Iced tea is ubiquitous, but it doesn't have to be boring. We spoke to American Tea Room's David Barenholtz who shared six expert tips for making flavorful, vibrant, and naturally sweet iced tea.
David Barenholtz's 6 Tips for Making Iced Tea
David Barenholtz is the founder and CEO of American Tea Room. David has traveled all over the world in pursuit of fine teas, which he shares via his online shop and Beverly Hills emporium, where customers can sip chilled drinks like the Coconut Breeze (coconut black tea, coconut water, coconut milk, and lime) and Nirvana BFF (green tea, strawberries, figs, blackberries, and wildflower honey).
Brimming with enthusiasm for the creative possibilities of tea, David shared some of his best tips for making iced tea:
1. Use loose-leaf tea and brew it twice as strong.
Because iced tea gets diluted, you really want to extract the maximum amount of flavor from your tea. I recommend using loose-leaf tea. Tea bags are fine if you're in a hurry, but you'll get a lesser quality of tea and can't measure it precisely.
The easiest way to make iced tea is to make a hot brew. Make it twice as strong, strain it out, and then pour it over ice. For example, if you would normally use 1 teaspoon of tea for 6 ounces of water, use 2 teaspoons of tea. I tend to use a large pot and let the tea swirl around and then pour it through a strainer. A tea ball or small infuser is a big no-no because the leaves aren't able to rotate and expand to provide a lot of the flavor.
The hot brew method is especially important for green tea, which can get bitter if you cold steep it. However, black tea can work as a cold brewed tea, where you can infuse the tea in cold water overnight and then strain it the next day.
2. Go beyond standard green or black tea.
Fruity teas tend to make really great iced tea, like our Tangier tea that's black tea with apricots in it, or our Immortal Green Tea that's Japanese green tea with peaches and passion fruit. Rooibos teas also tend to make great iced tea and they're caffeine free. Some people might like a flowery iced tea with rose or jasmine, while others might prefer a spiced chai iced tea. I encourage people to experiment. Try different flavors; you never know what you will like.
3. Sweeten with juice or lemonade.
A great alternative to sugar is adding something like juice or lemonade. Trader Joe's makes a dynamite organic pink lemonade and a pomegranate limeade. If you add 1 cup of that to 8 to 10 cups of iced tea, it's not a traditional half-and-half Arnold Palmer ratio, but you just get a little kick of flavor and sweetness. Pomegranate juice can also provide a boost of sugar and vibrant color.
4. Go wild with fruit.
There are so many other things you can add besides sugar, if you get creative. For example, try any fruit that's local, fresh, and sweet —whatever you get at the farmers' market. After the tea has brewed, let it cool 4 to 5 hours at room temperature, and then add fruit. You can then drink it immediately or let the fruit steep overnight, kind of like a sangria.
My favorite fruit to add is watermelon, which adds a natural sweetness and looks pretty. Apricots are also great; they seem to suck in all the bitterness of the tea and release tons of sweetness. Figs are amazing. We freeze figs and then throw them in a Vitamix with tea; you're getting sweetness, fiber, and your daily serving of fruit.
Oranges are obviously a natural accompaniment to tea, as are lemons. Limes are tricky; they get bitter after awhile, especially if they have the rinds.
Blueberries don't do much flavor-wise because of the skin, but they're pretty, especially on top or frozen into ice cubes made from iced tea (which are great because they don't dilute the tea).
Raspberries and strawberries taste great but fall apart after a bit. For fruits that disintegrate, you might want to strain them out after they have steeped, and then add fresh fruit at the last minute for visual appeal.
5. Play with herbs.
When things are intensely flavorful, then I think people don't miss the sugar. In addition to fruit, herbs can add a lot of flavor. I like lavender in everything; it's pretty and it really adds a different flavor. There are so many incredible kinds of mint to experiment with — chocolate mint, lemon mint, mint basil, spearmint. Rosemary is interesting, also chamomile. Think of iced tea like cocktails. It doesn't have to be boring and out of the bottle.
6. Just experiment!
I consider everything. If I like the way it tastes, I'll put it in tea. I've even put Sriracha in tea, although I found that a smoked pepper worked better. We've used lots of different things: stone ground Mexican chile chocolate; chai with almond butter, cinnamon, and cream. Just experiment! Unlike coffee, with iced tea if there's a flavor you like, you can replicate it. You can have fruity, floral, savory, sweet, umami. Whatever you like, there's no right or wrong. If it makes you happy, go for it.