Science Project – Iced Tea!

July 31, 2011

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I am an iced tea fanatic, so my interest was piqued by the recent Harold McGee food science N Y Times article on the pros/cons of cold vs. hot brewing of coffee and tea. To add to the interest, readers were invited to ask questions, which Mr. McGee answered later in the week.  Since I have branched out over the last few years from the classic Lipton iced tea I grew up with, this article about the best methods spurred my curiosity.  True confessions, I went into this project fully biased toward the method I learned from my Mom – steep the tea bags in boiling water for a few minutes and then pour directly over ice while still hot.  And no sugar please, but a squeeze of lemon is a refreshing addition.  Since black tea turns bitter when refrigerated, I always make just enough to drink on the day it’s made.

I’ve used these principles of hot-steeping for all the various types of iced teas and tisanes I make, adjusting the water temperature and steeping time accordingly.  The NY Times article challenged my assumptions, hence my science project!  Here’s how my experiment worked.  I cold-steeped and hot-steeped the main types of teas I drink iced – Green, Rooibos, Oolong, Hibiscus-Based Herbal and Black.  I then compared outcomes and drew my conclusion.  I had so much fun with this and learned a lot!  I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations for iced tea types and methods.

GREEN TEA

Traditionally, I have not been a green tea drinker – hot or iced.  A few years ago, Green Tea with Mango was recommended when I was at Tea Source, and I was immediately hooked!  I have also come to enjoy hot green tea, which I attribute to learning how important water temperature is to getting the perfect cup.  I mainly like green blends for iced tea and always squeeze in a little lime.  Tea Source’s Mandarin Orange Green is great, as is Gojiberry Green, a new offering from Back Porch Garden in Crystal River, Florida.  I discovered Green Tropical from The Spice and Tea Exchange on my annual visit to Florida – it’s also a wow!

Cold:
Method  1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces room temp water steeped in a jar for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Immediate Results  the tea tasted grassy and very astringent with little of the mango flavor coming through
Results after a night in the fridge  it looked and tasted the same as without refrigeration
Hot:
Method  1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of  160-170° water steeped in a teapot for 6-8 minutes (add a little more tea if you will pour it hot over the ice)
Immediate Results  smooth mouth feel, rounded flavors with green tea and mango in balance
Results after a night in the fridge  so bitter as to be undrinkable
My Conclusion: use the hot method to make green iced tea and drink it the same day without refrigerating

ROOIBOS (aka Red Tea)

I first learned about Rooibos a few years ago when I went to a local tea shop for help finding a tea that could be iced but didn’t contain caffeine.  After a couple of cups of coffee in the morning, sometimes the additional caffeine of black iced tea causes me to levitate!  The folks at Societe du The recommended a rooibos blend with tropical notes called Cape Town.  Tropical Rooibos blends have become a favorite!  In addition to the Cape Town, I love the Rouge and Apricot-Ginger blends from Mrs Kelly’s Teas, and the Blood-Orange Smoothie from Spice and Tea Exchange is fab!  Lemon or lime enhances the flavor.

Cold:
Method 1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of room temp water steeped in a jar for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Immediate Results smooth mouth feel and flavorful with no sharpness – an issue with Rooibos
Results after a night in the fridge  still had a nice smell, but had flattened out and become flavorless
Hot:
Method 1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of  boiling water steeped in a teapot for 6-8 minutes (add a little more tea if you will pour it hot over the ice)
Immediate Results  the flavor was much the same as the cold-brewed, but it did have the sharpness I mentioned
Results after a night in the fridge  flavor was almost gone, the sharpness was accentuated
Conclusion: the cold-steeped made the best iced tea, although the hot method was not terrible.  I don’t recommend making large quantities to refrigerate in either case.

OOLONG

I would have never considered icing Oolong, but on a recent visit to Tea Source their Rhubarb Oolong blend was recommended for iced tea.  Always game for a new iced tea experience, I tried it and really like it.  Today I made an iced plain Oolong, Jade Poochong, and I can’t recommend it.  Stick with the Rhubarb Oolong!

