Nothing cools you down on a hot summer day like a cool, refreshing glass of iced tea.
The only problem: most iced tea recipes call for a ton of sugar, which makes them almost as unhealthy as a soda.
But there is a way to get a great-tasting iced tea without resorting to sugar. Or perhaps even without using any sweetener whatsoever.
The answer is loose leaf tea.
Not only does it offer more health benefits than tea made from bags, it also tastes so much better. Seriously, it is like night and day.
Tea bags all have that generic “tea bag” flavor. Whether green or white or black, they all kind of taste the same. But loose leaf teas have a complex and rich flavor, with each variety of tea offering something different.
So get yourself some high quality tea leaves (if you’re not sure what kind, I give recommendations below; if you’re not sure where, try this article) and let’s learn how to make iced tea with loose leaf tea.
Making Iced Tea With Loose Leaf Tea: Cold Brewing
If you want a refreshing drink that also has a strong flavor, then cold brewing is the best option. It is the only method that will get you a tea that is both strong and refreshing.
Cold brewing uses a much gentler and slower steeping process that, results in a smoother, sweeter tasting tea. When you use hot water, tannins are released from the tea leaves into your drink, but with cold water, tannins are not released. This means your tea will not taste bitter or harsh.
It also has the added benefit of not requiring you to heat water, which both saves energy and saves you adding heat to your kitchen, which is likely already too hot in the summer months.
The main drawback is a much longer steeping time. Another potential drawback for some (but a huge advantage of others) is that cold-brewed tea contains less caffeine than tea brewed in hot water.
Most people likely consider this a good thing, since it means being able to drink more of your delicious iced tea without getting jittery. But I know that some rely on their iced tea to give them a little pick me up in the afternoon.
How To Make The Perfect Iced Tea: Ingredients And Ratio
Since tea really only has two ingredients, you want to make sure that both are high quality and that you get the ratio of water to tea leaves just right.
For a standard cold brew, you want to use two teaspoons of loose tea leaves for every cup of water. The amount of tea can (and should) be adjusted for your personal taste. Use more leaves to make it stronger and fewer leaves to make it weaker.
If you are using bags, use two bags per cup of water. You may also want to re-read the title of this article. We’re trying to make great tea here, not mediocre tea, which is what you generally get from tea bags (with a few exceptions). Read Tea Bags Vs. Loose Leaf Tea for more on this.
There are many types of tea to choose from, but I recommend using an oolong tea for your cold brew. It’s not harsh and it is the most flavorful tea, without any of the bitterness you often find in green tea. You want to use a darker oolong tea, like a Da Hong Pao or a Shui Hsien.
Since those are not always easy to find, certain black teas work great, too. Darjeeling and Nepal black teas are both technically oolong teas anyway, so they both work extremely well for iced tea. In fact Darjeeling would probably be my first choice, since it is the most readily available (yes, I know most of what is available on the market is not ‘true’ Darjeeling, but it still works).
Cold Brewing Tips
- Always make and store your tea in a glass container
- Adding some ice when you serve your tea is optional. When it’s really hot out you can add ice to keep the tea colder, but for the most part, you really don’t need to add ice to this type of tea. It just ends up watering it down.
- If you want to add a sweetener, use stevia or a simple syrup, because honey and sugar can be difficult to completely incorporate. You want to avoid sugar anyway, as well as artificial sweeteners. More on sweeteners in this article on making green tea taste better naturally.
- You can store the tea for a period of three to five days if you have not added a sweetener or twenty-four hours if you have.
Brew the tea leaves for six to eight hours. If possible, let them steep overnight in the fridge. The longer you let the tea leaves steep, the stronger the flavor. This also means that a shorter brew time equals a milder flavor.
Once the leaves are finished steeping, go ahead and strain them out and discard them. The pitcher should be kept in the fridge after brewing.
When serving, you can add some ice, a little lemon, and your favorite sweetener. Always add the sweetener to the glasses or cups when serving, not to the pitcher. Once you add sweetener, you cut the shelf-life down to 24 hours.
Many people prefer lighter teas or teas with various flavors. That’s great!
Don’t be afraid to try teas that feature a mixture of fruits or herbs, for a more refreshing beverage. I recommend trying a white tea and berry blend. White teas are a good choice for flavored teas, because it has a more delicate balance and a milder taste.
