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.