Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Perfect Iced Tea, Naturally

"Why is bottled iced tea so different from home-brewed?"
everyone asks. The answer is not singular, but the main reason is usually the acidity.

Unless you add lemon, bottled tea will be much higher in acid--about a 4 on the pH scale. Compared with natural brewed tea, it tends to have a sharp tartness to it... unless it's loaded with sugar, as many of them are. (Tea you brew naturally has a pH over 6, closer to the body's natural alkalinity level.)

Now, you might ask why all the tartness and why all the sugar. It's simple: FDA regulations require a high acidity for bottling shelf-stable products to avoid the potential for the bottles to develop botulinum toxin.

So one of the big advantages you have when you make tea instead of buying bottles is that you don't have to drink ANOTHER acidified beverage (check the labels; bottled iced tea aways has citric or ascorbic acid).

Now cola, on the other hand, is highly acidic and contains enormous amounts of sugar. The new Coke 42 ouncer has about 100 grams of sugar-- about the same weight as our oolong tea container! (It has no sugar, just pure tea leaves).

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Besides being closer to your body's natural pH level, home-made iced tea requires a lot less sugar to taste sweet. (And what bottled tea is very good compared to fresh-brewed?)

How to make the perfect iced tea:

1. Use fresh, whole leaf tea. We always recommend organic, because many teas contain impurities like lead and pesticides. Cheaper teas also tend to be powdered or crushed; this causes them to lose their potency and flavor as the air makes the tea stale.

2. Brew it triple-strength. This will provide a stronger extract to make a base from so it's not too light when you add ice. The easiest way to do this is to add three times the "normal" amount (which is about 2 grams, so use about 6) to your steeper and add hot water. Let it cool as much as possible before pouring over ice.

3. Add the extract and ice to your pitcher, then add water and/or sugar to get the desired flavor.

Fresh Iced Tea Varieties
  • For black tea, try adding pumpkin spice, sugar and milk for a delicious chai style tea
  • For people who like straight tea with no sugar, oolong and white tea are ideal
  • For the perfect iced green tea, try the jasmine pearl green with a little organic sugar
Decaf Iced Tea, Naturally
Any whole leaf tea can be decaffeinated by steeping it in water for 30-90 seconds, then pouring out the first infusion with up to 50% of the caffeine removed but the flavor still intact.

Sun Tea
Tea will brew at any temperature; the hotter the water, the faster it infuses. Raw tea is great, but do be very careful using non-hot water methods since bacteria can grow. We recommend a pre-rinse with boiling water (just for about 30 seconds) to ensure the purity of the brewed tea. To use this method, after rinsing the tea and adding any fruit (add juice or sugar later), and set the tea in a jar with a lid in direct sunlight for 4-6 hours, the refrigerate or pour over ice, depnding on how strong it came out.