How to Make Perfect Iced Tea at Home
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We'll teach you how to make iced tea three different ways: the traditional hot brew method, cold brew and harnessing the power of the sun for sun tea.
If you’re not already making this summer staple at home, you’ll thank yourself for learning how to make iced tea. It’s surprisingly easy to whip up a Southern-style sweet tea or a refreshing citrus-infused green tea that’s less expensive and tastes fresher than store-bought bottled tea. Plus, making tea at home allows you to harness all the health benefits of tea while controlling any added ingredients.
The only thing you’ll have to do is decide what method to use!
The Best Methods for Making Iced Tea
Brew Hot Tea & Chill
This tea-brewing method is quick, easy and efficient. Simply combine hot water with loose-leaf tea or tea bags, let it steep, strain out the tea and refrigerate until cooled. This method also allows the greatest amount of customization because you get to taste the tea before cooling it. If it’s too strong, add more water. Not strong enough? Let it steep longer. The hot water does tend to bring out the bitterness and acidity levels in tea, though, so you may want more sweetener with hot brewed tea.
Like cold brew coffee, cold brew tea promises a smoother experience with fewer tannins and less bitterness. You’ll likely need to use less sweetener with cold brew tea, too, as the cold extraction process allows the tea to maintain its natural sweetness. It does take much longer than the hot tea method—anywhere between 12 to 24 hours.
Sun tea follows the same principle as cold brew tea, but the brewing process happens in a sunny spot instead of in the refrigerator. Sun tea has a nostalgic feel to it, but there is a small chance of bacterial growth by leaving tea out in these temperatures. You can minimize the risk by sterilizing the tea bags: Pour enough boiling water over the tea bags to get them fully wet. Then, use our cold brew recipe but leave the tea in the sun for about six hours before straining out the tea and cooling in the refrigerator.
How to Make Iced Tea Using the Hot Brew Method
Iced tea really only has two components—water and tea—so the ingredients have nowhere to hide. For best results, choose the highest quality ingredients you can find. Use filtered tap water or spring water, if possible. When it comes to the tea itself, we’ve found that loose-leaf tea produces a fuller-bodied tea, but tea bags will work in a pinch.
The basic ratio of water to tea varies depending on the amount of tea you’re brewing. Of course, you can always increase or decrease the amount of tea, depending on your strength preference.
For small batch tea (up to four cups), use one cup of water per tea bag (or teaspoon loose-leaf tea).
- 4 cups water
- 4 tea bags (or 4 teaspoons loose-leaf tea)
For larger batches (eight cups to a gallon), you can use a little more water—about 1-1/3 cups water per tea bag (or teaspoon of loose tea).
- 8 cups water
- 6 tea bags (or 2 tablespoons loose-leaf tea)
Tools You’ll Need
You can absolutely serve iced tea out of a glass mason jar, but it looks much more stunning when presented in a glass carafe. This 68-ounce glass pitcher has a strainer in the lid to keep any optional additions from making their way into your glass.
If you’re brewing with loose-leaf tea, you’ll also want a tea ball infuser. It’s not strictly necessary—you could use a fine mesh strainer to remove the tea leaves after the brew is complete—but it does make the process significantly easier. Or you could invest in a dedicated iced tea maker if you’re making tea often.
Step 1: Simmer the Water
Bring half of the water to a simmer. We don’t say “boil” here because temperature matters when it comes to tea. Use the chart below as a guideline for choosing the right temperature for your tea.
- White tea: 175–185°F
- Green tea: 180–185°F
- Black tea: 200–205°F
- Herbal tea: 212°F (boiling)
Step 2: Steep
Combine the hot water with the appropriate number of tea bags (or loose-leaf tea). Allow the tea to steep for 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the desired strength.
Step 3: Strain, Dilute and Chill
Remove the tea bags or strain out the loose-leaf tea. If you’re adding sweetener, stir it into the hot tea before diluting the concentrated tea mixture with the remaining water. Refrigerate until chilled.
Editor’s tip: If you don’t want to fuss with temperatures, Instant Pot iced tea is a good shortcut route to take. Simply add tea bags to the Instant Pot, fill with water and pressure cook on “high” for four minutes. Remove the tea bags and enjoy.
How to Make This Iced Tea Your Own
Iced tea is incredibly customizable, so don’t be afraid to make this recipe your own! Here are some expert tips for adapting our base recipe to suit your taste buds.
Alter the Strength
Stronger tea is better if you’re adding ice, but mild tea is best if you’re adding additional flavorings. You can adapt the tea to your ideal balance by using black teas or steeping tea for longer periods to create strong tea. Alternatively, use white or green tea or steep for less time for a milder tea.
Sweeten the Tea
Sweet tea can be made using a variety of different sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners. Play around by swapping regular granulated sugar with a liquid sweetener, like maple syrup, honey or agave. You can even make your own simple syrup. You’ll need anywhere from 1/2 to 1-1/2 tablespoons per cup of tea, depending on how sweet you want it to taste.
Add More Flavor
Give your tea a fruity, floral or spicy taste by adding additional ingredients to the mix. Try mixing in one or a combination of these suggested additions.
- Orange, lemon or lime zest: 1 to 2 strips per cup of tea
- Berries or chopped fruit: 2 tablespoons per cup of tea.
- Fruit puree: 1 tablespoon per cup of tea
- Cucumber: 1/4 cup chopped per cup of tea
- Cinnamon: 1/4 stick per cup of tea
- Lavender: 1 teaspoon dried lavender per cup of tea
- Fresh herbs, like mint or rosemary: 1/2 sprig per cup of tea
- Ginger: 2 tablespoons per cup of tea
Turn your iced tea into Thai iced tea by adding a few teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk. You can also use heavy cream, regular milk or plant-based milk like coconut milk to add creaminess without adding extra sugar.
Iced Tea Recipes
Need more inspiration to get started? Try some of our favorite iced tea recipes. You can make these iced tea recipes using green tea, white tea or black tea. We even have herbal tea recipes, like the incredibly refreshing Hibiscus Iced Tea.
If sweet tea or fruit-infused tea is more your style, start with our Smooth Sweet Tea. Then move on to raspberry and basil-infused Bella Basil Raspberry Tea or a thirst-quenching Lemony Pineapple Iced Tea. You can even make tea with lemonade to create a refreshing Summertime Tea (which tastes great with a splash of tequila, by the way). This Peach Iced Tea gets perfect results.
How to Store Iced Tea
It’s best to store iced tea a glass or stainless-steel container instead of a plastic container. Keep it in the refrigerator at all times, covered tightly with a lid to prevent the tea from oxidizing and absorbing off-flavors. If you’ve added a sweetener to the iced tea, the CDC recommends drinking it within eight hours to prevent fermentation or bacterial contamination. Unsweetened tea is technically okay to drink for three to four days, although it will start to lose its flavor after the first 24 hours.