It’s no secret: Americans love iced tea.
Though Chinese tea drinkers never drink cold tea, iced versions have become a staple of American tea culture. This is obvious in any cafe across the country, where selections of bottled iced teas line the shelves.
But as with any tea product made for the mass market, bottled iced teas don’t offer any information about the tea leaves used, and most have added flavorings or preservatives. Instead of paying several dollars for a 16 ounce bottle of a mediocre brew, we prefer to make our own iced tea by the pitcher, using quality whole leaf tea.
Our favorite method of brewing iced tea is “cold brewing”, which just involves steeping tea leaves in cold water. Since the water is never heated, the flavor extraction is slow, but the resulting brew is always as sweet as possible, without bitterness. This is a great way to get the best possible flavor from any tea leaves.
How to Cold Brew
Cold brewing is one of the simplest ways to make tea. There are three easy steps to this process.
1. Put tea leaves in a pitcher.
It’s perfectly acceptable to allow your leaves to float freely in the cold water. Free floating leaves will always have plenty of room to expand, ensuring you’ll get all the flavor from your leaves. But for broken leaves or just easier cleanup, we like to fill empty tea bags, which contain the tea leaves within the pitcher and avoid letting loose bits into your cup.
2. Add water.
We usually use room temperature water from the tap, but cold filtered water works equally well. Ideal water to leaf ratios will vary depending on what tea you’re using, but we like to eyeball about 2-4 tablespoons of dry leaf per liter of water. Feel free to adjust to your preferred strength, of course!
3. Leave the pitcher in the fridge to steep for at least five hours.
Longer is fine too. If it gets too strong for your taste, dilute with fresh water or ice cubes. Serve and enjoy!
To speed things up, leave the tea to brew at room temperature, rather than in the fridge. This will usually yield good flavor after about three hours. We do not recommend brewing your iced tea in the sun, as even the mild heat can draw bitterness from the leaves. Using more leaves will also produce a stronger flavor in less time.
We also like to use a cold brew to draw out every bit of flavor after a hot brew. Whole leaf teas allow for many infusions, but can go stale if left out overnight between brews. Instead of saving them for another hot brew the next day, we prefer to toss them in cold water and have a refreshing cold brew ready the next morning.
This method will make a good tasting brew from just about any tea, but we’ve also pre-bagged a couple of our favorite options for convenient cold brewing. Each canister contains five giant tea bags portioned perfectly for a gallon of iced tea (or a half gallon to be diluted with ice). Our Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) oolong brews fragrant and sweet, while our Golden Monkey, First Pick offers a richer infusion with notes of cocoa.
What is your favorite tea to brew cold? Let us know in the comments!
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