Tea. It’s a hot drink, right? Think again. Just as coffee drinkers have increasingly swapped to cold brews and iced lattes in recent years, cold brew tea is becoming a trending beverage. But can you really brew tea in cold water?
You can brew tea in cold water, and there are several benefits to doing so. Using cold water to ‘cold brew’ your tea releases more mood-boosting theanines and fewer bitter tannins, making the tea taste sweeter and more mellow. Add your favorite tea to water and chill it for 12-24 hours, then enjoy!
There’s a lot more to cold brewing tea than meets the eye, including the science of a good brew and delicious recipes to try. Read on to find out more.
Can you really brew tea in cold water?
In the past few years, brewing your cuppa in cold water has become the new big trend among tea lovers everywhere – and that might surprise you. After all, something about pouring cold water over tea seems, well, wrong! Even popular recipes for iced tea recommend brewing the tea at the usual, boiling hot temperature first before cooling and chilling with ice.
Tea drinkers will also be haunted by the mugs of tea they’ve accidentally left to go cold, bad memories raising the mug to their lips expecting a lovely, warming brew and getting something tepid and bitter instead. But once you get over those bad experiences, you’ll discover a brand new way to drink tea that’s tasty, healthy, and convenient.
The key thing to understand about cold brewing tea is that different temperatures affect tea in different ways. Ultimately, any tea-brewing is chemistry, and if you change a variable (like heat) you can get significantly different flavors and a different range of benefits.
Why cold brew tea?
If you’ve read a few articles on tea, you’ve probably heard of little molecules called tannins. What you don’t need to know is that tannins are polyphenolic biomolecules that precipitate proteins and alkaloids. What you do need to know, however, is that tannins are the secret ingredient to how your tea tastes.
Tannins are astringent molecules: what that means is that they cause tissues in the body to shrink and pucker. In the case of tea, that’s the scientific reason why your mouth tightens up when you taste a bitter flavor. The face you make when you experience a particularly astringent taste is typically read by humans as one of disgust, indicating that whatever you just ate or drank should be avoided – but, like all flavors, there’s a time and a place for a bitter kick.
So what do tannins have to do with cold brewing tea? Well, tea leaves and coffee beans are the predominant natural sources of tannins in the human diet, and they play a part in making up a rich and earthy flavor profile that tea and coffee drinkers love. But reduce the tannin count, and you’ll get a remarkably different beverage.
Why cold brew tea? Brewing tea at a lower temperature releases fewer tannins from the tea leaves, meaning that the tea will taste less astringent and bitter. This makes cold brewing particularly suitable for sweeter teas with lighter flavors.
Even if you’ve never tried cold brewing tea, this should make sense. Think about the times you’ve left tea to steep in hot water for too long: what you get is a dark, intensely bitter drink that’s hard to stomach. That’s because the heat of the water has extracted too many tannins from the tea leaves.
Does cold brew tea contain less caffeine?
While many enjoy drinking tea for a caffeine kick, not everyone enjoys its alertness-boosting effects. If you find yourself in the latter category, then cold brew tea could be for you.
Cold brew tea contains less than half as much caffeine as regular tea. This is because the lower temperature of the water extracts less caffeine from the tea leaves. That means cold brew tea is better for people who experience caffeine intolerance or digestive issues.
Just as hot water releases tannins from tea leaves, it increases the caffeine content of your cuppa. Depending on your tastes, this could be a positive or a negative. On the plus side, this means you can enjoy cold brew tea at any time of day without worrying about the caffeine stimulant disrupting your sleep or making you jittery before a big meeting. On the other hand, a low-caffeine cold brew tea might not get you to that meeting in the first place!
Most importantly, however, cold brewing allows you to be more flexible with your caffeine consumption. While it extracts less caffeine, steeping the tea for longer will increase the caffeine and tannin content of your tea regardless of the temperature (unless, of course, you completely freeze it). That means that leaving your tea to cold brew overnight will result in a brew with more caffeine and a deeper flavor, if that’s what you’d prefer.
How to cold brew tea
Cold brewing tea is simple: you just need the right equipment. Most importantly, you need to keep in mind that cold brewing is a slower, longer process than brewing tea with hot water. This means that while you could cold brew a single cup of tea, it’s better to brew in a larger jug that you can keep in your refrigerator and keep going back to throughout the day.
The type of jug or pitcher that’s right for you will depend on your aesthetic tastes and specifications, but we recommend a pitcher that’s at least one liter in volume (approximately 35 fluid ounces) that can sit neatly in your refrigerator.
You’ll most likely want to use a clear pitcher (made of glass or plastic, for example) so you can see the tea brewing. You’ll be able to judge the strength of the tea by its color, just like a hot cup of tea.
