Cold-Brewing Tea

Cold-Brewing Tea

Many people are introduced to the pleasures of tea through iced tea. Whether it is a glass of lightly sweetened tea with a slice of lemon or the extremely sweetened tea of the South, iced tea is an iconic tea tradition. It tends to have strong pleasant associations with long summers, country picnics, doting grandparents, or just a refreshing break after mowing the lawn.

However there is a whole world of cold tea drinks that remains undiscovered by most - the tradition of cold-brewing tea.
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Iced Tea vs. Cold-Brew Tea

Here are some of the main differences between iced tea and cold-brew tea.

Brewing Temperature:
  • Iced Tea: Brewed with hot water.
  • Cold-Brew Tea: Brewed with cold or room-temperature water.

Brewing Time:

  • Iced Tea: Quick, taking a few minutes.
  • Cold-Brew Tea: Slow, taking several hours.

Flavor:

  • Iced Tea: Stronger, potentially more bitter.
  • Cold-Brew Tea: Smoother, less bitter, more delicate.

Convenience:

  • Iced Tea: Faster to prepare but requires cooling time.
  • Cold-Brew Tea: Longer preparation time but once ready, it's immediately chilled.

Iced tea is typically made by brewing a large batch of tea hot, chilling it down, then adding sweetener and pouring over ice. Some people do a variation of this called sun tea, adding the tea leaf and unheated water to a glass jar, setting it in the sun for a few hours to brew, then serving it with sweetener over ice.

Cold-brewed tea though is an entirely different beast.

Cold-brewing tea is a method of making naturally sweet and pleasant tea in an extremely easy way. The results are usually perfectly pleasant without any sweetener, and can tame even bitter green teas into something worth savoring.

Cold-brewing is exactly what it says. You put some loose-leaf tea in a large pitcher or jar. I have a few two-liter containers for this purpose. It doesn’t require a lot of leaf. For a two-liter batch I use an eighth of a cup, or about thirty grams, with richly flavorful results. You then fill the pitcher with cold tap water and place it in your refrigerator. That’s it. No kettle is necessary.

iced tea, cold brewed tea, summer refreshments
 
Wait four to eight hours for the leaf to slowly impart its flavor to the cold water. Then pour the tea into another container, straining out the leaf as you do. Serve the tea immediately or let it sit for up to a week in the refrigerator. You can pour it over ice, but as it has been refrigerated through the entire process it’s already nicely cold without. 

 

The Benefits of Cold-Brewing Tea

So what does this process do that’s so different from a quick batch of hot-brewed iced tea? Well, the biggest difference is the gentle sweet nature of a cold-brewed tea. Hot water helps extract the tannins and other bitter compounds from the tea leaf, but a cold brew minimizes that. The resulting infusion is about as sweet and savory as your tea leaf will ever get naturally. 

The better the quality of the tea leaf of course the better the results. This method makes a spectacular difference when brewing a delicate green tea like a biluochun or dragonwell. However it also works great with white teas, oolongs of almost any kind, and of course black teas.

My favorite cold-brewed teas are the blacks from Yunnan, China usually called dian hong, or the zheng shan xiao zhong black tea of Fujian China, both of which come out super-malty and super-sweet for a black tea.

black tea, loose leaf tea, yunnan, zhong 
It should be mentioned that while cold-brewing can be done with almost any tea, it is best suited for traditional unflavored teas. You can cold-brew flavored teas with success, but teas with spices or fruity inclusions may need more heat in the water to extract flavors from those components. Floral additives or scented teas both work great with cold-brewing though.
 
For the particularly bold, there is an extreme version of cold-brewing that is even more unusual: ice-brewed sencha. This is a niche tea practice among Japanese tea enthusiasts but well worth trying by anyone who enjoys Japanese green teas. 
 
To ice-brew sencha place a number of ice cubes in your kyusu (Japanese teapot) or other infusion device with a good strainer. You don’t want tea leaf to get into your cup, and good sencha is usually made of very small leaf fragments.  Then place a couple of teaspoons of sencha on top of the ice. 
 
Then wait. And wait. And then wait a little more.
 
When the ice has melted enough that there are more than a few drops of liquid, pour it out into a sake cup, Chinese gongfu tea cup, or similarly small vessel. You should have just a sip of extremely concentrated but sweet sencha that tastes unlike any normally-brewed sencha. Repeat this process until all of the ice is melted or you run out of patience.
 
While summer may seem to be far away, these cold-brew methods are an easy way to add a cold tea option to your daily life with surprisingly little effort or expense. Of course you can add sugar or anything else you wish, but with a result that is already so gratifying, why would you?


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