Brew the Best Iced Tea with These Smart Tips

Our guide includes different techniques, sweeteners, and one of Martha's favorite recipes.

A thirst-quenching glass of iced tea is a lovely antidote to the summer heat and surprisingly easy to make. Just combine two ingredients—tea and water—using one of our easy-to-brew methods, then tailor each cup by adding sweetener, seasonal herbs, and fruits. Follow these guidelines for an icy and vibrant summer sip.

cold ice tea in pitcher outdoors
getty images / drewhadley

Start with the Best Tea (and Water)

Unquestionably, tea is the flavor that anchors the drink. High-quality teas work best, so choose the same types you'd gravitate towards when brewing a hot cup for drinking. Any flavor works, and while black iced tea is the one you likely know best, green tea, herbal tea, or fruity teas are all equally delicious chilled. Another option? Opt for a combination, like Martha does in one of her favorite iced teas, which combines lots of Red Zinger with English Breakfast in one pitcher.

Both tea bags or loose leaf tea are suitable for making iced tea. Just make sure to remove the bags or strain the tea before serving. A note on water: It's important that the water tastes great, too. If you love tap water, go for it. However, to avoid off putting flavors in water that can come through in tea, we generally suggest opting for filtered or spring water.

Pro Tip: If you are brewing a pitcher with multiple tea bags, tie the bags together before adding them to the pitcher so it's easier to fish them all out at once. The next-level option is to drape a wooden spoon over the top of the pitcher and tie the strings to the spoon, letting the bags hang in the water.

Select a Brew Method

There are three general ways to brew iced tea: hot, cold, and sun. No matter which method you select, iced tea is diluted by melting ice and the cool temperature numbs the flavor on the palate, so iced tea needs to be brewed a bit stronger than hot. To brew iced tea without a recipe, start with these standard ratios. Use two tea bags per cup of water for hot brew and one tea bag per cup of water for the cold and sun teas methods.

How to Make Iced Tea Using a Hot Brew Method

For iced tea that you can drink right away, choose this method. It starts out just like making hot tea, but the difference is that the hot brew will be twice as strong. Steep the tea bags in boiling or almost boiling water for three to five minutes, depending on box recommendations. Strain or remove the tea bag. Add an equal amount of cold water to this hot tea concentrate to cool it down, then serve immediately over ice or chill in the refrigerator until ready to drink.

Pro Tip: To prevent cloudy iced tea, make sure that the hot tea mixture is cooled to room temperature before refrigerating.

How to Make Iced Tea Using a Cold Brew Method

Cold brewing extracts flavors gently from the teas, releasing less tannins which are the more bitter notes in tea. The result is a smooth, refreshing cup of tea that is easy to drink, but requires advanced planning. Combine the tea and water in a pitcher and refrigerating it covered overnight (at least eight hours and no more than 12 hours). Strain or remove the tea bags and serve on ice or keep refrigerated until ready to drink.

How to Make Iced Tea Using a Sun Brew Method

On a sunny day, brew your tea using the power of the world's largest natural energy source, the sun. Combine tea and water in a covered pitcher and place outside or in a window with direct sun for at least six hours. As the sun warms the water the tea slowly releases its flavor. Strain or remove the tea bags and serve on ice or keep refrigerated until ready to drink.

How to Sweeten and Flavor Your Iced Tea

Unsweetened tea is a favorite for some, but others find a touch of sweetener creates an irresistible drink. If you want to sweeten your tea, know that sugar and honey don't dissolve in cold liquids. Stir them in while the tea mixture is still hot, or make a simple syrup by simmering one part of either with one part water in a saucepan until dissolved, then cool the syrup and stir it directly into already chilled iced tea. Other sweeteners like maple syrup, agave, and superfine sugar dissolve right into the cold beverage.

Don't just stop at the brewed tea! Customize an extra refreshing glass by stirring in fresh summer flavors. Skip the sweetener and combine the tea with sweet and tart fruit juices like lemonade to make a classic drink called the Arnold Palmer or pomegranate juice which adds a bright pop of color. Stir fresh sprigs of herbs such as mint, basil, thyme, or rosemary into the tea and steep in the refrigerator or add the sprigs to each glass as a beautiful garnish. Fresh fruit can also be steeped in the tea like sangria, stirred into individual glasses, or added as a colorful garnish. Strawberries, cherries, peaches, watermelon, pineapple, or citrus wedges are all fantastic options.

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