Cold brewed tea pulls the fruity, grassy, or bright flavors from the tea offering a different flavor profile than the hot brewed counterpart. And there is no messing around with boiling water either!
Cold brewed coffee was how I started to actually enjoy coffee because it is less bitter and smoother, and it helps even inferior or old coffee beans taste good. So I was curious about cold brewed tea, and set up an experiment. I made three kinds of teas, an Earl Grey, a chai rooibos, and a white tea. I then kept taste testing them between the hours of 1-5 ½ hours, and then overnight to see how the flavor was. At the end, I made iced tea with hot brewed tea and compared them.
Before I get into those results, I should mention that since cold brewed tea is done in the refrigerator, it also helps reduce the risk related to sun brewed tea that can harbor bacteria since it is warm, but not hot enough to kill any growing bacteria. My mother always made sun tea growing up, and we never had a problem with it, but it is a possibility to be aware of. Whatever method you are using, using very clean containers is helpful in keeping bacteria counts down, and then if you are worried about any bacteria in the tea itself, doing a quick hot brew (which you can dump) for 3-4 minutes will kill the bacteria and also decaffeinate the tea naturally before the cold brew. I didn’t bother, but those who need or want to be especially careful could consider it. Fridge brewed tea is considered safer across the board, regardless of whether you do a pre-hot brew or not.
Plus, according to this serious eats writer, fridge (or cold) brewed tea tasted better than sun brewed! Something to consider at least.
The white tea was grassier in flavor when cold brewed, and tasted best at about 2 hours to me personally. When it was compared at 5 ½ hours cold brewed to the hot brewed iced tea, the hot brewed was much lighter in flavor.
The chai rooibos was also spicier at 5 ½ hours of cold brewing in comparison to the hot brewed iced tea. Some of us preferred the hot brewed, some of us the cold brewed. I liked this one best at about 3 hours of brew time, however, even after an overnight brew, I liked it as it didn’t get much stronger after 5 hours.
For the Earl Grey, the cold brewing process pulled the essence of bergamot more to forefront, while the tannins of the black tea were weak. I actually like this one really strong, and I liked it even after it has brewed overnight (longer than 12 hours).
In the end, I think that which method you prefer is going to be a matter of preference per tea. However, I find the cold brewing method excellent for making large batches of tea. I especially hate brewing and chilling large amounts of hot tea, so this takes the angst out of making large amounts of iced tea for a crowd or just to have on hand.
Cold Brewing Tea
Brew a wide variety of teas, just like you do with hot teas! This gentle method is forgiving, just taste your way through the brewing time to find how long you should brew that tea for the desired strength. See safety notes above.
- Tea of choice
- Filtered Water
1. Give a quick rinse to loose tealeaves. (Pur-eh tea or fresh herbs should go through a quick hot brew since they can be dusty and to cut down on bacteria.). Place, for 4 servings, in a large very clean/sterilized pitcher or jar, 4 cups of cold water and 5 tea bags or equivalent in loose tea. Cover and place in the refrigerator.
2. Starting at 2 hours, taste-test tea until it achieves desired flavor. (Generally between 2-12 hours
3. Serve with a simple syrup, cream, coconut/almond/nut milk, or muddled fresh herbs, or lemon slices or wedges, as desired.
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