Cold brew iced tea is a staple for hot months of the year. It can be a delicious and satisfying drink to serve at parties, dinners, or just on a hot day. Many people prefer cold-brewed tea over coffee because it is considered cleaner and healthier.
Cold brew iced tea is made by combining either loose leaf tea or tea bags with cool or room temperature water and letting the pairing brew together over several hours. This drink can be made with all varieties of tea.
Making cold brew tea is actually quite simple. In this article, we will discuss how to make it, plus ways to sweeten it and fun add-ins to try.
Making Cold Brew Iced Tea
The process of creating a cold brew iced tea is easy but takes patience. It is a combination of tea leaves or tea bags and water, steeped over the course of several hours. The biggest consideration to keep in mind is whether you are adding the proper tea to water ratio. It is important to know how much to add in order to achieve the potency you desire.
Use Loose Leaf or Bagged Tea
There is some debate on whether it is more effective to use loose leaf or bagged tea. In reality, either type will work. The process for using bagged tea is simpler, whereas using loose leaf requires a couple of extra steps in the brewing process.
With bagged tea, the leaves come pre-packaged for you. When adding them to the water, you only need to determine how many bags to add. For a pitcher sized batch of cold brew tea, it is typical to use between 6 – 10 bags. The more bags added, the stronger the tea will be. How many you choose to add comes down to your personal preference. After brewing, you simply remove the bags from the pitcher.
With loose leaf tea, you will need to actually measure the tea out. The generally used ratio for loose tea is two teaspoons per cup of tea. This means for every tea bag you would have added, you should instead add two teaspoons of the loose leaf.
Many tea fanatics prefer loose leaf tea for a couple reasons. It is considered more sustainable, as it creates less waste by not using a bag. Plus, the tea may diffuse better since there is no bag as a barrier. When using loose leaf tea, you will need to strain after brewing to remove the leaves and debris. Some minor remnants of the tea may be left at the bottom, so remember to stir before drinking.
Once you have chosen either bagged or loose leaf tea, it is time to throw them in a pitcher and add water. The amount of water you use will greatly affect the strength and flavor of the tea. Put simply, the more water added the more diluted the tea will become.
A general rule of thumb is to add between 6 – 8 ounces of water per tea bag, or per two teaspoons for loose leaf. 8 ounces equates to one cup in measurement.
The water should be cool or room temperature. This is because hot water causes the tea leaves to diffuse and decay much faster. Thus, if you use hot water, your tea will be oversaturated in flavor before it has the chance to fully cool.
Those experience in making cold brew tea may be able to accurately eyeball the measurements. However, for newbies, it is best to measure out the ingredients to ensure you are getting the strength and flavor you desire. Remember, the more water added the more diluted it becomes. If your first batch is too strong, try adding more water and less tea next time.
The diffusion, also known as steeping, process is arguably the most important step when making a cold brew iced tea. It can also be the most frustrating, not because it is difficult, but because it requires the maker to wait over a long period of time.
Properly diffused cold brew tea should be allowed to steep for a minimum of 6 hours, but preferably 12 hours. Many fans of this drink will actually let it steep overnight in order for maximum flavor and strength. However, 12 hours is usually sufficient, and any longer may result in extra decay of the leaves. This can result in more residue at the bottom.
Choosing a Tea For Cold Brewing
Making cold brew tea is a great opportunity to get creative. There are all sorts of teas to choose from, meaning you can make your selection based on your individual tastes and desires. Some people like earthier teas, while others like strong and bold teas. You can also select a tea based on how much caffeine you desire. Knowing the differences in teas is important when choosing what type to make a cold brew.
Types of Tea
There are hundreds of types of tea. It can be quite overwhelming when looking for a tea in the store or shopping through a catalog online. Therefore, before going shopping you should decide on an overall category of tea you are looking for. We will discuss some differences between tea types to help you decide.
- Green Tea: Most teas actually begin as green teas. They are typically lighter in color and flavor. Matcha is a green tea that comes in powdered form and has grown greatly in popularity throughout history. It can be overwhelming to the palette, but delicious when prepared correctly.
- Black or Dark Tea: Black and dark teas are created through an oxidation and aging process. These teas are the most common seen in many popular cold brew tea recipes. They are much bolder and stronger than green teas.
- Oolong Tea: An oolong tea goes through a partial oxidation process, making it a mid-level of tea between green and black.
- White Tea: Teas described as white teas typically mean the leaves are young and barely processed. They are the lightest and most delicate variety you can choose.
- Herbal or Infusion Tea: Teas such as Chamomile, Jasmine, or other blended flavors are known as herbal and infusion teas. They are made typically with a green or black tea base and have flowers, fruits, or herbs added to make them specialty teas.
These are common tea types we have covered, however, there are so many others beyond these. It is a great idea to do research into the many varieties of teas to find one that is exactly what you want. Black teas are typically the strongest and most recognizable in flavor making them good for beginner cold brew makers.
Caffeine level is an important consideration to keep in mind when making a cold brew tea. While teas are generally regarded as having less caffeine then coffee, they can still have very high levels. If you go to a tea shop, the tea makers will likely be able to give you good descriptions of each tea. However, shopping alone in a store or online can be quite confusing.
According to The Whistling Kettle, black teas are typically the highest in caffeine content. However, these levels can be greatly affected by “which part of the plant the leaf comes from, altitude and local conditions, leaf grade, type of tea, and fertilizer used.”
Herbal teas, such as Chamomile, often have much lower caffeine levels, and thus can make for better cold brews to be served to those with health conditions, caffeine sensitivities, or to younger children. However, it is important to still do research beforehand as some herbal teas, such as Yerba Mate, actually have the highest caffeine content.