Cold:
Method  1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of room temp water steeped in a jar for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Immediate Results  wonderful aroma with a smooth, fruity and slightly sweet taste – as it should be
Results after a night in the fridge It held up well, even though not quite as good as immediately after the steeping time
Hot:
Method 1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of  190° water steeped in a teapot for 6-8 minutes (add a little more tea if you will pour it hot over the ice)
Immediate Results  almost indiscernible from the cold brewed but without the great aroma
Results after a night in the fridge  very grassy and a little bitter
Conclusions:  I will start making this tea using cold-steeping, but will make with the hot water if I’m in a hurry

Hibiscus-based Herbal Teas

The tea shown is Red Berries, a blend of hibiscus, dried grapes, citrus peel and flavors from Tea Source. While a regular summer drink here for a few years, I haven’t made it for a while – burnout, I think!  I picked some up on a recent visit and was reminded of why I like it. I enjoy it plain with a squeeze of lime or lemon, although some feel it’s a little tart.  Rather than add sugar, I like to sweeten it up by mixing it with Italian carbonated sodas.  With sparkling grapefruit, it tastes like a sophisticated Hawaiian Punch.  Another hibiscus-based blend from Tea Source is Basket O’ Berries, also delicious and not quite as tart.

Cold:
Method  1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of room temp water steeped in a jar for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Immediate Results  beautiful color with great mouth appeal and pronounced berry taste
Results after a night in the fridge  held up well with not much change
Hot:
Method 1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of  boiling water steeped in a teapot for 6-8 minutes (add a little more tea if you will pour it hot over the ice)
Immediate Results the berry flavors were masked by more tartness than the cold-steeped, with a metallic aftertaste.  Come to think of it, this is one of the reasons I stopped drinking Red Berries
Results after a night in the fridge  became more tart and metallic
Conclusion:  Cold-steeped all the way!

Black Tea

I think that black tea is what most of us think of when we think of iced tea. A lot of us grew up with Lipton or maybe another brand of tea bags used to make iced, with or without sugar.  When I want good old straight-up iced tea, I still use Lipton tea bags, one per 8 ounces of water, hot brewed and served with a sprig of mint and a squeeze of lemon.  But I really enjoy black tea blends.  The one shown is Ginger-Apricot from Mrs. Kelly’s Teas.  I also love Lady Londonderry from Back Porch Garden, Ginger-Peach from Bird of Paradise Tea, Cassis from Societe du The and many others too numerous to mention!

Cold:
Method  1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of room temp water steeped in a jar for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Immediate Results complex flavors and great tea taste
Results after a night in the fridge  held up well with not much change
Hot:
Method 1 rounded teaspoon per 8-ounces of  boiling water steeped in a teapot for 6-8 minutes (add a little more tea if you will pour it hot over the ice)
Immediate Results complex flavors, but the tea was slightly bitter
Results after a night in the fridge  cloudy and really bitter
Conclusion:  I think the cold-steeped had the slight edge for black tea!  This is the hardest to admit because it busts my preconceived notions, but admit it I must.  Hot-steeped was a close second, so it will be my g0-to method when in a hurry.

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4 Responses to “Science Project – Iced Tea!”

  1. Darcy Says:

    Suzy, What a fun idea with nice to know info for a perfect summer refreshment. I am fairly new to green tea – for the last year or so I have enjoy a daily iced Jasmine green tea (hot seeped daily). I tried adding lime in place of my traditional lemon, which is a very nice enhancement to the flavor. Many thanks for sharing! Darcy


    • Hi Darcy – I love lime with green tea over lemon . . . perhaps the color coordination :-). Next time I see you, I’ll give you some of the Green Tea with Mango to try. I also understand from Tamzan that you drink the spicy ginger sodas pretty regularly as well! 🙂

  2. Kate Selner Says:

    I am an iced tea fanatic. I drink a pitcher of iced green tea almost every day, brewed hot. I use Good Earth’s Green tea with lemongrass, four bags in a quart of hot water, steeped until it’s cooled to room temperature. I pour it in a pitcher and add cold water, then chill.

    I drink it fast enough that it doesn’t usually get bitter, but sometimes it sits too long and gets ugly. I’ve used the same method with black tea and had decent results.

    I love your scientific results! Very thorough.


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