If you can’t find a good blend you like, go ahead and use a straight white tea and add your own ingredients to flavor it, like ginger, peaches, fresh berries, lemon juice or a natural sweetener. I would go with the milder white hair silver needle tea if adding flavors to it.
Green teas can also be a great choice, especially if you like the grassier, more bitter flavor. If so, go with a sencha. If you want a sweeter, milder green tea, one you can add flavors to, Dragon Well tea is a great option. You can easily add fresh fruit, sweet herbs, lemon juice, or a sweetener to Dragon Well tea.
Another option is to get a jasmine tea, which is already flavored. Jasmine tea tastes great cold and it has been shown to have additional properties that help you relax.
Another great idea for a flavor-packed tea is to add some fresh mint to your berry or citrus teas, which cuts the sweet notes of the tea with the cooling effects of the sweet peppermint or spearmint herb.
If you do decide to go with a darker tea, but would like to flavor it, try adding some diced fruit. You can use in-season fruit such as tangy berries, ripe oranges, or peaches, to liven up your pitcher. Aside from adding more flavor to your drink, fruit also adds volume to the beverage.
This recipe is perfect for the summer. Not only is it refreshing, but it’s also very versatile. You can add fresh citrus fruits, slices of strawberries, or a little ginger to give your drink a nice boost.
To make lemonade tea, you need one teaspoon of green tea (a mild tea like Dragon Well is best) per every eight ounces of water. Heat the water to around 80°C (176°F) and steep the leaves for 2 to 3 minutes. If you use black tea, heat the water to 90° C (194° F) and steep for 3 to 4 minutes.
Once the tea is ready, add half a lemon for every eight ounces of water. You’ll probably want to add a sweetener as well. I’d go with a natural sweetener that isn’t sugar. Honey is my favorite and works great for this tea, since it is brewed hot.
Refrigerate the tea until cold. Don’t add any ice directly to the pitcher, since it will dilute the taste. If you’re impatient and want to drink the tea immediately, add ice to a cup or glass and pour the tea over that to cool it down. It is best to let it cool down on its own in the fridge, though.
Making Iced Tea: Related Questions
Are Tea Bags Better For Cold Brew?
Tea bags are never better. Their only advantage is ease of use.
Their disadvantages are many: they cost more, the tea they contain is much lower quality, and even if it were good quality, it wouldn’t have enough room to really expand inside the tea bag. Then you have to add in the flavor from the paper (and perhaps the staple, if you bag has one of those).
Loose leaf tea contains the whole leaves (or, at the very least, larger parts of the leaves than bags) and they have room to fully unfurl. As a result, more of the aroma and essential oils from the tea leaves ends up in your cup. The tea is more complex and flavor-packed.
Tea leaves can also be steeped multiple times. This means even more cost savings (not to mention less trash).
All that said, the number one reason not to use tea bags is the quality. They contain broken leaves, bits and pieces of stems, and tea dust. This gives you a weaker and mostly flavorless tea. Not flavorless, but it all has the same “generic tea” flavor. There is little difference between one type and another.
What Has More Caffeine, Tea Or Coffee?
Traditional tea has less than fifty percent of the amount of caffeine found in coffee, while herbal teas have no caffeine at all. This means you can drink as much tea as you want without experiencing many of the annoying side effects that you would typically experience when drinking coffee.
If you’re trying to make the switch from coffee to tea, but it hasn’t been easy, you can try a chicory root tea, which has a similar flavor to coffee. It can also help to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and it is loaded with probiotics, which are essential for gut health. Additionally, this type of tea is known to boost your energy naturally, without the help of caffeine.
How To Brew Iced Tea Final Thoughts
Now you know how to make ice tea with loose leaf tea. Pretty simple, right?
Now you no longer have to suffer through the hottest months of the year. Cool down with a tasty, cool, refreshing glass of iced tea made from good quality loose tea leaves and even the hottest days won’t leave you sweating and without energy.
And you definitely want to use loose leaf tea leaves. Avoid the tea bags. Loose leaves provide the full health benefits that are associated with unprocessed tea, like a natural boost in energy, antioxidants, and important vitamins and nutrients.
This tea is perfect for the summer months, but it can also be a great drink any time of the year, if you’re looking for a bolder tasting, fruity tea that isn’t too bitter or strong.