Of course, one of the key considerations when choosing a tea is which flavor you desire. Knowing the flavor profile of a tea will help you to know what to expect from your cold brew. Teas come in a vast range of flavors, from earthy and floral to sweet or bitter.
Green teas will have the earthiest flavor with notes of grass, bark, or seaweed. This can be an acquired taste for many. Black teas can range greatly, but typically have notes of smokiness, citrus, or chocolate. For floral or sweeter tastes, it is best to go with a white or herbal infusion tea.
Ways to Sweeten Cold Brew
While cold brew iced tea can be delicious by itself, many people choose to sweeten it. There are three main ingredients used to sweeten tea: simple syrup, honey, and agave nectar. Choosing between the three comes down to personal and health preferences.
Simple syrup is created by melting sugar in very hot water. This syrup is very sweet and can add a pleasant sugariness to your tea. However, it is very easy to add too much simple syrup to a drink. Many fans of cold brew tea actually choose to leave it out and add it per cup, so as not to accidentally ruin the entire pitcher.
While simple syrup can be bought, it is easy enough to make at home. The important aspect to remember is to allow the sugar to completely dissolve before using it. Otherwise, the syrup may be grainy and add unwanted texture to your drink.
Honey is very commonly used to sweeten hot teas, but it also works great as a sweetener for cold brews. The combination of honey with milk or sweet cream is a staple for many tea lovers. In fact, honey is the healthiest of the sweeteners listed here.
Honey is rich in antioxidants that promote health and boost your immune system. This makes it a great pairing for tea, which is also high in antioxidants and can also help to boost your metabolism. Compared to other sweet drinks, honey-sweetened tea comes out on top for health benefits. Plus, honey provides a subtle yet delicious flavor to any tea.
Agave is most known for being fermented into tequila, but the nectar has grown greatly in popularity as a sweetener. It has slowly started to be seen as a replacement for simple syrup in coffee shops, bars, and for drink makers at home.
Agave nectar has become a favorite for vegans as an alternative to honey. According to Healthline, agave nectar is similar to honey in calories and glycemic index. However, agave nectar does contain high fructose levels, making it a less healthy alternative to honey.
Try the Ice Brewing Method
While steeping tea in water over a period of 12 hours is the most popularized way to make cold brew tea, there is another method that you can try. It involves using a cube of ice to ice brew the tea leaves and comes from Japan. For the more adventurous tea makers, this can be a great way to explore different ways of tea brewing.
The method of brewing tea with ice comes from Japan. According to an article from Bon Appetit, the method is also known as kouridashi-style brewing and is described as being a “frigid cold water extraction”.
This way of brewing was born out of Japanese traditions for making higher-end teas, such as Sencha. In order to brew in this fashion, it is best if you have a wide teapot. It is typically not meant to make huge batches, but rather a small single or double serving in a small pot for one or two people. It can be drunk either while it melts or after it has melted completely.
Use Loose Leaf Tea and Ice
For this method, you will need to use loose leaf tea as bagged tea will not work effectively. This type of cold brew iced tea is made by placing several large ice cubes preferably in a teapot. The leaves are then added, normally in amounts between 2 – 4 teaspoons.
As mentioned, this type of ice brew tea is best made in a wide teapot, as to fit the ice. These teapots are also known as Tokoname Teapots. However, you may use any type of pot or even glass you desire. Some even use rocks glasses usually used for cocktails. It ultimately comes down to your personal serving preference.
Once the leaves and ice and placed in the pot, you will have to wait for the ice to begin to melt for at least 30 – 60 minutes. You can wait for the entire pot to brew or you can drink it as it melts, but it is important to wait for that initial period of time to allow the tea to steep properly.
If you rush and pour to quickly, the tea may not be very strong or flavorful. Tea brewing has been built into many meditation practices, as it requires a good deal of patience during the process. Be sure to wait enough time, and you will reap the delicious tea rewards.
Add-Ins for Cold Brew Tea
There are several ingredients you can add into your cold brew to spruce it up and make your drinks fancier and tastier. Adding in additional ingredients can not only increase the aesthetic appeal of your cold brew but can also boost the flavor of the tea!
Bubble teas have become incredibly popular as of late. Bubble tea, also called boba tea, is made by adding prepared tapioca pearls to the bottom of a cup before pouring in the tea. Tapioca is a starch derived from the cassava root. It is then formed into balls that become the tapioca pearls, or “bubbles.”
Tapioca pearls have minimal flavor and instead are added for their texture. The texture of a tapioca pearl is chewy and a bit slimy. While many people find them to be an acquired taste, the use of them in drinks has grown in popularity immensely.
Check out this simple Food and Wine recipe for how to prepare tapioca pearls.
Fresh fruits are added to cold brew teas to add color, flavor, and additional vitamins and nutrients to the drink. They are great for the immune system and metabolism-boosting. Some popular fruits to add include:
- Citrus such as orange, lemon, and lime
- Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries
- Cut up pit fruits such as peaches or cherries
Mint or Basil Leaves
Mint and basil are both known for their robust flavor and scent. Adding them to a cold brew tea can greatly enhance the flavor profile of the tea and add a strong and pleasant overall scent. Mint is known for helping with weight loss and boosting metabolism, while basil is great for anti-inflammatory and digestion purposes. Both serve as wonderful additions to your tea.
Final Thoughts on Cold Brew Tea
Cold brew iced tea is a wonderful treat for hot days, but it also packs a healthy punch! You can make all sorts of different varieties of cold brew tea by experimenting with different teas, sweeteners, and add-ins.
Best of all, it can be very inexpensive, making it a refreshing drink you can revisit again and again!