How To Make Proper Iced Tea (For Science!)

Subtitle: A tutorial for tea junkies. With linkage!

Now, I was going to attempt to be clever and title this blog post something like “Summertime Blues” or “In Which I Instruct You On How To Make Iced Tea,” but I’m not feeling particularly clever at the moment, so you get a bare bones instructional post.

It has come to my attention that many of you lovely aficionados of Camellia sinensis (that’s the tea plant to you non-science-y types) are unaware that iced tea does not necessarily = “crappy overly sweet or deathly overbrewed run-through-the-coffee-maker restaurant non-soda non-sugar choice.”

Many people are only aware of these two varieties of iced tea, and naturally this makes tea junkies (and tea snobs…I’m not ashamed to admit my bias against inferior grades of tea – they do exist and we’ll talk about them in a minute because this is important in the process we’re going to discuss) a little disgruntled when it is too hot during certain seasons to enjoy their beverage of choice.

So! The solution?

Properly Made Iced Tea.

Here’s what you’ll need:

A tea kettle (for boiling your water – I know I said it’s iced, but bear with me here)
Note: I know there are some “cold brewed” iced teas out there, but I haven’t tried them/have no experience with them. This tutorial details how I make and enjoy iced tea.

A heat-tolerant gallon container – I use a plastic pitcher. (Glass isn’t a great idea here unless you’re making sun tea which is delicious in its own right. You can adapt this recipe to make sun tea also. This is just the way I make iced tea.)

5 or 6 tea bags of the tea you’re going to brew OR a size 3 t-sac tea filter for the LOOSE tea you’re going to brew

(Optional!) Sugar (if that’s your thing – it’s not mine)

Now, here’s what you do:

FIRST – choose your tea. Not every tea tastes good iced. Some are better iced than hot. It just depends. Your favorite hot tea might taste like complete ew when cold/iced, and a tea that sucks when brewed hot might rock when it’s iced. It’s trial and error.

We interrupt this tutorial to bring you a word about choosing tea for iced tea

Remember you’re making a GALLON, but also remember that MORE is not necessarily BETTER. Also, you need to keep a close eye on your brew time for this. If you let the tea steep too long, it’s going to be bitter just like it is when you leave your hot tea to steep too long, BUT! Sometimes this is what you want. I’ll explain.

Longer brew times = stronger tea, and since we’re going to dilute the tea we’re making, you want a good, strong base – a concentrate, if you will, just like those frozen juices you buy at the supermarket and mix with three cans of water. So, back to choosing your tea.

The best teas for iced teas are the lower quality teas. Why? Because they brew stronger. See above about that. This is the one place crappy teas really shine, because you need them strong. It’s also a place strong herbal teas that might be too acidic or syrupy hot come in handy. I have a strawberry tea that’s nice enough hot, but oh so fabulous when it’s iced.

What do I mean when I say “crappy teas?” Well, the technically term is “fanning,” which isn’t all that far from “fanny,” where (in America at least – Brits have a different meaning for the word) crap comes from. Tea, like wine and coffee, is graded. Coffee people and wine connoisseurs know a bad cup of coffee or a horrid glass of wine the moment they taste it, and tea drinkers are no different. Not all teas are created equal, so if you think Lipton is tea, well…you’d technically be right. See the part about “fannings.” (Lipton has really tried over the past few years to step away from tea dust into good tea, but in my opinion have had few successes. Just my thoughts. For bagged tea, I prefer Twinings.)

We now return you to your tutorial, already in progress

Crappy tea can be useful. For my iced tea I choose a lower-grade tea, such as Tetley British Blend or (if I can get it – it tends to be an Eastern US brand) Luzianne.

If your chosen tea comes in bags with strings/tags, I find it helpful to tie them all together and pull the paper tags off before steeping. It makes for easier preparation later.

RATIO: depends on your taste. I like 5 teabags to a gallon (that’s 10 teaspoons bulk in your t-sac filter). Other people like a stronger tea flavor, so they add one more. It’s whatever you want/what’s best for the tea you’re using.

Teas I like iced are Good Earth’s Original (or Caffeine Free is just as good!) and Whittard of Chelsea’s Summer Strawberry (herbal). (All hail my English friend who sends me lovely teas!)

To finish the first step, put your chosen tea/tea bags into the gallon container.

SECOND – Fill your kettle to maximum capacity and set to boil. I use an electric kettle that holds 1.7 liters (a little more than half a gallon).

THIRD – Once your tea water is ready, pour it HOT over the tea bags in your gallon container.

FOURTH – Steep the tea bags for 5 mins. If you want stronger tea, leave it for 7-10 mins.

– Use a long wooden or plastic spoon to fish out the teabags. Mash them against the side of the container to drain them/squeeze out the steeped water.

SIXTH – Slowly fill the rest of the container (CAREFUL! HOT! TRY NOT TO SPLASH!) with cold water (from your tap, a jug of cold water in the fridge, wherever) while stirring until the container is full.

(Optional!) SIXTH AND A HALF – If you want sugar/sweetener in your tea (some people do), this is where you’d add it; while you’re stirring in the cold water. Use 1 cup of sugar to 1 gallon of brewed tea to make good Southern “sweet” tea (I’m originally from a Southern state and qualified to know what good “sweet tea” is), or less according to taste. I do admit to putting in about 1/3 cup of sugar in my iced tea when I’m expecting company. Most people like sweetened iced tea, and adding sugar to a cold drink is just horrid, not to mention annoyingly difficult with the constant stirring! This is why you add it now if you want your iced tea sweetened.

– Put a lid on your new jug of iced tea and put it in the fridge for a couple hours.

EIGHTH – Enjoy! Drink it straight without ice, or pour it over ice, or get fancy and garnish it with a mint sprig and a slice of lemon. The possibilities are endless!

So there you are! Go forth and drink GOOD iced tea! It will help you through the rest of this season they call “summer.”

*looks at the calendar*

*sighs and waits for September*