.
  2. Add 5-7 tea bags of your choice: black tea, green tea or white teas work great
  3. Let steep at room temperature for 8 – 10 hours.
  4. Refrigerate overnight or serve over ice immediately.

Because room temperature brewing can result in tea with a weaker taste, you may need to add more tea bags for your personal taste.   It’s always easier to dilute your strong tea down to your favorite strength than it is to live with weak tea!

glass of iced tea with lemon

How to Fix Cloudy Iced Tea

If you don’t have time for an all day room temperature brewing process, or ended up with a batch of cloudy tea don’t despair.

If you have made a pitcher of cloudy iced tea, try this method from Good Housekeeping.  Cloudy tea usually can be fixed by adding about a cup of boiling water to a quart of cloudy tea.   Simply add the boiling water to your pitcher, and stir to clear it.  Then rechill before you drink. 

If you use this method remember that you have just diluted your tea, so make sure to take that into consideration when adding ice before you enjoy a refreshing glass. 

Other Iced Tea Issues

Why is there Sediment in your Iced Tea?

Sediment at the bottom of your glass can be caused by a couple of things, but is harmless.

Most of the time, what you’re seeing are tiny pulverized tea leaves that have escaped from a tea bag.  There’s actually a name for this – tea dust.  If you brew with loose leaf tea, sediment can be even more pronounced.  

Drink that sediment – those tea leaves are packed with antioxidants and nutrients.  

Why does Iced Tea Get Slimy?

Tea likes to rest, just like all of us.  As odd as it sounds, tea can become slimly if disrupted too much while it is steeping.  Once you start to steep your tea, the best practice is to let it rest while it is brewing.

At the same time, we must be precise when steeping our tea.  It does like to rest, but steeping too long can cause it to basically over process.  When this happens, it becomes slimy and gets a film-like layer on top.  Again, hot water is a culprit. 

According to Tea Chat, when the water is too hot, this will also cause the tea to become slimy because the tannins break down and leave a film.

How to Tell if your Tea Has Gone Bad?

One of the best methods is to rely on your senses.  If the scent of the tea leaves is gone, it is likely that the natural oils in the tea have evaporated. 

Once the tea has ‘gone bad,’ you will be able to smell a strong, almost moldy smell coming from the tea.  Don’t ignore it.  Seems silly, but it is often overlooked.  Give a quick sniff to the tea before you take a swig!

Another obvious sign is mold.  Sometimes if tea sits too long (we are talking months), the leaves can start to mold.  Of it there are no leaves left in the batch; the mold can start to grow on the top of the tea itself.  

Lastly, even if there is no mold or no musty smell, you can tell tea is bad when it is devoid of taste.  Over time, it will lose all the fresh, crisp taste, and that is when you know you should pour it out.  

This tends to happen more often when tea is left to mix with open air.  Meaning there is no lid or covering on the container for your tea.  

mason jar of cloudy iced tea with lemons and a straw on a table with a green background

More Ways to Brew Iced Tea

There are almost as many ways to brew tea as there are types of tea.  

If you want crystal clear iced tea and have time to spare, definitely go for the room temperature brewing method outlined above.   That is the best method to avoid cloudiness.

If you’re a curious iced tea drinker and want to be able to personally taste test the different brewing methods, you might want to take a look at these other common brewing methods. 

  • Traditional Brew – This method consists of using a large teapot and putting your tea directly into the pot with boiling water and letting the tea steep for 3-5 minutes.  Then refrigerate the brewed hot tea until cool and pour over ice.
  • Cold Brew – The cold brewing method is done by using cold water and pouring it over tea.  It is then refrigerated for many hours as it steeps in the cold water.  It definitely is the longest method for brewing tea.  When done steeping, pour over ice and enjoy your clear cold-brew tea.
  • Sun Tea – To use this method,  add tea bags to a pitcher, fill the pitcher with water, and place a lid on it.  Then put the tea in direct sunlight for several hours to brew. As with all iced tea, once it is done steeping in the sunlight, you will want to refrigerate and enjoy it cold. 

Maybe the next time you make iced tea, you can try a new method; you may just find your new favorite!

Perfecting Your Iced Tea

For iced tea lovers, there’s nothing better than a cold glass on a hot day.  Whether you love your tea with lemon, or you’re a fan of southern sweet tea, a crystal clear pitcher of iced tea without a hint of cloudiness is the ultimate goal.  

With some advance planning and by controlling the temperature of your brewing you can get a perfect pitcher of iced tea every time!   

And if you do get a bit of cloudiness, remember it is harmless and won’t affect the taste of the tea.   Just pour in some boiling water, or drink it out of a colored glass!

Water Quality and Clear Tea

The type of water you use can have a big impact on the quality of the tea you end up with.

For the best ice tea, if you have hard water, don’t use unfiltered tap water because good quality water is important for a nice clear glass of iced tea. The high concentration of minerals in hard water can react with the polyphenols in tea to cause a cloudy appearance.

Distilled water is free of minerals and foreign particulates so can be a good choice if you’re still having cloudy tea problems. Bottled water can also help you avoid iced tea clouds in your brewed tea.

Is Cloudy Tea Safe to Drink?

If your cloudy tea is due to hard water or brewing with hot water, it’s safe to drink. It will taste just as delicious once you pour it over ice cubes, it just won’t look as nice.

If you love tea as much as I do, pin this to your favorite tea-loving Pinterest board and pass it on for others to enjoy! Pinkies up!

Glass of cloudy iced tea with lemon