Iced tea is seemingly simple to make, but the art of brewing tea takes into account many factors, including the selection of quality tea leaves. Choosing the right brewing time is as important as the right temperature and quality of water.
How often have you ordered iced tea in a restaurant, only to be disappointed by a weak, bland, watered down brew? Most restaurants don’t know how to make good iced tea, and there are many reasons why.
According to the Tea Association of the USA, Americans drink 80% of their tea iced. In fact, in 2017, Americans purchased 1.8 billion gallons of bottled iced tea.
How to Brew Better Iced Tea
You can make amazingly delicious iced tea every time, by following a few simple brewing guidelines:
Always begin with quality tea. Specialty loose leaf teas make some of the most amazing iced tea you will ever drink. And if you don’t want bland tea, don’t use bland, supermarket-grade tea bags.
As with any form of cooking, always use the freshest and highest quality ingredients you can find or afford. Your results will be that much better for it.
Remember, ice cubes melt and will dilute the flavor, so make sure you use enough tea. Most of the time, you will find that you need a little more tea for an iced brew, so the flavor can really come through.
If you want a stronger brew, don’t steep longer. Instead, add more tea. For a hot brew, steep black tea for no longer than 10 minutes. Otherwise, you will pull too many tannins out of the leaf, turning the tea bitter.
For a hot brew, follow your tea vendor’s recommendations for brewing and adjust to your personal preferences from there.
For a cold brew, the longer you steep, the more flavor you will get. Unlike the risk with hot tea, I have yet to “oversteep” my cold brew tea. I’ve even cold-brewed a Nilgiri tea for 16 hours, which created a very pleasant iced tea.
Every specialty tea has its own flavor. They are not commodity teas, which are blended to obtain the same flavor every time. Specialty teas come in a spectrum of flavors and strengths, with white teas on the lighter end.
Using sweeteners in iced tea has always been a hotly debated topic, but I don’t fret. I simply stick to natural sugars, like honey or pure cane sugar. If you use raw sugar or honey, they will impart a slightly different taste profile from white cane sugar.
The only hard rule I adhere to is to NEVER use artificial sugars of any kind in my iced tea. Artificial sweeteners, diet sweeteners and genetically modified sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup are best avoided altogether. There’s nothing good about them.
Though it is often considered a natural, unprocessed option, agave syrup is often genetically modified and Stevia leaves a funny aftertaste. I’ve tried them all.
Cooling hot tea in a cold refrigerator often leads to a cloudy brew. Tea should be cooled to room temperature before being moved into a refrigerator. If it still clouds once refrigerated, try adding a little boiling water to clear it up.
Some teas, depending on the elevation where they were grown, will cloud more than others. Lower-grown teas like Assam will cloud much more than a higher-altitude-grown tea from China or Nilgiri.
Clouding is determined by the specific polyphenol and amino acid content of the soluble solids in the brewed tea. A high mineral content in the water will also contribute to clouding. It is important to note that clouding does not indicate bad tea.
Always store and serve your iced tea in glass containers. It’s not absolutely necessary, but glass is 100% inert. Especially when pouring a hot liquid into a container, a glass vessel will never leach out any gases, chemicals or off tastes of any kind.
Not to mention, pouring freshly-brewed tea from a glistening glass pitcher over a tall, ice-filled glass makes a beautiful presentation when serving guests.
Add your ice to the drinking glass and not the serving pitcher to minimize dilution. A lemon or berry slice and a sprig of mint are nice finishing touches.
Traditional Iced Tea Recipe
A refreshing summer iced tea recipe that tastes amazing! Made with raw honey and black tea.
- 8 tsp black loose tea (Nilgiri) I use heaping teaspoons
- 8 cups filtered water
- 1/3 cup raw honey
- Fruit or herbs like mint, sage, or baby basil for garnish
- Add tea leaves to 8 cups of freshly boiled water.
- Steep tea for 10 minutes.
- Remove tea leaves and add honey. Stir to dissolve.
Cool to room temperature and pour tea into a pitcher for serving.
Add a few lemon or orange slices to the pitcher of iced tea to infuse citrus flavor.
- Pour tea into a tall glass filled with ice.
- Garnish with mint, sage, fruits or baby basil, and enjoy!
Where to Buy Specialty Tea for Iced Tea
Almost any tea in a specialty tea shop can be brewed for iced tea. It’s fun to experiment a little. You can also cold brew any type of tea. This method works particularly well with green teas, including matcha.
If you have a local specialty tea shop close to you, consider yourself lucky. It’s nice to try the tea in person. Most people have to buy tea online, which can be a little daunting considering there are over 600 online tea shops.
As a guide, I put together a review of some of my favorite online specialty tea shops.
Simple Iced Tea Recipes are The Best
Simplicity doesn’t mean a loss of quality, just the opposite. When we practice the art of simplicity, we focus on one thing at a time, with the utmost attention to all of the wonderful details. It is here, in this mindful attention that we find joy.
Our western world can be too complicated at times. Especially in our beverage world, as it continues to be saturated with overly complex and artificially created beverages. Tea is a simple, healthy beverage, all on its own.
I can think of no better way to slow down and enjoy a few welcoming moments, alone or with company, than with a nice, tall glass of iced tea.