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Hot, Cold, or Over Ice: Your Guide on How to Brew Tea

Posted by Ben Arneberg on

Brewing tea is a time-honored art form and an enjoyable ritual. You’ve probably got the basic idea. Heat water, add tea. But there are techniques and different kinds of methods for how to brew tea that can dramatically change the flavors that end up in your cup. In this short article, we’ll give you some tips for brewing hot tea, cold tea, and iced tea!

How to Hot Brew Tea

When brewing hot tea, the temperature and steep time depend on the type of tea you’re using. Below we’ll give you a chart of temperature and steep times for specific types. But first, some general tips:

  • Boil fresh, cold water. Don’t boil hot water or re-boil previously boiled water. If you don’t believe it matters, try it both ways and see for yourself which cup of tea is better.
  • Tea first, water second. Don’t dunk a tea bag or sprinkle leaves on top of hot water. Add the tea to your cup (or pot) first and pour the water over it. This helps evenly saturate and steep all the tea.
  • Cover while steeping. You don’t want the temperature to change dramatically during steep time. Cover your cup with a small plate or keep the lid on your pot. Don’t remove until steeping is done.
  • Remove tea immediately after steeping is done. Each additional second you leave it will increase bitterness. With that said, people have their own preferences. You can experiment with shorter and longer steep times and create your own method for how to brew tea bags.

Steep Times & Temperatures

Here are the temperatures and times for some of the most common types of teas:

Various tea temperatures

You can see that some have a fairly wide range of either time or temperature. As a general rule, high temperatures will bring out more bitters while lower temperatures will give a mellower flavor.

For times, the longer you steep, the more flavor is extracted. So if you want bold, strong teas, go for the higher end of the range. Longer steep times will also bring out more tannins. Tannins have a bitter flavor which some people like and others don’t. In either case, tannins are excellent for your immune system so if your main goal is health, you’ll want to let the tea steep longer at high temperatures.

Loose Leaf vs Tea Bags

When brewing tea, you can choose to get tea that comes in little tea bags or buy loose leaf tea. Both have their pros and cons so it’s really a personal preference. Let’s look at the key points of both.

Tea bags are convenient. You don’t have to measure because it’s already stored in individual portions. And when steeping is done, you just take the bag out to stop the extraction. However, the tea inside tea bags tends to be ground to a crumble. This lets the essential oils escape and evaporate so you’re not getting as much flavor. Moreover, it extracts too quickly meaning you get those bitter tannins sooner.

Tea bags

Loose leaf teas are sold as larger, dried leaves. As larger, uncrushed leaves, they are still packed with essential oils and they extract more slowly and evenly so you get a well-rounded flavor profile with predictable tannin levels. Since they aren’t bound up in a small bag, they can also circulate better while steeping for a more even extraction of the whole leaf through the whole cup of water.

So, in general, we would say loose leaf brings higher quality. However, bags are convenient. For the best of both worlds, you can buy loose leaf and a reusable mesh tea ball that lets the leaves circulate better than a bag but still lets you easily remove them when done.

Tips For Brewing Iced Tea

In summer, you’ll probably want to know how to cold brew tea. When making iced tea, you brew the tea according to the hot brew method and then pour it over ice to cool it down. Here are some things you need to know when making iced tea:

  • ​Make hot tea first and remove the tea bags/leaves before pouring over ice.
  • ​Use large ice cubes. Smaller cubes or crushed ice will melt too quickly, making the tea watery and lukewarm.
Ice coffee brewing
  • If using any flavor additions like herbs or fruits, you should muddle them (mash them up) in the glass with the ice before adding your tea.
  • The exception to the above is sugar. You want to add any sugar to the hot tea so that the granules dissolve and permeate through the tea rather than building up at the bottom.
  • ​When pouring the tea into the glass or pitcher of ice, hold the teapot as high up as you can, the longer the stream is before it actually hits the ice, the more time it has to be naturally air cooled on the way down.
  • Use additional bags rather than extra steep time. Longer steep times will bring out more of the tannins which add bitterness to the cup, this can be welcome in a hot brew but iced tea should be more about the sweeter, milder flavors. If you want a stronger tea, just use more tea bags and keep the steep time short.
Glass of iced tea

Final Word

Each method of brewing has its own technique and results. The aromas and flavors that come out in a hot brewed cup will be different than what comes out in a cold brewed cup and both will be different from a glass of iced tea! It’s really exciting to try out the different methods which each kind of tea to see how the tea changes. So get in the kitchen and start experimenting!

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