Iced Tea

Cold Brew Iced Tea Is the Summer Habit We Just Can’t Kick

June 25, 2018

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).

Maybe coffee's more your speed

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Kate's K. July 29, 2018
I drink iced chai in the summer, making a 6 oz cup the day before and sweetening it with honey and refrigerating. I’m dreaming about it as I wake up. I’d love to try making it cold brewed then sweetening it with a honey simple syrup and adding milk. I don’t care for the concentrates that can be bought. Thanks for the inspiration ~
Sharon B. June 28, 2018
This article has me scratching my head, but maybe that's because I'm one of those "GRITS" -- Girls Raised in the South."

All my refreshing iced tea requires is Luzianne family-sized tea bags (two per batch), steeped in four cups of water that is boiling hot for 10 minutes. Stir in approximately four tablespoons of sugar for sweet tea before pouring your brew over four cups of ice water. Heavenly refreshment!
Matt August 29, 2018
You're not drinking tea. You're drinking brown sugar water at that point. Go read Max's article.
Angela June 28, 2018
If you make sure to steep tea rather than boil it, your results for hot or iced tea is much better. Also, sweeten before chilling. I chill with mostly ice for immediate drinking.
FS June 29, 2018
I do the exact same things with my ice tea.
BeachDude June 28, 2018
Hmmm? Old fashioned "Sun Tea" in your refrigerator!
Peter A. June 28, 2018
Great idea! I like the idea of throwing a sprig or two of lemon basil in too.
HalfPint June 25, 2018
I would also add a few sprigs of mint (peppermint is nice) to the cold brew. Even basil is a great addition.
Sarah J. June 25, 2018
Yum, great suggestion!
Aimee July 2, 2018
That sounds good!
Miachel P. June 25, 2018
Love this.