Is homemade iced tea ever as good as you want it to be?
For me, the answer to that question has always—at least, until recently—been no. Once upon a time, my iced tea routine was either needlessly uncertain or needlessly complicated. I’d make concentrated hot tea and pour it over ice, just hoping it would end up at the right strength, or I’d chill brewed the tea in the fridge (which always takes much longer than expected, right?), knowing that the result would never be quite as delicious or thirst-quenching as I’d imagined. (Over on Serious Eats, tea aficionado Max Falkowitz once described chilled-down hot tea as "bitter mulch water." Not such a sell!)
Turns out there was no reason for me to go through so much trouble for less-than-reliable results. And that's because the most reliably refreshing way to make icy tea is via the cold brew method, which takes just a tad more than zero effort and gives you the most refreshing results.
You can cold brew any tea—you might even find that teas that are a little too intense for you when served hot are just right after a chilly eight-hour steep.
How do you do it?
- For every liter of water (that's about 4 cups), weigh out 10 grams of tea (usually, about 1 rounded tablespoon or 4 tea bags, though it depends on your specific tea). Once you taste your result, you'll know if you need to use a little less (8 grams) or a little more (12 grams) in the future.
- Put your tea into a plastic or glass container, pour the cold water over top, cover, and chill for about 8 hours (though don't stress if you need to leave it for a few longer—it's hard to over-steep cold brew tea).
- Use a fine mesh sieve to strain the tea, then pour it over ice, sweeten it as you like, or, do like I do and chug it straight from the pitcher.
Okay, but what sort of tea should you use?
- You can use loose leaf tea or tea bags. If you're using tea bags, taste the tea after a shorter infusion period—about 5 hours as opposed to 8.
- Pick a tea that is flavorful and bold—one that might even be a little too powerful for your palate when consumed hot. When tea is brewed with cold water, fewer of the bitter and astringent tannins are extracted, which makes your final product both naturally sweeter and more subtle. Besides, as Elena Liao, co-founder of New York's oolong tea shop Té Company pointed out, drinking chilled tea is akin to sipping really cold white wine (or licking super frozen ice cream): The flavors will be muted by the extreme temperature.
- If you're looking for specifics, I've been cold-brewing the floral, honeyed jasmine pearl, and Falkowitz has written that his favorite candidates are Japanese sencha, roasted oolong (at Té Company, they use a nutty yet clean Taiwanese oolong called Iron Goddess), and mugicha (roasted barley tea).
Anything else to keep in mind?
- Don't toss those leaves after your first batch of cold brew. You can reuse them at least once (maybe twice), though steep them for a few additional hours and expect a lighter flavor.
- Do refrigerate your tea to prevent against any not-so-friendly bacteria. It can be easy to forget that tea leaves are perishable produce.
Now that you know how to cold brew, there's no need for any iffiness or guesswork. And just think: The hottest days of summer—but also the most deserved glasses of reinvigorating tea—are still ahead of you!