Oct 25, 2016

When time is on your side, as it may be during a lazy summer day, maybe it’s time to try something new with your tea leaves.

We have to chuckle a bit at that sentence. Can there really be something “new” with a drink that’s thousands of years old, and about as basic as it gets? Tea is leaves and hot water … what could possibly be new?

Here’s what: the temperature of the water. Lately we’re hearing a lot about “cold brew” for both tea and coffee, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: brewing tea (or coffee) for a long period of time in cold or room temperature water.

Voilà! Something new. Well … or just something new to you.

June is National Iced Tea Month, and while National Anything Months amuse us to no end, we’re still going to use June as an opportunity to sell you on the virtues of iced tea … because you know … it’s summer, you’re thirsty, and we sell tea. This doesn’t take a marketing major, people. (And that’s a good thing, because no one in our marketing department — cough, cough, including the company blogger — majored in marketing.)

Our favorite description of why cold brewing works for our favorite beverage is actually in a 2011 New York Times article by Harold McGee (“The Curious Cook”) and we’ll quote from it here:

As water moves into the coffee particles or tea leaves, it dissolves or suspends hundreds of different substances and extracts them from the solids. If the water is hot, it extracts more rapidly and completely. Hot water also cooks as it extracts, forcing chemical reactions that transform some of the extracted substances into other things, and driving some aroma substances out of the liquid. Cold water, in contrast, extracts more slowly and selectively, produces a simpler extract, and doesn’t change the original flavor substances as much.

So cold-brewed teas and coffees are chemically different from their hot counterparts. They tend to contain less caffeine and less acid. And, of course, they taste different. If the flavor of hot tea or coffee is your gold standard, then cold brews won’t measure up. If you think of hot and cold brews as different drinks, just as a lager isn’t the same as a pale ale, then you may find that you enjoy both.

We went looking for someone who swears by cold brew, and we found her: Facebook fan Cady Mae says cold brewed tea is now her favorite method.

“The taste is clearer or purer somehow,” she says. “Not applying any heat at all to the leaves seems to keeps ALL the bitterness out. It is cold clear flavor, if that makes any sense. Every single person that tries my iced tea first exclaims: ‘That’s GOOD!’ and then asks how I make it.”

Cady’s answer is six tablespoons of loose tea to two liters of water, but cold brewing tea is “new” enough in the café industry that the jury’s still out on this one — plenty of tea experts have their own ratios that they prefer.

And she’s right about a lack of bitterness — hot water pulls both polyphenols and caffeine out of tea leaves, two components that are known for being astringent and bitter. Cold water, on the other hand, is able to slowly pull flavor out of the tea leaves without those other characteristics. Thus, you’re more likely to notice flavors in your tried and true tea leaves you haven’t tasted before.

As a recent article in Fresh Cup magazine by Cory Eldridge explains, the only real downside to cold brew (besides having to prepare it ahead of time) is the amount of space a jar of cold brewing tea can take up in your refrigerator before you drink it. Some of us tea lovers would say that’s well worth a new(ish) favorite beverage, right?!

We will warn you though, tea lovers: there are some companies specially making packets for cold brew tea. We tried one of them recently, and found it to be ick. (That’s a technical tea term. Ick.) Our best advice is just to do like Cady does: Take some of your favorite loose tea, add water, and wait. Prepare to be surprised by a smoother flavor. Isn’t it time your electric kettle got a little summer vacation?