Tea meditations/experiments: cold brewing vs. hot brewing

Traditional hot brewing vs. modern cold brewing

Iced tea is a tradition in the United States. Urban legend has it that it was "invented" here but I can't really buy into that kind of appropriation. But I can acknowledge that it was popularized here and that it is definitely one of the primary ways tea is consumed in this country. It is also responsible for the fact that the U.S.A. is the largest consumer of tea by dollars in the world, although not by volume. Most iced tea is made with lower quality commodity tea, usually bagged, and often sweetened or flavored. Which is also why this country is flooded with crappy tea. Some of us grew up on the (in)famous "sweet tea" of the U.S. South. For most of my life, I've sweetened and added milk or other less than healthy additives to my tea in order to make it drinkable. But no more!

Iced tea made with your favorite Leaves of Cha or other specialty tea is delightful and delicious without any additives. I recommend trying it with any of your favorite teas, except maybe that $1000/g hundred-year-old puerh you've been hiding in your tea hoard. Personally, I also use the word "iced" loosely, as I don't actually ice my tea because I don't want it to continuously dilute. But room temperature or refrigerated tea tastes wonderful.

So how to prepare your "iced" tea? Since I am not going to "ice" it, I use the same dosing I enjoy for hot tea. If you do decide to ice, you could increase the dosing to allow for the melting ice and dilution of the tea. I'm going to talk here about two methods: cold- and hot-brewing. Cold brewing, perhaps obviously, means putting the leaves into cold or room temperature water and then refrigerating it for up to 24 hours. The traditional hot brewing  is prepared just like you would for your hot tea and then cooled down and refrigerated or iced to the temperature you prefer. The biggest downside to hot-brewing is that you have to watch your steep time: too much time in the hot water will pull the tannins out of the leaf and make the infusion bitter and possibly undrinkable. Cold brewing does not have this problem. It's basically worry free. At room and refrigerated temperatures, the tannins do not cause the tea to become bitter. This makes cold-brewing a favorite when I'm serving it with a big, complicated meal like at holidays. It's one less thing for me to worry about. I just make it the night before and forget about it until I'm ready to serve it. One less thing to put me "in the weeds" when I'm in the kitchen.

What do I use to cold brew? Really any container that allows the leaf to expand into the whole volume of water will do. Then just pour through a mesh strainer. Or you can use a teamaker, french press, or tumbler for individual servings or this wonderful pitcher for small groups. When I'm brewing for a huge group, it's an appropriately sized pot or jug and then a mesh sieve to strain the tea through when the infusion is done.

I ran an experiment with one of my favorite cold teas, the Kanoka Assam, to compare hot- and cold-brewing. The results and recommendations are below. But again, any of your favorite teas would do. I also really like cold greens, oolongs, and some whites.


Cupping Parameters

I cupped three variations: a hot-brew and two cold brews,.

Dosing: 4 grams tea to 8 ounces of water

Assam #1: Cold-brewed for 24 hours

Assam #2: Cold-brewed for 8 hours

Assam #3: Hot-brewed for 4 minutes with 195˚ water, then refrigerated for 2 hours


Results and Conclusions
The first thing that you will notice it the huge difference in appearance. The color of the tea liquor is very different for the three variations, In the first two photos above, Assam #1 through #3 are from left to right, respectively. In the last photo, Assam #1 through #3 are from top to bottom, respectively.

For me, the most obvious difference in taste is in astringency (perceived as bitterness and/or dryness to the western palate). The cold-brews (#1 and #2) had none. Assam #3 was astringent but not in an over the top way. Any longer in the hot water when brewing might make it too much for my taste, or tempt me to sweeten or add a fat like dairy or nut milk.

The subtleties of the tasting are more subjective to individual palates, but my notes are below. I've also noted when I might prefer the tea made that way and also a pairing with one of my culinary specialties.

Assam #1: Color Yellow/Orange. No bitterness or dryness, notes of honey. This was my all-around favorite, It would pair well with my pasta with marinara or Pomodoro alla Napoletana sauce.

Assam #2: Yellow color. No bitterness or dryness. Crisp and refreshing with hints of citrus. This would be a favorite on a hot day to quench my thirst after a long round of tennis or crushing some hills on my mountain bike. It would be great for taming the heat of my pasta All'Arrabbiatta

Assam #3: Reddish brown color. Definite dryness and medium astringency. Hot brewing brought the malt notes forward as well. This is exactly how I like it to taste hot and is delightful cold. Some might be tempted to add a tiny bit of your favorite sweetener, but not this tea lover, The bigger mouthfeel of this tea would make it a favorite if I needed a pick me up. I think it would pair well with a hearty meat dish, like my pasta Bolognese or Beef Bourguignon.

Blind Test: I had my partner also pick her favorite, with no knowledge of the test parameters. She also chose Assam #1 as her favorite and mentioned a sweetness that was not in the others. So our tastes are closely aligned here. Go figure.