One way of drinking tea that is very popular in North America is iced tea. Interestingly, styles of serving can be different from region as, for example a common way of serving iced tea in the southern states in the US is sweet tea whereas in northern states it is usually served unsweetened with sugar or simple syrup on the side to sweeten it if desired. It is quite easy to make iced tea at home, however one popular method is called sun tea and is actually not a healthful way to make iced tea as the the environment is perfect for bacterial contamination. A warming jar of tea is is basically the same as a pond full of leaves, and warm water and the nutrients from the leaves are the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
While iced tea can easily be made by making tea in the traditional method, e.g. with boiling water, it can also be easily made without any heat. The “cold brewed” iced tea method is not only an incredibly simple way to make iced tea, as you will not have to monitor a hot pot of tea and hope for the perfect timing, but will also result in the best iced tea you have ever tasted, even without the best quality tea. The cold brewing method has two surprising and very pleasant benefits. The first is that iced tea that sits in your refrigerator will normally quickly become cloudy. Cold brewed iced tea will not, and will remain transparent and more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Iced tea made this way will also have less tannins, which means less astringency, which will be more pleasing to the palate. I make all my iced tea using this method and suggest you try it if you have not, you will be amazed at the results.
The perfect Cold Brewed Iced Tea recipe
You will need:
- 1 Large pitcher (with lid)
- Good quality loose-leaf tea (tea bags will work as well)
- A tea strainer
Making the iced tea
Generally I use 1 part loose tea to 10 parts water (1 cup of tea and 10 cups of water), however if you prefer a lighter tea you can go as low as using half that much tea. If you are using tea bags, experiment to taste, but a good baseline would be 8-10 standard sized tea bags per 10 cups of water, or 5 per quart and a half of water)
Fill the pitcher with water, adding tea leaves according to your preference (it may require more tea leaves than you think as cold water does not extract quite as much flavor as hot water). Use a good quality and strong tea such as assam for a robust flavor as more subtle types of tea will produce a weaker iced tea. That said, you can certainly make iced tea with your favorite type of tea, oolong, green, or white, they will all produce a flavorful beverage.
Place the pitcher in the refrigerator and allow to steep overnight, preferably for 24 hours (I sometimes step for 36 hours). The benefit of steeping in cold water is that much of the astringency of the tea leaves will not be released into the water creating an infusion that may not be quite as richly flavored as a hot water brewed tea, but a much less bitter brew. The resulting tea will also remain clear rather than cloudy, even with the addition of sugar, agave nectar, or your sweetener of choice. While this is merely a cosmetic issue, it is still a nice thing to see. You will still achieve an excellent beverage by this steeping method, however, flavorful and with great color.
The next day, strain out the tea leaves and you have made iced tea. Serve with a sprig of mint and lemon for a refreshing treat. As an added benefit, cold brewed iced tea does not get cloudy over time the way warm brewed iced tea does.
Sweetening your iced tea (southern sweet tea)
Some people prefer their iced tea sweet, and while sugar does not dissolve well into a cold beverage, there are a few other solutions (pun intended). Simple syrup is a saturated solution of sugar and water that dissolves perfectly in iced tea, and is quite easy to make. We include a simple syrup recipe for it in our recipe section. Agave nectar is another sweetener that dissolves well in iced tea and adds a nice subtle flavor to your tea. Agave nectar is a honey-like syrup derived from the Agave plant (and used in the manufacture of Tequila) and unlike sugar and honey, dissolves completely in cold liquids.
N.B. One way to keep your iced tea chilled on a hot summer day without diluting it is to make ice cubes out of your already prepared tea. This way you will always have a perfect glass of iced tea without worrying about a watered down experience.