Iced tea: To cool off and caffeinate all at once
With temperatures around here breaking records, it seems like the perfect time to look at one of summer’s greatest coolers: iced tea. When I was growing up, iced tea was always a manufactured product, with no relationship to the real tea my mother would drink by the pot every day. Instead, it came as a powder or a frozen concentrate to be mixed with water, or out of the same convenience store fridges and soda guns as soft drinks.
But really, iced tea is just tea that’s been chilled and, optionally, sweetened and flavoured. (I fell in love with unsweetened, iced oolong tea in Japan last year.) There are lots of ways to make it; you can even just make extra-strength tea and immediately pour it over ice cubes. Lately, I’ve been letting freshly brewed tea cool to room temperature, then refrigerating it, although this does require some advance planning.
As with all tea, loose-leaf makes the best drink, though I’m easily frustrated by cleaning the leaves out of the teapot. (Solution: Make it in volume, to minimize your work!) You can sweeten the tea while it’s still hot, but perception of sweetness varies with temperature, so it’s better to make up some simple syrup so you can adjust the sweetness to taste without the effort of dissolving granulated sugar in a cold liquid. Syrup also opens the door to a variety of flavouring elements, but my favourite additional flavour in iced tea is simply a squeeze of lemon. Clarity is prized in iced tea, and there are a few tricks to achieving it.
How to make crystal-clear iced tea
- Use soft water! The minerals in hard water make tea cloudy.
- Use good-quality, preferably loose-leaf, tea.
- Steep the tea at the appropriate temperature: about 80°C for green tea and 95°C for oolong and black tea. Alternatively, infuse the tea in cold water over several hours, then strain.
- Don’t steep the tea for longer than necessary. If you want stronger tea (to account for dilution by ice cubes), increase the amount of tea leaves. Steeping too long extracts compounds that will make the tea bitter and cloudy.