The secret to brewing the best iced tea of your life? It’s nothing. Well, almost nothing — you’ll need to get a pitcher, and turning on a faucet is required (it’s not as if you can make iced tea appear out of thin air, you know). Just as the art of cold brewing produces the most incredible iced coffee, a long, slow cold brew process will give you the kind of iced tea that will make you feel as if you’d been cheated your entire life. It’s a beverage with complex flavors and nuanced notes, one that doesn’t need even a single grain of sugar or a drop of honey to taste marvelous.
Just as the art of cold brewing produces the most incredible iced coffee, a long, slow cold brew process will give you the kind of iced tea that will make you feel as if you’d been cheated your entire life.
When tea is steeped in hot water it releases tannins: the bitter, astringent compounds that makes wines taste dry and raw fruits unpleasant to eat. When it’s allowed a long, slow steep in cold water, all you’re getting out of the tea leaves is pure, unadulterated flavor, allowing you to fully taste the full range of notes quite possibly for the very first time. As such, it goes without saying that your cold brewed iced tea will only be as good as the quality of your ingredients. Toss those sad old bags that have lived in the back of your kitchen cabinets since you moved in, and go buy yourself some fancy teas that will make you happy. Loose leaf or bagged, doesn’t matter, as long as the tea smells fragrant and potent.
Select a vessel to make your iced tea in. A pitcher is an obvious choice, but you can use any container that has a lid, such as large mason jar or a refillable water bottle, provided that you’re using teabags. If you’re using loose leaf tea, you’ll need to brew, strain into another container, then pour it into whatever you’ve picked to store and pour it from. If you want to skip a step, you can cold brew your tea in a large saucepan with a lid, then strain it directly into its permanent container.
Use a liquid measuring cup to pour cold or room temperature water into your vessel, keeping track of how much you add. Once it’s full, add a heaping teaspoon of loose leaf tea for each cup, then add one more teaspoon for good measure. Stir well with a wooden spoon, cover, and place in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.
If you like your tea a bit on the stronger side, you can let it ride for a bit longer— give it a taste every hour or so until you find the exact time needed to hit your personal sweet spot.
If you’re using tea bags, use three for every two cups of water. Cut off the string and tag first, leaving the teabag whole, and give it a stir every two hours. If you’re making the tea overnight, give it a good stir when you wake up, then let it brew for another hour before giving it a taste.
When the tea has reached your preferred strength, it’s time to strain! If you’ve used bags this is easy — use a clean pair of tongs to fish them out. If you’ve used loose leaf, you’ll want to pour the tea through a fine mesh strainer to remove the tea. If you did this in a lidded saucepan, you can use a ladle to strain the tea directly into your serving vessel, either through a fine mesh strainer, or with a funnel lined with a single layer of cheesecloth.
Cold brew iced tea is perfect when enjoyed on its own, but some like to add a bit of extra flavor.
If you add sweetener, make sure it’s a liquid like honey, agave, or simple syrup, since sugar crystals won’t dissolve well in cold water.
For a lighter, but still sweet flavor profile, go the natural route by adding slices of fresh fruit, like oranges and lemons, lightly crushed berries, or a few sprigs of fresh herbs like mint or lemon thyme.