iced tea

Celebrate Iced Tea Month This June!

Iced Tea is the MVP Summer Beverage

What comes to mind when thinking about some of your favorite recipes? Comfort foods like pizza, mac n’ cheese, Italian, or Chinese food may jump out. For others, recipes surface in their memory that reminds them of home or childhood. Recipes from your past can become more than just nostalgia. Those flavors act as a time capsule you open each time you retake a bite of that meal. That experience is why I love to cook for others. It becomes more than a list of ingredients and recipe steps, evolving into the creation of a memory. As simple as the elements may be, iced tea can easily be one of those time capsules in a glass. 

National Iced Tea Month

Iced tea is an iconic drink that embodies the summer season. It’s the sister of lemonade, and even though we’d never tell them, iced tea is our favorite. It may be obvious, seeing as June is national iced tea month, and lemonade only has a day, August 20th. Of course, lemonade will have its day, but for now, let’s honor tea!

Iced tea is a simple drink to make and can be infused with various flavors to create a signature recipe. Families have even passed down recipes throughout generations! However, iced tea is a beverage that can fiercely divide people, especially over the sweetness level. Sweet tea is a staple in the southern half of the United States, while others prefer unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea. No matter your desired sweetness level, homemade tea always offers the best flavor!

The Advantages of Homemade Iced Tea

If you’ve never made iced tea at home, it’s easier than you may think! The steps are simple, and all you need is water, tea, some sugar if you’d like, and a pot! While store-bought iced tea offers convenience, making your iced tea provides a few advantages. My favorite perk is having complete control of the ingredients, including the sugar or honey amount. Choosing your ingredients puts you in control of the flavors and eliminates artificial ingredients and preservatives. Homemade iced tea also reduces the cost and eliminates single-use plastic bottles! 

iced tea with citrus

Choosing a Tea Variety

When selecting ingredients, the chosen tea blend is what can make or break the flavor for you. Unless you decide to add lemonade, flavored seltzer, or fruit infusions, the tea is the only flavor source. All tea blends can be served hot or iced, so you can experiment with icing any teas you already have in your pantry. For a custom flavor, try infusing with more than one tea variety! There are three common varieties to choose from when shopping for tea: black leaf, green leaf, and herbal blends. 

Black Leaf Tea

In Black Teas to Celebrate National Tea Month With, I cover the most common varieties of black tea. The flavor differences can be subtle, but they have some interesting differences. Black tea produces more robust iced teas featuring bitter undertones. If I am making a tea-based cocktail mixed with brown liquors, a black leaf tea is usually the variety I choose. More bitter teas compliment darker liquors, especially whiskey and rum! Black tea typically has the highest caffeine level out of all tea varieties.

Green Leaf Tea

Green leaf tea is a milder flavor and typically has a lower caffeine content than black teas. If you seek to add flavors to your tea, green tea is an excellent choice as it doesn’t overpower other flavors. Berries, fresh fruit, or herbal flavors all blend well with green tea. You will be able to taste more of the flavors that could potentially be masked by black tea. 

Herbal Tea Blends

Herbal blends offer the mildest flavor of the tea options and are great if you avoid caffeine. Though the taste is more temperate, herbal teas provide the widest flavors based on the plant selection. Herbs can also offer potential health benefits extending beyond black and green teas. Because iced tea is less flavorful than when hot, you will need to increase the tea amount or add green tea for a flavor boost when icing. 

Does Tea Taste Different Hot Than Iced?

Tea doesn’t change its flavor depending on whether it’s iced or hot, but your brain tells you it does! So, the answer is no, but also yes. And that isn’t a phenomenon that only happens with beverages; it applies to food as well! Food tastes different to us when hot versus cold, and it’s all due to our taste buds. As humans evolved and started to cook food, it made the nutrients easier to digest and boosted our brain growth. 

