When it comes to making a proper pitcher of iced tea, it’s not surprising that Southerners are the most outspoken about how to do it. Keeping cool is crucial in the South, where the four seasons have been described as almost summer, summer, still summer and Christmas.
There are two basic techniques for making iced tea: hot-brewed and cold-brewed. Hot-brewed — pouring boiling water over tea bags, letting them steep a few minutes, removing the bags, stirring in sugar and cooling in the fridge — is somewhat faster. But many believe that the slower, cold-brewed method results in a smoother, more flavorful iced tea that doesn’t turn cloudy. For cold-brewed, the tea is steeped for 30 minutes or more in cold water, or longer in the refrigerator.
Because sugar doesn’t dissolve easily in cool water, making simple sugar syrup (dissolving sugar in boiling water, then letting it cool) is the best way to sweeten cold tea.
Cold-brewed tea has been growing in popularity for the past decade, and now those who want the best of both worlds, meaning quick but cold-brewed, can find cold-brew iced tea bags from major brands — such as Lipton and Twinings — that brew as quickly as hot tea.
An important note: cold-brewed tea does not mean sun tea, a potentially unsafe method that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn against using. Sun tea involves putting a jar of water and tea bags outside in the sun and letting it stay there for several hours. The danger is that bacteria can grow unchecked in the warm water and cause those who drink the tea to become ill.
Tips on Making Iced Tea
Food writer Patricia Mitchell, who writes for Texascooking.com, says she drinks iced tea 365 days a year, even when it’s snowing (a rare occurrence in Texas, but still). She has these tips for making the perfect pitcher of iced tea.
- If you’re using the hot-brewed method to make iced tea, use a glass or glazed ceramic pitcher that can handle having boiling water poured into it. Plastic and metal containers may be able to take the heat, but they often impart flavors that interfere with the best tea taste.
- Tie your tea bags together so they'll be easier to remove from the pitcher.
- Don't let tea sit in the refrigerator for more than a couple of days. Fresh tea is the best tea. Pour it out and make fresh.
- Make sure your tea is really cold before you serve it. If you add ice cubes to warm or even room-temperature tea, they'll just melt and dilute the tea.
Candy Sagon, who writes about food and health for the AARP Bulletin, developed her sweet tea habit while living in Texas.