Nothing screams “summer” like a tall glass of iced tea. Though making iced tea is a fairly simple process, there are plenty of little adjustments you can make to take your tea from good to great. If you’re looking to brew the perfect batch of iced tea for your next cookout, picnic, or lazy afternoon, here are a few tips that will help you end up with an incredibly well-made, thoroughly refreshing drink:
Traditional Iced Tea
The most popular way to make iced-tea is the old-fashioned brewing method. Though this process has very few steps – heat water, brew bags, cool – how you do these steps can make a big difference. It all starts with what kind of tea you make. If you want standard iced tea, you should use plain black tea. Whether you end up sweetening it or not, this kind of tea will give you that classic refreshing beverage you know and love. An easy way to mix things up is to use a different kind of tea for your iced tea. Iced green tea, for example, gives you that earthy flavor without sipping a hot beverage. White, flavored, and herbal teas are other great ways to add variety to your iced tea options, and can open up possibilities for people avoiding caffeine.
Once you know what kind of tea you’re using, you can figure out how hot your water should be. Black teas and herbal teas can handle high temps, so feel free to use water fresh off a rolling boil. Very hot water can still bring out some of tea’s less popular nuances, however, so if you’re worried about bitterness,you can let the water cool for 30 seconds or so before pouring it over the tea. White and green teas, however, can burn with hotter water. For these kinds of leaves, use water that’s just below boiling. Let it steep in the pitcher for the time specified on the packaging – for most white teas, this will be 30-60 seconds; green: 1-3 minutes; black: 3-5 minutes, and herbal: 5-7 minutes.
If you want to sweeten these teas, be sure to do it while the water’s still hot. Otherwise, the sugar won’t fully dissolve into the tea. If you’re interested in unsweetened tea, these steps can ensure you have a brew that’s perfectly pleasant without sugar. Your batch will last for 3-4 days in the fridge, but toss it early if it develops any cloudiness or a bad taste or odor.
Sun tea is a fun and interesting way to make tea that involves a long steeping process in the sunlight. All you do is fill a sealable jar with water, drop in your tea bags, and leave it in a sunny place for 3-4 hours. However, there are some safety risks with sun tea that you must consider. You don’t boil water when you make sun tea, so there’s no way to ensure you’ve killed off harmful bacteria.
“Many people love sun tea, but the method has its risks.”
If you use once-boiled water, you significantly lower your risks of picking up something nasty. There could still be bacteria hiding out in the tea or on the pitcher, however. If you want to make sun tea, make sure your container is thoroughly cleaned beforehand, and never leave it out for longer than 3 hours. Sun tea doesn’t keep, so only make what you plan to drink that day and throw the batch away if it’s at all cloudy or suspicious-looking.
Uneasy about the risks of sun tea? Cold-brewed tea is significantly safer. It uses almost the same process, but it’s done in the fridge instead of the sunlight, and you brew it for 6-8 hours. Since heat is what brings out the bitterness in tea, you’ll lose that element in the final product. While many people would be happy to miss out on that bitter flavor, others like their iced tea to have some bite – if you’re in the latter camp, cold-brewed tea won’t give you what you’re looking for. However, if you or someone in your home wants a bitter-free batch of tea, this is a great way to guarantee a thoroughly pleasant flavor.
There are a couple of ways to have flavored iced tea. The easiest way is to simply brew a flavored tea, such as a peach- or lemon-infused blend. You can also add flavor afterward. Mixing in fruit juices such as lemon or pomegranate can add a sweet or pleasantly sour touch. You can also muddle berries and leave them in the tea for a few hours, either straining them out when you pour or keeping them in an infuser while they add flavor. Extracts and syrups also work, but use these sparingly as they’re often strong and can overpower your tea.
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