Did that make our taste buds trick us into thinking hot food tasted better? Maybe! It would certainly explain why hot pizza tastes better than when it’s cold the following day. The taste difference is something to keep in mind when making iced tea. To make a flavor as strong when iced as it is hot, you need to strengthen the flavor. The best way to do that is by increasing the amount of tea used. 

Making Your Own Iced Tea at Home

There are two methods of making iced tea at home, one requiring a few additional steps and the other patience. The quickest method is to boil water and steep tea, then chill quickly with ice. A more straightforward process, though time-consuming, is to infuse water with tea overnight in the fridge. Both methods produce the same strength of the tea. Which method you choose will depend on how much time you have. For a milder tea, use one teabag or one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea for every cup (8 ounces) of water. Use two teabags or two teaspoons of loose-leaf tea per cup for a stronger tea.

The Boil Method

The boiling method for iced tea is the fastest way to make iced tea but does require the added step of boiling water to the proper temperature. Because you will need to chill the iced tea using ice before serving, measure out half of the total tea you want for boiling. Dividing water prevents the flavor from diluting. Once measured, boil the water and check the temperature, then steep the tea for the specified time. 
If you no longer have your tea’s packaging, here is a general guide to the water temperature and steep time for the tea types mentioned:
  • Black tea: 200 degrees F (95 c) for 3 to 5 minutes
  • Green tea: 175 degrees F (80 C) for 1 to 3 minutes
  • Herbal tea: 200 degrees F (95 C) for 3 to 6 minutes 

Once the tea has steeped, strain out the tea and press any remaining water and flavor out with a spoon. Next, transfer the tea to a heat-proof pitcher and slowly add ice until the tea doubles in volume. The rapid temperature change can shock and break the pitcher if you add all of the ice at once, especially to a glass pitcher. Once diluted with ice, serve immediately over ice with optional garnishes of lemon wedges and mint sprigs. 

The Cold Brew Method

The cold brew method is the easiest method to make iced tea, though it does require more time than the boiling method. Cold brewing does not require you to divide the water, as you don’t need ice to chill the tea when cold brewing. Instead, measure and pour the total amount of required water into a large enough pot with a lid. 

Add tea to the pot and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place the infusion in your fridge, allowing the tea to infuse at least overnight or up to 36 hours. Once the tea has infused, remove the tea from the refrigerator. Strain the tea and squeeze out any remaining water and flavor with a spoon. Transfer the iced tea to a pitcher if you wish, and serve immediately over ice. 

How to Sweeten Your Tea

While I prefer my iced tea unsweetened, it can be an acquired taste over time. If you want to sweeten your tea, I recommend making a simple syrup. In a small pot, add equal amounts of water and sugar. Place the pot over medium heat, occasionally stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once chilled, you can add the desired quantity of syrup to your iced tea and stir it in. Here are a few reasons why making simple syrup is worth the time.

  • Guests can create a custom level of sweetness to their liking 
  • Simple syrups mix in more easily without causing graininess. 
  • It’s easier to mix in small amounts of syrup and taste until reaching the desired level of sweetness. 
When making a simple syrup, you can also swap out granulated sugar with honey or use both! I’ve even added fresh fruit to syrups, allowing the syrup to infuse while cooling for two hours. Strain out the fruit once infused, and you have a naturally flavored syrup! 
iced tea syrup

Storing Home Made Iced Tea

Tea should be stored in the fridge for the best flavor, preferably in a pitcher or container with an air-tight lid. Covering with a lid prevents the tea from absorbing other flavors in your fridge, especially onions. Tea will lose its flavor around four days after making it but can last in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

You can also freeze iced tea for extended freshness. I recommend freezing tea in an ice cube tray or a silicone mold with single portion cavities. Once frozen, you can add iced tea cubes to cocktails, water, lemonade, or fresh iced tea without diluting the flavor with water. I recommend using the iced tea within three months of the frozen-on date. 

What are some of your personal favorite iced tea brands or homemade blends? And do you have a preference for the sweetness level?

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