Iced coffee changed coffee from the best part of waking up to the drink of our entire waking lives, with no regard for season or time of day. Once a rarity, iced coffee has started to feel a lot less like a treat than it used to. Don’t get me wrong, I love and need coffee dearly. I have been a barista, interned for a coffee roaster after college, and to this day I make pour over with beans I weigh and grind in my bedroom almost every morning. But I need variety and value hydration, so for refreshing caffeination throughout the day, I make iced tea.
I don’t expect this argument to touch the heart those who power through liters cold-brew concentrate every month, but if you already have the heart to weigh, grind, and extract the most out of a delicate light roast on the regular, it’s possible you could come to love and enjoy making tea with just as much zeal.
Mainstream society hasn’t normalized tea culture yet. The average stuff in the wild is not very good, so the journey to loving iced tea does require the self-motivation to experiment in order to find out what you really like. (Some might say that’s the whole fun of it.) Tea still has an air of a hobby or affect when taken seriously, but I think it’s better to learn different styles by drinking them iced instead of by the teacup. What’s so great about tea is just how many types of drink this one leaf can produce. You could have a drastically different tea every day for a month, but there are only so many ways to combine milk, sugar and coffee, and they all taste about the same.
It takes a little research to teach yourself the vastness of terroirs and the techniques that make up the differences between teas, but you don’t need much to start infusing some basic loose leaf right away. I’m a big fan of Japanese brands of sencha that tend toward seaweed and grassy flavors, which you can find at almost any Asian grocer. Just brew a batch at double or triple strength and pour over an equal volume of ice to dilute, followed by more ice to serve.
If you want to give iced tea the ceremony of third-wave coffee, you need good product. I would start with Té Company or In Pursuit of Tea. Then you should consider how to brew it. Much like coffee, tea can be extracted at cold and room temperatures, or even with ice, which will all produce different effects in your final cup. But my favorite way, time and tea permitting, is to brew successive small cups in a gaiwan, a traditional Chinese lidded cup, until you have a glass full.
Once you get the hang of it you’ll want to savor your high-class iced tea like a session Champagne and forget what you ever saw in boring old iced coffee.
Iced sencha tea (double-infusion method)
- 2 tablespoons basic sencha
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 cups ice
- more ice
- Add tea to a tea ball or filter bag and brew in a teapot or a heatproof pitcher or a large measuring cup for 5 minutes (or longer if you get distracted, this method is pretty resilient). If you don’t have an infuser, you can brew the leaves loose and just use a fine mesh strainer to separate the leaves in the next step.
- Pour the hot tea over the two cups of ice in a quart-sized mason jar or pitcher. By this point most of the ice will have melted and the tea will be cool so you can store it in the fridge or add more ice to chill it down to your desired temperature and drink it right away.