How To Make The Best Iced Tea — With Tea Suggestions!
July’s most punishing week of heat drove us indoors, into water, away from sun. It persuaded us to skip cooking and instead prepare things that required little kitchen heat, like salads and sandwiches, or to get the grill going.
While the week-long hover near 100 degrees has passed, summer remains. The forecast predicts high 80s and low 90s for the next 10 days, and the pattern probably won’t break until after August. And really — heat often sticks around with attitude into October. It’s a good thing we know a few things about making iced tea! We have been gulping it all day, every day.
We were delighted to meet with Boulder Weekly’s fantastic food editor, John Lehndorff, who has been writing about Front Range restaurants, markets, chefs, recipes, farms and more since the 1970s — he’s the dean of the region’s editorial food pros. You can read the link here, and encounter his excellent summary of our conversation about iced-tea making.
In much of China, at least with when we were growing up, people did not drink cold tea. It was brewed and sipped hot. While Chinese people today have caught on to the iced tea craze and do indeed drink it, tea culture still revolves around hot tea. Iced tea is more of a novelty.
It wasn’t until we moved to the United States that we encountered such passion for iced tea. In this country, the vast majority of tea is sipped cold. At first, we didn’t care for it. We didn’t mind the experience of sipping chilled tea. The problem was the quality of the tea used to make iced tea — dreadful! The tea was always so bitter that the brands had to load the drinks with sugar and artificial flavors like lemon to make the tea palatable. But for us, it wasn’t palatable at all.
So we started making our own iced tea, with whole-leaf tea we imported from Asia. And then, finally, we embraced America’s love for iced tea. We like it so much, in fact, that in 2020 we launched our own line of read-to-drink iced teas in cans — how’s that for evolving!
The 101 on Making Iced Tea
How do we make it? It begins with water. We tap water that we filter; unfiltered tap water, we have noticed, does project subtle flavors that we don’t like in the tea. In addition, while we understand the term “cold brew” has gained quite a bit of buzzy traction over the years, we reject the method. Tea needs hot water, around 195 degrees, to extract all of the flavors.
So we pour hot water over the tea leaves — the ratio is one heaping teaspoon for 8 ounces of water, or an ounce for a gallon — and brew for three minutes. That’s the ideal time for brewing iced tea; much more, and tea can turn bitter. Then we pour the tea through a filter into a pot filled with ice cubes, and let it sit for about two minutes before pouring the now-chilled tea — minus ice cubes — into glasses.
There you go — iced tea, Ku Cha-style!
No sweeteners? Not for us. But if you like your tea sweetened, go for it.
Many teas yield fine iced teas, including Chinese oolongs, Indian blacks, and Japanese greens. We also adore many blends of Camellia sinensis with herbal teas. They offer such diversity of flavors, including fruits and spices, and flowers and herbs, and tea leaves. Herbal teas, too, often deliver a variety of health benefits.
Here’s a trio of herbal teas that we brew all summer long.
Iced Tea: Passionfruit Oolong
Among Chinese teas, we enjoy chilled oolong teas quite a bit. The oxidation in oolongs adds a bit of earthy oomph to the final product. The oolong in this tea is more heavily oxidized; when combined with the fruit in the blend, it’s reminiscent of the tropics. We incorporate mango cubes, passionfruit, rose petals and aronia berries into our Passionfruit Oolong. What’s an aronia berry? It’s a vitamin-packed berry native to North America. It’s also delicious.
Iced Tea: Watermelon Chiller
We call this the ultimate summer tea treat. What’s not to love about the flavor of cold watermelon on a hot day? For this beauty, we first take advantage of the lovely flavors and profound health benefits (an abundance of antioxidants and polyphenols) of our Silver Needle White Tea. To that, we add watermelon, honeydew melon, apple, hibiscus, rosehips and a key botanical — peppermint. Make a gallon of this elixir, and park it in the refrigerator. It won’t last long.
Iced Tea: Blueberry Lavender Bliss
It’s not surprise that we find the flavor of lavender soothing — there’s a reason so many herbal products aimed at nurturing calm include the flower from the herb. When iced, we feel this herb shines, lending subtle floral flavors to blends. But our popular Blueberry Lavender Bliss doesn’t stop there. We add sweet blueberry, which makes the tea taste more summery. We spike it with ginger for zing, and cocoa nibs for depth. Calendula and cornflower punch it up with more floral notes. The result is a tea made for sipping cold on a sweltering August afternoon, preferably while beside a pool or mountain lake.