With summer getting into full swing (at least here in South Korea), one may be switching from their regular hot tea to something a bit cooler. But do you have to? With cold brew tea you can still enjoy that nice Oolong, but with all the refreshing and cooling benefits of any other icy treat this summer.
What is cold brew tea?
Cold brew is much more than just cold or iced tea. The method of brewing is different than the standard brewing methods. No hot water is used at all. Instead, cold or room temperature water is used to soak the leaves for a half a day to a whole day’s time.
The brewing technique allows the leaves to slowly unfurl and release their full flavor and essence into the water itself. The boiling water method can sometimes end up scorching the leaves too much and sapping them of some of their health benefits. This can also cause the flavors to become bitter. In addition, some studies have suggested that the cold brewing method can preserve more of the tea leaves’ natural health benefits, vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and polyphenols.
The technique of cold brewing is believed to have developed in Kyoto, Japan. This is interesting as the development of cold brewing coffee was also developed there. Both cold brew beverages have been said to hold a bit more benefits over their hot-brewed relatives of old. But how do they compare to one another?
Cold brew tea vs. cold brew coffee
When it comes to cold brew versus hot brew, the colds make less of an environmental impact as they don’t require the energy to heat up water for preparation. They also don’t burn or scorch the tea leaves or coffee grounds, which allows for a unique taste and a good deal of nutrients and health boosting benefits to be infused into the final product a bit more effectively.
Making cold brew coffee
To start, what is cold brew coffee? This variation on java was actually invented by the Dutch in the 17th century. It was a method for preparing coffee that could last longer on the high seas. This beverage was brought to Japan by the Dutch, one of the few outsiders allowed to trade on the islands for many years. In Japan, the method of cold brew was developed and perfected, most notably in Kyoto.
The way cold brew coffee is made is similar to cold brew tea. The coffee grounds are prepared by being steeped in room temperature or cold water for a long period of time, ranging from a few hours to a whole day. There is a variation on cold brew coffee known as “Dutch brew” named in honor of the inventors of this style of coffee preparation. This method includes dripping cold, room temperature, or even ice water through the grounds, often through an elaborate glass tube apparatus. The slow dripping of the cold water yields a different type of coffee than standard cold brew, with a richer and even chocolaty flavor.
Cold brew tea stands out from cold brew coffee for similar reasons as to why hot tea often scores more points than hot coffee. While both tea and coffee have their health benefits, tea has a bit more in total. When it comes to caffeine, coffee often leaves drinkers feeling anxious and jittery, tea does not because the L-theanine in tea helps curb the more volatile effects of caffeine. This makes tea a great drink for any time of day.
While tea boosts energy, it also helps one to relax and feel calm. So tea, especially cold brew, can be enjoyed before work OR before bed! In fact, I usually enjoy a cup of cold brew tea after dinner, when I start winding my day down. And while coffee does provide some antioxidants, the polyphenols in tea are powerhouses for antioxidants. And because cold brew does not burn away these healthy nutrients in the tea leaves, you are not only getting a refreshing beverage, but one that’s refreshing your health, too.
The best teas for cold brew
While all tea can make a superb infusion of cold brew, there are some tea leaves in particular that really shine when they are cold brewed. White tea in particular gets an honorable mention. Research has recently found that cold brew white tea produces more antioxidants compared to when it is brewed hot. In addition to white tea, green and oolong are also great choices for cold brewing. If one is a fan of floral or herbal teas, these make for a great and refreshing cold brew experience. Feel free to give black tea a try, but pu’er and other stronger fermented teas maybe just enjoy in the hot style!
How to cold brew
- Add your choice of leaves, or, if from a tea bag, cut the bag open and empty the contents into the pitcher or container with room temperature or cold water. The ratio of leaves to water should be around 1.5 teaspoon to 1 cup.
- For refrigerator brewing, cover the mixture for 2-6 hours, or longer and then strain and enjoy. For room temperature brewing, let your leaves soak, strain and then refrigerate immediately after 2-6 hours. Personally, I enjoy eating the leaves, so I usually don’t strain, but this is a personal preference, not a mandatory rule for brewing!
- Enjoy at your leisure, and make sure to always refrigerate leftovers!
Emperor Shennong on top of the Himalayas, Bodhidharma in the cave of snow
Both the legendary founding myths for tea include hot water. Emperor Shennong discovering tea while enjoying a piping hot cup of water. Bodhidharma tearing his eyelids off in a righteous fit, hurling them on the ground to spring forth into the first tea plant. But despite the hot origins of tea, cold brew is, in my opinion a wonderful innovation.
In fact in my refrigerator now I have two bottles, one of hot brewed cold tea, and a cold brew with the same leaves. The hot brew I made by brewing standard tea, waiting until the liquid cooled to room temperature, then poured it into a bottle, and placed it in the refrigerator.
For the cold brew, I filled a bottle with the same tea leaves and then the rest with water and left it to infuse. Both these drinks are amazing and carry a unique and refreshing taste, with the cold brew being slightly more enjoyable in the hot weather due to its less astringent flavor.
When I enjoy the deep, alpine green color of the cold brew, I imagine if Emperor Shennong had instead been enjoying ice from the top of a mountain like the Himalayas, and left the leaves to soak for a while before trying them to expand his masterpiece on medicinal herbs. Or Bodhidharma, meditating in a cave surrounded by snow. And, having hurled his eyelids into the mounds piled outside, been refreshed by an icy infusion rather than a boiled one. Fanciful stories, but fun ones nonetheless.
Perhaps think of them when you give our Cold Brew Iced Citrus Tea recipe a try today!
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