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Brewed tea in a blackwater aquarium for wild betta fish by Betta Botanicals.
A blackwater botanical method aquarium using brewed aquarium tea to replenish the tint.


Can I use Brewed Tea in my Aquarium? 

ahhhh the age old question which every aquarium hobbyist eventually stumbles upon, including us! Before blending our own version of aquarium tea we regularly used brewed tea in the aquarium along with other high tannin botanicals like alder cones and fermented catappa leaves. It works, and it’s great! Low cost. But I have always wondered if its ideal for our fish?


Using Brewed Tea In the Aquarium - Benefits, and Pitfalls

Great! So you’ve fallen in love with botanical aquariums, your betta fish, tetras, otocinclus, or goldfish are happily exploring their enriched environment. You’ve done your research on biofilms, fungal growths, and detritus, and you have an entire drawer full of Betta Botanicals… but the tannins in your aquarium keep disappearing! Let's discuss the truth behind using tea in your aquarium to replenish tannins. The forums are full of people using rooibos tea, decaf black tea, and what is it all about?

Betta albimarginata swimming in herbal tea for aquarium by Betta Botanicals, rooibos tea, decaf aquarium tea, blackwater tea.
 A Betta Albimarginata swimming in brewed aquarium tea.


What is aquarium tea and why do we use it?

Aquarium tea is simple. It is a generic name for brewed tea, aquarium leaves and seed pods, steeped in an external vessel of water and then poured into an aquarium to replenish ‘the tint’. We do this when botanical aquariums lose their tinted appearance before the botanicals in the aquarium have had a chance to break down into detritus and there physically, or maybe aesthetically, isn’t room to add more leaves. So, we brew some aquarium tea!

Brewed aquarium tea and other aquarium botanicals for replenishing tannins by Betta Botanicals.

 Brewed Rooibos tea and other high tannin aquarium botanicals.


What are aquarium tannins?

Tannins belong to a larger class of beneficial molecules known as phenols. There are thousands of different types of tannins, and no aquarium botanical contains the same type or number of tannins. They are organic molecules that add acidity to the water, they add color to the water, and due to their acidity, they affect the chemical composition of the water in your aquarium. Add a bunch of tannins to soft water and it gets more acidic. Add a bunch of tannins to hard water and it sorta gets more acidic. The buffering capacity of hard water prevents drastic shifts in pH. 

Tannins are stored in the waxy surfaces of plant tissues, think magnolia leaves, oak, and catappa, all of which have very waxy coatings. When you take catappa leaves and oxidize them into “fermented catappa”, you are breaking down the waxy coating of the catappa leaf allowing more of the tannins to escape the leaf and into your aquarium. 

 Brewed tea for aquariums using thai cutch tree bark by Betta Botanicals, for blackwater aquariums and betta fish tanks.
Brewed aquarium tea from Thai Cutch Tree Bark


Can you use brewed tea leaves in the aquarium?

The most popular tea used in aquariums is Rooibos, often called African bush tea. It is naturally caffeine free and produces a deep red color to the water thanks to its polyphenol content. Learning to brew an optimal cup of rooibos tea for your aquarium is something you should learn if you use it, as steeping times do matter to the total amount of antioxidants extracted. What’s fascinating is that the non-oxidized version of rooibos has twice the antioxidant content as its oxidized, and more widely available, form. When you think of rooibos you are thinking of the oxidized state, red/brown in color. It is difficult to make a claim not to use rooibos, and I do think it is a great option for re-tinting an aquarium for anyone on a budget or who can’t collect their own materials. The only downside I see to it: Would you get more benefit using botanicals collected from a similar region of the globe as the fish in your aquarium? Very hard to quantify and the scientific literature is hard to compare. Keep in mind that if you are going to use brewed tea in the aquarium to always buy decaf, organic, and sustainably sourced.



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Can I use tea for a blackwater aquarium?

Well, that depends. In the botanical, blackwater, biotope and biotope-inspired niche of aquarium keeping there seems to be two opinions on what blackwater means. In the aquarium hobby people judge a book by its cover, and if its tinted it goes to the blackwater aisle of the hobby. But the most correct answer is, that blackwater has a very specific chemical definition which you can read in our blackwater aquarium blog. So if your botanical aquarium meets the chemical criteria of a blackwater aquarium, low pH, low levels of specific minerals, then you can 100% use brewed tea to add tannins back to the aquarium. No harm. No Foul. If your aquarium is more on the botanical method aquarium spectrum then you can also 100% use brewed tea in the aquarium. Gotcha! Brewed tea can be used for any aquarium to replenish tannins, but dark aquarium water does not equal a blackwater aquarium.

Brewed aquarium tea using macaranga leaves for a wild blackwater betta biotope by Betta Botanicals. 

Brewed aquarium tea from Macaranga Leaves.


What tea is safe for aquariums?

Through my time in this hobby I have heard about pretty much any tea being used for aquarium re-tinting purposes. Rooibos. Decaf Black. Decaf Green. Decaf Oolong. Keep in mind that if you use decaf green tea in your aquarium your fish are going to be much more culturally superior to your friends using camomile tea. *Pinky Out* My only experience and recommendations for the types of tea you can add to aquariums is rooibos, and of course the tea from our fermented catappa, Betta Tea, alder cones, and catappa leaves


The best type of tea to re-tint the aquarium is Beh-ttah Tea!

Betta Tea was supposed to be the flagship product for Betta Botanicals, but for such a simple product, finding the right combination to not cloud the water, someone who would make it in the quantities we need, and reliably process the botanicals so we can waive the botanical preparation method took much longer than we thought. But we are finally here and Betta Tea will be an ever evolving product line of easy ways to add tannins back to the aquarium. It is a combination of pure and natural botanicals, hand processed, and packaged in 100% compostable packaging. It is not a one way street to a blackwater aquarium, but a tool for retinting blackwater and botanical method aquariums. We use a diverse mix of aquarium leaves and bark so that when you steep it in boiling water over night you get a maroon color, and when you brew it in the aquarium itself you get a more brown color. We recommend removing the tea bags after 2-3 days, give it a residual squeeze, and either add to your compost or open the bag up to develop your botanical substrate. You can purchase Betta Tea right here from Betta Botanicals!

A clear glass jar of red aquarium tannins as a substitute for rooibos tea in the botanical aquarium at Betta Botanicals.

Brewed Betta Tea from Betta Botanicals.


  • Tony : March 16, 2023
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    Try mix then freeze daphnia with teabag contents for ground forage. Corries, Plecos and Butterfly loaches do well on this “Daph-tea-nia” Mix, a regular feed (once week) in my Fry tank. Sends Fry into a feed frenzy.

  • Ben: November 03, 2022
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    Hey Brian! 100% yes you are correct. All of our aquarium botanicals can be used with almost any fish. We just posted a blog going a bit more in-depth on this topic too.

  • Brian Byers: October 30, 2022
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    I imagine this will help with South Amercian species such as wild angelfish, discus, hatchetfish, etc.?

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Color: MAROON - 32c Re-Tinting Tea Bags

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Betta Botanicals developed Betta Tea™ in the Spring of 2021 to solve the issue of re-tinting a botanical aquarium. We went beyond just brewed tea in the aquarium and we combined a very nice blend of pure and natural botanicals that we feel do a better job than your standard... Read More