Since the typical ratio for tea brewing is 1-2 teaspoons per cup, that means you’ll need anywhere between anywhere between 4-8 teaspoons of loose leaves to cold brew a liter of tea. The precise amount you use will depend on your personal tastes – naturally, using more loose leaf tea will result in a stronger flavor – and the type of tea you use. For example, you may wish to use more teaspoons of white or green tea, but fewer teaspoons of black tea, in accordance with their relative strengths.
Simply add your desired amount of loose leaves to the jug or pitcher, fill with cold water and leave to steep. It really is that easy!
How long can you brew cold tea?
Something many cold brewing guides seem to lack is in fact fundamental: for just how long should you brew your cold tea? Steeping time makes a huge difference when brewing tea with hot water – in fact, it’s one of the main reasons why your cup of loose leaf tea might be weak, and over-steeping your tea can be a death knell for your beautiful cuppa.
When it comes to cold brewing tea, you don’t need to worry too much about over-steeping. The cold brewing process is more gentle than brewing with hot water, meaning tannins and bitterness release more slowly. Even if you leave your cold brew tea overnight, it should still be sweet and mellow.
That said, you should keep in mind that different types of tea require different amounts of steeping time to be at their best. In short, black and herbal teas need to be steeped for longer, whereas white and green teas can be steeped less. Here’s a handy chart to make sure you never go wrong!
|Type of Tea||Cold Brew Steeping Time|
A quick disclaimer: this is only a guideline. If you’d like a stronger flavour, feel free to leave your tea to steep for longer. On the other hand, if you’d like a cold brew with lighter notes, steep for less time or adjust the amount of loose leaf tea you use.
Stronger teas, such as Assam and Pu-erh, might turn cloudy as you cold brew. There’s nothing wrong with this! However, if you value the look of your cold brew tea as much as you value its taste, you may wish to try cold brewing with Sri Lankan tea (sometimes called Ceylon tea). When cold-brewed, this tea turns a beautiful honey colour and is nearly completely clear – as perfect for Instagram as it is for your tastebuds!
How do you sweeten cold tea?
Sweetening cold brew tea isn’t quite as easy as you might think, and it all comes back to the science. In order to dissolve something effectively in water, you need heat! That’s why, when brewing a cup of tea with hot water, the sugar or honey on your spoon seems to disappear almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, since cold brew tea is brewed, well, cold, you’re more likely to end up with a heap of sugar at the bottom of your pitcher that hasn’t properly absorbed. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to this.
As a general rule, simple syrup is the easiest way to sweeten your cold brew tea. Dissolve sugar into hot water to create a syrup, and then add the syrup to your tea. Since the sugar will have already dissolved in the syrup, your cold tea will be smooth and sweet.
Make sure that you leave enough room in your pitcher for the simple syrup when first brewing your tea. The amount of sugar you add is up to you, but we recommend five teaspoons of sugar per 100ml (approximately 3.5 fl oz) of water to create your syrup. Remember, a cold brew tea is generally sweeter than its hot equivalent, so you might not need to sweeten it at all!
How long does cold brew tea last?
Unlike a normal, hot cup of tea – which goes from kettle to cup to tastebuds in less than an hour – cold brew tea is generally created in larger batches. As a result, you might be wondering how long you can keep your delicious cold tea before it starts becoming… less delicious.
You can keep cold tea in the fridge for four days before it starts to turn. Pay attention to the taste and acidity of the tea, as well as any mold or scum forming on the surface. If you can see or taste anything unusual in the tea, do not drink it!
You may be able to store your tea for longer if you’re brewing it in a sealed container or in a particularly cold fridge. The tea will naturally become more caffeinated and bitter over time due to the release of tannins, and this can be a useful indicator of how much longer you’ll be able to store your cold brew tea before it goes bad. That said, it should be delicious enough that it’ll be gone within a day or two!
Can you cold brew tea in milk?
Intrepid tea drinker: you’ve made it nearly to the end of our cold brewing article. Thanks for reading! As a reward, we’re going to let you in on a little secret: you can cold brew in more than just water, and when you realize you can cold brew in just about anything, you start dreaming up all sorts of incredible concoctions. The next-easiest liquid in which to cold brew, after water, is undoubtedly milk.
As a general rule, you can cold brew tea in milk. You can create tea-infused milkshakes with a wide variety of black teas, especially teas with cocoa nibs for a chocolate twist. However, teas with more astringent flavors, such as green teas and herbal teas, may not blend well with milk.
You can cold brew in soda water, plant milk and even gin. While herbal teas tend not to match well with dairy due to their sharp flavours, they can work well with coconut or almond milk depending on the blend.
Note, however, that you may not be able to store tea-infused milk for as long as standard cold brew tea. Exercise caution with dairy products in particular, especially if you’re brewing in an unsealed container such as a standard pitcher. You wouldn’t want bad milk to ruin your delicious cold brew!