It’s that part of the year where people come into our shop and tell us that it is too hot for hot tea. That is a whole other issue, which, if it isn’t obvious, I have a lot of feelings about. Regardless, if you’re going to make iced tea, you might as well do it the right way. That is to say, cold brew it.
The first reason to cold brew your tea is that it is absurdly simple, and impossible to do incorrectly. Hot teas can be finicky. If they’re allowed to steep for too long, they become bitter and astringent. If the water is too hot, you’ll burn the leaves. And, if the water is too cold, you end up with wet leaves and vaguely tea-flavored cold water. Cold brewing takes all of the variables out of this equation. You use lukewarm to outright cold water. The warmer the water is, the faster the tea will brew. Lukewarm water should take 4-6 hours, while colder water can take as long as 8.
Don’t worry about timing it, though. It is quite literally impossible to oversteep a cold-brewed tea. Your tea will become a strong, full-bodied brew, and then stop steeping. After a day or two, it may start to bitter, and after a week, we recommend that you please get rid of it. But you can absolutely put together some leaves and water in a jar in your fridge at night, and have delicious tea in the morning.
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Not adding heat to your tea has other advantages. You won’t have to warm up any water, which means that you won’t have to heat up your kitchen. You’re also brewing your tea in the most energy-efficient and greenest way possible, because you aren’t heating water.
Cold brewed tea tends to taste a bit different than hot brewed tea. Anyone who has ever tried cold-brewed coffee should be familiar with the difference. Heating the water before infusing leaves in it cooks the leaves somewhat, thereby changing the chemical structure of the leaves. This is why tea and especially coffee tend to start to taste odd and burnt if you reheat them multiple times. Cold brewed tea has a much lighter, more subtle taste than hot brewed tea. It takes heat for the tannins in tea leaves to be infused into the water, so all of the astringency and bitterness that can ruin a strong cup of tea is totally absent from cold brewed teas.
Cold brewing also reduces the quantity of caffeine and antioxidants in tea. A cup of cold brewed tea tends to have half to two-thirds of the caffeine of it’s hot brewed counterpart. Cold brewed tea tends to infuse its antioxidants very slowly. After 8 hours, cold brewed tea tends to have less antioxidants than the hot brewed equivalent. However, after 12 hours, it will have more. You can manually speed up this process of infusion by agitating the water. That means shaking the container, or stirring it.