How to Make Better Iced Tea

Selecting the Best Tea and Brewing Method for Perfect Iced Tea

Iced Tea Pitcher and Glasses on Tray
The Spruce / S&C Design Studios

Cold and refreshing, iced tea is the quintessential drink of summer. Whether you simply pour it into an ice-filled glass, transform it into a sweet or fruity iced tea, or use it for mixed drinks, it's easy to make iced tea at home. From choosing the type of tea to finding the perfect brewing method for you, a number of small steps can improve your iced tea.

The Best Type of Tea for Iced Tea

That signature taste of iced tea comes from black tea. It is the preferred type of tea, and it doesn't need to be made specifically for iced tea. Most tea bags that are sold for iced tea (including Lipton) are orange pekoe tea. This is not a specific type of black tea but a grading system that indicates the quality of the tea leaves.

You can brew iced tea with any tea. Assam, Ceylon, Nilgiri, and Darjeeling are black teas to consider. Earl Grey is a bold black tea blend with a nice citrus flavor that's excellent when served cold. Oolong iced tea has a natural sweetness, and green tea blends are a bit more mellow in flavor. Herbal and fruity tea blends can have bright tastes that are perfect for summer.

Beyond type, it's also important to consider the quality of your tea. The least expensive tea bags are filled with the fannings and dust leftover from processing tea, which compromise the taste. For better-tasting iced tea, buy loose-leaf tea or high-quality bags of leaf tea.

squeeze the liquid from the tea bags and discard

The Spruce / Preethi Venkatram

Special Tea Bags for Iced Tea

Taking advantage of iced tea's popularity, some producers sell special blends designed for convenience. For instance, Lipton has a "Southern Sweet Tea," which adds sucralose and pectin to the tea bag, producing a sweetened tea. This tea is useful for people who don't want to take the extra step of sweetening brewed tea to their own personal taste by adding simple syrup, honey, or other sweetener.

Lipton also has "Cold Brew" tea, and this one is more useful. According to the company, it adds the extracted essence of fresh tea leaves to its signature black tea blend. The concept is that you can brew a single cup of tea in cold water within a few minutes (as opposed to brewing through more traditional methods, as explained below). It works out rather well and produces a nice-tasting iced tea, though you are limited to that particular tea.

3 Ways to Brew Iced Tea

You have a few options to brew iced tea. With any of these, it's best to brew it stronger than hot tea. The taste will relax when served over ice, and a bolder flavor is perfect for adding sweeteners and mixing drinks like the Arnold Palmer.

iced tea in glass with straw on a deck outside

Getty / creacart

Hot Brew and Chill Iced Tea

The hot brewing method is the preferred way to make iced tea. It produces a bold iced tea, takes a few minutes to brew, and is ready to drink within the hour.

With this method, the trick is to brew a strong tea base with a small portion of hot water, let it cool a bit, then dilute it to taste with cold water. If you chill the tea too fast (such as pouring warm tea over ice), it releases more astringent tannins that turn the tea cloudy and produce a more bitter-dry taste.

  1. To brew one quart of iced tea, heat two cups of water to 200 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit for black tea.

  2. Add four tea bags (or four tablespoons of loose-leaf tea in a tea infuser), and steep for three to five minutes.

  3. Remove the tea bags or infuser, and let the tea cool at room temperature for about five minutes.

  4. Add two cups of cold water and refrigerate (at least two hours is best) or add ice and serve right away. You can add more cold water to soften the tea to your desired strength. When switching to other types of tea, use the recommended brewing times and temperatures for that tea.

Cold Brew Iced Tea

Cold brew iced tea is also called refrigerator tea. It's a hands-off brewing method and very easy, but it does take longer. In terms of taste, cold brew is softer than hot brewed tea because heat releases more of the tea's natural tannins. If you are not fond of tea's mouth-drying effect and have time to wait, it is a great alternative.

  1. In a large jar or pitcher with a tight sealing lid, add one tea bag (or two tablespoons of loose-leaf tea in an infuser) for every one cup of water. For a bolder flavor, double the tea bags or leaves.

  2. Cover and refrigerate for eight to 12 hours; the tea's flavor will be stronger the longer it's left to infuse.

  3. Remove the tea bags or infuser, and your tea is chilled and ready to drink.

Sun Tea

Sun tea is extremely popular and the only way some people have brewed iced tea. There's a certain nostalgia with sun tea, and seeing a jar of tea brewing on the porch is a sign of summer for many people. The results taste the same as those from the other iced tea brewing methods. All that said, there are some safety concerns.

Sun tea is made in the same way as cold brew iced tea, but the jar is set outside to brew using the light and heat of the sun's rays. The problem is that the tea does not get hotter than 130 degrees Fahrenheit; unless refrigerated, brewing tea below 195 degrees Fahrenheit can cause harmful bacteria to form. In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control released a memo warning Americans about sun tea, and the tea industry continues to discourage it.

Should you choose to brew sun tea, do so with caution: Brew the tea for no more than four hours in a thoroughly sanitized vessel (including the spigot if there is one) and in a quantity that you will drink within a day. Refrigerate it immediately.

Quality Water Makes Better Iced Tea

Your water is just as important as the tea that you buy. For the best iced tea, no matter your brewing method, use bottled or filtered water rather than straight tap water.

close up shot of iced tea in glass with ice

Getty / Juanmonino

How to Store Brewed Iced Tea

No matter which brewing method, any iced tea has the potential for bacteria growth. Follow these steps to ensure your tea stays fresh:

  • If you notice any thick or syrupy appearance to the tea or that it smells off, these are signs of bacteria, and the tea needs to be discarded.
  • While big batches of iced tea are convenient in the fridge, a better approach is to make iced tea more often and brew only enough for a few days.
  • Store tea under a tight seal; pitchers and large jars with lids are great choices. This will also keep the tea from picking up the taste or odors from food.
  • Keep iced tea chilled at all times and don't leave it out at room temperature.
  • Sweeteners, fruits, and garnishes will decrease the tea's shelf life and could provoke bacteria. Add them to each glass or a pitcher of tea that will be consumed within a day.
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  1. Seattle FSN 1012 FAFF, Washington 98104-1008. Did you know? Iced tea safety. Food Safety News.