When we steep tea, we’re just putting water in contact with dried tea leaves. This infuses the water with active substances, like caffeine, vitamins, and polyphenol antioxidants, as well as flavor and color – all characteristic of the type of tea you’re steeping.
Cold brewing loose-leaf tea is easier than hot brewing it. When tea leaves infuse more slowly, as they do in cooler water, we don’t run as much risk of oversteeping and having the tea beverage turn out bitter from having left the leaves in long enough to produce bitter tannins. The slower process of cold brewing results in a simpler extraction than when hot brewing. When dried tea leaves come into contact with hot or boiling water, they extract much more rapidly and more completely. This process, however, also transforms some of the active ingredients as it extracts them.
One point about fresh, cold-brewed tea, however, is that it is just that. With no citric acid or preservatives added, it’s not something that you should leave to drink days later. At The Tea Spot, we’re currently researching ways to study the biochemistry of cold-brewed teas, but our current recommendation is that the tea be consumed or disposed of within 24 hours. Although the combination of sun, water, sweetener, and tea could spur potentially harmful bacterial growth in your tea, cold brewing – either in the refrigerator or at room temperature without added heat – should be safe for oxidized, loose-leaf teas.
For people who just want to add some flavor to their water without adding calories or artificial sweeteners, fresh, cold-brewed tea could be an excellent option. Not only do tea leaves infuse plenty of flavor into your water, they provide antioxidants and a metabolic boost as well. The bottom line is that fresh, cold-brewed tea is an economical and refreshing alternative to bottled and sweetened iced tea.
So how do you cold brew? As we’ve said, cold brewing tea is a more forgiving process than hot brewing, so proportions and steeping times aren’t as critical as when you’re hot brewing. The cold-brewing method works well for many loose-leaf teas, including green teas, white teas, and oolong teas. In my fridge, I keep a few of the cold teas on hand at all times to keep my appetite and thirst quenched, give me a lift after workouts, or avoid an afternoon slump.
The three organic iced teas in the image above are, from left to right, a green tea (Clouds & Mist), a Pu-erh tea mixed with rosebuds, and a Dark Roast Oolong. I make these iced teas easily using my new Steepware® tea infuser, the Steep & Go, in a different color on every bottle.
You’ll find that the cold-brewed taste is somewhat different than the hot brew version. I find it a bit smoother and cleaner. One of the best things about loose-leaf tea is that its variety is just as pleasing as its consistency, and the journey you’ll take with a tea leaf through multiple infusions is multi-faceted. Cold brewing is yet another way to uncover the delights and surprises of loose-leaf tea.