Summertime is a tea drinker's heaven. Summer is the time to leave behind the teapot, cups and saucers, and indulge in an ice-filled tall glass of iced tea — the most refreshing beverage on the planet. Served with mint or with lemon, sweet or plain, caffeinated or not, black, green, white, herb or fruit-laced, or spicy, exotic chai – the possibilities for iced teas are endless.
Iced or cold tea has been served since the early 19th century, according to recipes in English and American cookbooks. The development of refrigeration and the manufacture of pure ice in the mid-1880s greatly added to the popularity of iced tea, which was sold at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and again at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
The antioxidant properties of tea have attracted many new drinkers in recent years. Almost any tea that is brewed hot can be served iced as well. Tea contains virtually no calories until it's sweetened or milk is added, so it's a good summertime alternative to calorie-laden soda and juices.
And don’t be afraid to experiment and create your own signature blends. If you enjoy a light, full flavored brisk iced tea, use an autumnal flush Darjeeling or Ceylon tea. Use a full-flavored, malty Assam for a heartier iced tea. It’s a good idea to blend teas intended to be used for iced tea with hearty flavor 'base notes' such as a Nilgiri or Assam tea, and to use some tea with the higher fruitier or floral notes of a Darjeeling. Remember, once the tea is chilled, you’ll lose some of the subtle flavor nuances of the tea since your palate will be slightly numbed by the cold. Thus, blending a couple of teas with different flavor profiles will provide a wider range of taste.
Rule of thumb: if you like a certain tea hot, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it cold. Adding a little sugar or honey to tea will enhance the flavor of the iced version.
To Sweeten or Not — Here's What to Do!
If making tea for a crowd, it's probably best to leave the tea unsweetened and offer a small pitcher of simple syrup for those who like to sweeten their tea. But, this is also the fun part — I like to offer a selection of flavored syrups so that people can concoct their own flavor. Syrups flavored with ginger, herbs, and flowers make delicious additions to iced tea.
How to Brew Perfect Iced Tea
Brewing iced tea is simple to do. Start with fresh, cool drinking water. Use premium loose tea for the best flavor and do not over-steep or you’ll have a mouth-puckering, tannic-tasting brew. Brewed tea can be kept at room temperature for a few hours, but try to serve your tea as soon as possible after infusing. Chilling tea causes it to cloud — but it does not affect the taste. Brew only as much tea that can be consumed within a few hours.
And, do not make 'sun tea.' Sun tea is the perfect medium to grow out very dangerous bacteria that can make you quite ill and may be more responsible for more summertime tummy-bugs than anything else. Preparing tea using the traditional method using boiling water takes only minutes, and is the safest preparation.
Follow the easy directions below for preparing a delicious, gourmet quality, iced tea. You can easily double or triple the recipe. The main caution is not to over-steep your tea.
Basic Iced Tea
2 quarts fresh drinking water, divided
1/4 cup black loose tea*
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
Bring 1 quart of fresh drinking water to a boil, remove from heat and stir in loose tea. Let steep for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Steeping time can vary depending on how strong you like you tea but anything over 4 minutes will brew a bitter tea.
Strain thru a fine mesh strainer and discard the leaves. DO NOT PRESS THE TEA LEAVES – pressing tea leaves will make your tea bitter. Add sugar, if desired, and stir until sugar is dissolved. (More of less can be used depending on how sweet you like you tea.) If you are making a lot of iced tea for a crowd, make a plain tea and offer simple syrup sweeteners for those who like sweet iced tea.
Immediately add the remaining quart of cool drinking water and allow tea to cool slightly. Fill a tall glass with ice and pour tea over ice. Serve with lemon slices or fresh sprigs of mint.
NOTE: It's best to make iced tea right before serving and avoid refrigerating it ahead of time since tea will get cloudy. Cloudiness does not hurt the tea — but it doesn't look very appetizing. If you have leftover iced tea, don't allow it to sit at room temperature — refrigerate it or toss it.
*If using green or white tea, follow the water temperature directions suggested on the package. Green and white teas use a much lower brewing temperatures.