I don’t really consider tea to be a drink or a beverage. That’s far too simple a word to describe what tea is. For me, tea is an experience created in partnership by nature and human. Its an endlessly fascinating encounter with almost limitless flavour complexity and evolution. It has the magical ability to make us feel calm and centered – even after just one warming sip. Some say, tea is a way of life. I know what they mean.
Not only can the humble tea leaf produce hundreds, if not thousands of different aromas, its intricate nature also lends itself to being used in different ways. Infused in hot water, ground up and dissolved, added to cooking and even sprinkled in a hot bath. There are many ways we can draw out tea's flavour and nutritional benefits.
As we head toward summer, cold teas are a wonderful way to keep us refreshed. And they can also act as an important, gentle reminder for us to take a nourishing break.
Iced tea is different from cold-brewed tea (where no hot water is involved). A tea that is hot steeped then cooled tastes different to the same tea steeped in cold water, as the hot water creates different reactions to the molecules inside the leaf, creating a slightly different flavour.
Making iced tea is incredibly simple – all you need is two ingredients and time.
So, here’s my take on iced tea, with a few different variations to the traditional recipe.
Recipe: Sugar-free Iced Tea
3 grams high-quality loose leaf tea
½ teaspoon (or to taste) natural sweetener* (based on 1:1 conversion with refined sugar)
Small teapot with strainer (or separate strainer)
Jug/pitcher/bottle to decant into
Steep your leaves in 150mls hot water, following the temperature and duration instructions on your tea label.
Add your sweetener to the bottom of your second vessel. Once infused, pour your tea through the strainer into this vessel then stir to dissolve the sweetener.
Put in the fridge until cooled.
Once cold, you can either add ice directly into the jug or into a glass and pour the cold tea over it. Garnish with edible flowers, fresh or dried citrus slices or rind peels, or long stems of herbs such as thyme, sage, mint.
There are many different ingredients you can use to sweeten your tea. I like to use a natural sweetener such as allulose, xylitol, or a monk fruit/erythritol blend or a stevia/erythritol blend as these are better for your gut and your body in general than sugar. But please use what you prefer. Coconut sugar, honey or authentic maple syrup can also be used and can add to the flavour of your iced tea.
Stack your infusions
All high-quality, loose leaf teas leaves can be infused multiple times. Good tea providers will indicate the number of infusions on the label. Adjust your sweetener accordingly, re-steep the same leaves multiple times, then ‘stack’ each infusion on top of the other in your pitcher.
Reuse hot steeped leaves
Based on the same principle, you could enjoy one hot cup of tea during the day, then use the second (and any subsequent) infusion to create your iced tea for you to drink the following day. This is a nice practice to get into over summer so you always have a cold tea in the fridge ready to go.
Stack different teas to create a blended iced tea
You can try infusing different types of tea then blending them together in your pitcher. I have done this when making Kombucha and the result can be amazing. For example you might steep a black tea, a dark oolong and a roasted green tea separately, then mix them together with the sweetener. You can also expand on tip 2 and have a large jug of iced tea in the fridge, that you can constantly add to with the second infusion of different teas once you have finished your first infusions of them.
What types of tea work best?
Any of the six types of tea can be used for iced tea, cold-brewed tea or sparking tea. It really comes down to what flavours you enjoy. For iced tea, I love using roasted green teas (such as Kyobancha and Sparrow Suzume Sparrow Kukicha) as well as black teas that have floral notes (Giddapahar First Flush, Himalayan Orange) as their flavour notes work beautifully with a little sweetness added.
As always when it comes to tea, experiment and see what works for you.
A big thank you to food photographer Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash for the lovely photo above.