How to Make Loose Leaf Iced Tea

How to — Tea

how-to-make-loose-leaf-ice-tea

Truth be told, we're slightly obsessed with drinking tea.

And, it seems that we're not alone. In 2010, global tea production surpassed 4.1 million tons and, that same year, tea consumption finally exceeded the consumption of coffee worldwide. Although Turkey and Ireland beat the world in terms of per capital tea consumption (6.96 pounds per year compared with 4.83 pounds per year, respectively), Western countries like the United States are slowly catching up, as millennials continue to search for a more health-conscious beverage.

But for us, drinking tea is more than just having a low-calorie refresher. When it's done right, a good pot of tea can become a complex, decadent, and damn-near spiritual experience. Which is why we're presenting you with a foolproof guide on how to make loose-leaf iced tea for the summer.

The difference between loose leaf tea and regular tea bags

The main difference is the quality: as a modern invention, tea bags were created in the 1900s to quickly (and cheaply) meet tea's fast-growing popularity. So, instead of the premium, whole leaves that you'll find in artisan loose-leaf teas, most commercial tea bags are made from the "dust and fannings" of tea leaves, which sometimes produce a shallow, one-dimensional taste.

Although the tea bag industry has improved over time, we still recommend experimenting with artisan-crafted, loose-leaf teas in order to experience the freshest, fullest expression of the tea leaf's flavor.

Now that we’ve got that settled, let's get started with making your first cup of loose-leaf iced tea.

Pick a method

Before you get started making your iced tea, first you'll want to determine which brew method to use.

There are two types: the flash chill method and the cold brew method, and each type has its own pros and cons.

The Flash Chill Method​

This method is actually the same as traditional (hot) loose leaf tea except that, when you steep, you’ll want to use twice the amount of tea, as the extra water from the ice will dilute your tea and create a watered-down taste if too little is used.​

The upside to using this method is that, when the inspiration strikes, you can brew your tea in a short amount of time, which typically means less than 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to use twice the amount of tea leaves and, as you’ll find out, buying artisan leaves can become quite expensive.

The Cold Brew Method​

If you're not in a hurry and you want to get more bang for your buck, try this method instead.

Of course, it requires quite a bit of preparation beforehand—about 6-10 hours to be exact.

Now that you’ve decided which method to use, let’s begin.

Method 1: The Flash Chill Method

What you'll need:​

  • Water​
  • Loose leaf tea
  • Tea kettle
  • Teaspoon
  • Strainer
  • 2 tea pitchers (1 for brewing, 1 for serving)
  • Timer
  • Ice
  • Kitchen thermometer (optional)

Here are a few things to consider when gathering your ingredients:

Water: As we mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of loose-leaf tea is its fresh, high-quality flavor. However, depending on the type of water used, minerals and various contaminants contained in the water can actually alter the tea’s flavor.

For this reason, we recommend using spring or filtered tap water, just be sure to change your filters regularly.

Regardless, whatever water you choose, avoid using hot water straight from the tap, as the minerals picked up from the pipes will certainly affect the taste.

Tea Kettle: If you plan on drinking loose-leaf tea often (and we sincerely hope that you do), it may be worthwhile to invest in an electric tea kettle with temperature control.

As we’ll explain a bit later, temperature is a major factor when brewing loose-leaf tea, and getting the right temperature can be pretty tricky. Investing in a quality electric tea kettle is going to be worth it, if you drink a lot of tea.  

Tea: As a novice loose leaf brewer, we recommend hitting up your local coffee shops or tea houses to source your tea.

Baristas and tea specialists are often knowledgeable about their products and can recommend specific varieties that are tailored to your taste. 

As you become more experienced—or if there aren’t any specialty shops in your area—feel free to order your tea online. You’ll want to do your research and find a reputable source. Remember, high-quality tea will contain whole leaves that are similar in size and color.

Step 1. Boil the water

Using your tea kettle, heat your water until it reaches a boiling temperature. Be careful not to boil your water too hot, though! Depending on the type of tea that you’re drinking, water that is too hot can burn the leaves and essentially ruin your tea.

Here’s a basic guide to help you out:

White and green teas: 170-185 degrees Fahrenheit, or below boiling. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, look for the small, “fish eye” sized bubbles.

Oolong teas: 180-195 degrees Fahrenheit, or a medium boil. The water bubbles should look like a string of pearls.

Black and herbal teas: 208-212 degrees Fahrenheit, or a rolling boil.

Step 2. Steep the tea

Using a teaspoon, place the tea leaves directly into one of the tea pitchers.

Typically, your tea vendor will specify the correct amount of tea that should be used but, for iced tea, be sure to double the amount. A good rule of thumb is to use two teaspoons per cup of water. Then, depending on how much tea you want to drink, pour your desired amount of water into the same tea pitcher.

If you’re brewing white or green teas, set your timer to 1.5 – 2 minutes. For oolongs, set the timer to 4 – 6 minutes. Black teas should be steeped between 3 - 5 minutes, and herbal teas can be steeped up to 7 minutes.

Step 3. Strain and chill

Once your tea has finished steeping, use the strainer to pour the brewed tea into the second tea pitcher, allowing the leaves to fully drain.

Let the tea cool on its own for a few minutes. If chilled too quickly, your tea pitcher will look cloudy (which isn’t a good look when serving to guests).

After your tea has cooled, refrigerate until cold, and then add ice to serve!

This is also a great time to experiment with various iced tea condiments. While milk and sugar are popular for black teas, lemon, ginger, and fruit are also great for green and white teas. Have fun with this!

How to make loose leaf iced tea

Image (modified): Yvette Tan

Method 2: The Cold Brew Method

What you'll need:​

  • Water​
  • Loose leaf tea
  • Teaspoon
  • 2 tea pitchers (1 for brewing, 1 for serving)
  • Strainer

As we did for the flash chill method, remember to use spring or filtered tap water to ensure your tea maintains the perfect taste, and source your loose leaf tea from local coffee shops or tea houses (see the above ingredient list for further explanation).

Step 1. Add the tea

Using a teaspoon, place the tea leaves directly into one of the tea pitchers. Once again, your tea vendor will should typically specify the amount of tea that should be used, but a good rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon per cup of water. Then, depending on how much tea you want to drink, pour your desired amount of water into the same pitcher.​

Step 2. Chill, strain and serve

Place your tea pitcher into the refrigerator and allow it to chill for 6-10 hours.

Once it’s completely chilled, use the strainer to pour your brewed tea into the second tea pitcher, allowing your leaves to fully drain.

Now, your tea is ready to serve!

How to make loose leaf iced tea on the go

Sometimes you just don’t have the time to complete an entire tea ritual. This is where the ingenious tea-infused water bottle comes in.

With infused water bottles’ built-in strainers, you can actually cold brew your tea on the go. Just allow the tea leaves to rest in cold water and simply refill throughout the day!

As with everything, though, do your research. The best bottles are leak-proof and have easy-to-remove and easy-to-clean infusers.

We hope this guide was useful in teaching you how to make loose-leaf iced tea.

As you continue to experiment with different styles, varieties and flavors, we also invite you to have fun with the tea-making process, and use this time to bring a bit of extra peace to your day.

Perhaps, with time, you’ll also begin to view this delicious brew as “mediation in a cup.”​

Featured image: cloud2013

About the Author

On the day Hannah Jordan discovered the source of true happiness, she was sitting on a cushion in a tiny teahouse tucked away on a side street in Kyoto. Between her palms, she cradled a warm teacup that emitted the fragrance of orchids and fresh grass. Now a sports journalist, Hannah collects antique teapots and has a brown belt in Jiu Jutsu.

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