The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Iced Tea, Part I

By: Cyndi Amaya

With the warm weather approaching, many of us flock to our all-time favorite cold beverage- iced tea! But with all the sugar-laden powders and bottled iced teas out there, the iced tea we all know and love has turned into the latest unhealthy soft drink. If you read the label of these so-called "teas", you may notice everything but actual tea leaves in it. From artificial sugars and preservatives to "fruit and tea essences," the dangers of drinking these can actually outweigh the benefits.

When brewed properly, tea is actually one of the healthiest beverages you can drink since its rich in antioxidants called flavonoids. These are most potent when tea is freshly brewed and can ward off against the aging effects of pollution and help prevent cancer in the body. Those are only a couple benefits, even more include reducing your risk of health disease, building stronger bones and teeth, boosting your immunity and your metabolism to help you maintain a healthy weight. Plus, tea has less caffeine than coffee but can still help to keep you awake.

All that info is great, but you might be asking, how do I make my own iced tea? Making your own perfect iced tea is not as complicated as it may seem, yet not as simple as dipping a tea bag into a cup of iced water. The key to a perfectly brewed cup of tea is in the extraction. While cold brewing might sound like a quick and easy solution, you may not get all of the healthy benefits to the tea when not steeped in hot water. So to avoid all confusion, here are 8 surefire tips to making your own perfectly brewed iced tea.

  1. Use fresh tea: Those tea bags that have been sitting in your top pantry shelf for the past 3 years are not going to cut it! Why? The oils in the leaves that give tea their flavor break down over time. Also opt for loose tea and buy a small tea strainer or tea ball, since tea leaves need room to expand to extract full flavor. If you are using bags, go for the pyramid-shaped bags.
  2. Start with spring or filtered tap water: If your tap water already looks like iced tea, don't use it! Filter your water first or use spring water since water with too many minerals can produce off-flavors in your tea or distilled water can produce a flat-tasting brew.
  3. Use the appropriate heat: Stronger teas like black or oolong teas require a higher temperature for proper extraction, so using boiling water (212 degrees F) works best for these. But lighter teas like green, white, or fruit mixed teas only need water that is 170-180 degrees F since using boiling water for these teas can create bitterness.
  4. Brew just the right amount: You don't want to use too much water so that your tea has no flavor but you also don't want to use too much tea and have the leaves go to waste. Eating Well suggests using 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of tea per cup for larger tea leaves like green, white, or chamomile and only 1 teaspoon per cup of teas with denser flavors like black tea.
  5. Do not over-steep your tea: Over-steeping your tea releases tannins from the leaves which causes uncomfortable bitterness when drinking tea. Lighter teas require only 2-3 minutes in water, while darker teas require about 3-5 minutes to release all of the flavor. Herbal or fruit infusions are less concentrated so they can steep a couple minutes more since there is less risk of over-steeping.
  6. How to make it: So here comes the actual iced part to the iced tea. Pour the hot water over your loose tea or tea bags in your cup or a larger container. If adding a sweetener, add it when pouring the hot water into your container so it can dissolve properly. After your tea is done steeping, allow for it to cool at room temperature before serving or before refrigerating for later use. Once it is cool enough to serve, place a few ice cubes in a glass and pour in the tea. Adding ice to the hot tea will just dilute the flavor and refrigerating right away will cause cloudiness in your tea.
  7. Account for the watering-down: There are a few ways you can go to avoid your iced tea from watering-down from melting ice. One is to brew the tea double-strength and add plenty of ice to avoid diluting. Another is to pour steeped tea into your ice cube tray to freeze. Use the tea ice cubes later on in your tea and as they melt they create not only the perfect temperature but also avoids any water-down effect.
  8. Choose your own flavors: Here comes the fun part! The beauty of making your own iced tea is adding your own twists to make it all your own. There are countless variations of flavor combinations that you can muster up, like adding fruit or other juices to your tea to spice it up. Try mixing tea blends or making your own tea blends, like mixing a strong tea with a light one or with a fruit-infused tea. Try steeping spices like star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger along with the tea to enhance flavors. You can also infuse your tea by using herbs like mint, sage, lemongrass, lavender, basil, verbena, and lemon balm; but do not steep them in the hot water, instead clean and trim the herbs and place them into your iced tea pitcher.  The addition of fruit always enhances iced tea. If using fresh fruit, infuse the tea with fruit the same way as you would herbs above by placing them in the pitcher and refrigerating. Another great tip to avoid dilution is to use either cold fruit juice or frozen fruit to cool your tea. You can even freeze juice or fruit in your ice cube trays to later use as the ice for your iced tea.

The variations are endless and all depend on your own taste, but following these steps will ensure the best iced tea you've ever had!

Stay tuned for part II of our Guide to the Perfect Iced Tea for a few recipes and even suggestions on making iced tea cocktails!

Photo: drp 

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