Do you know that 85% of tea consumed in America in 2014 is iced? I didn’t, not until I came across that number on the Tea Face Sheet-2014 from the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc.
But I wasn’t very surprised either with the uptick in consumption of iced-tea in the U.S., when I think of even the traditional sugar-free, hot tea culture in Taiwan has started to lose its edge in the 1990s to the surge of sugary iced tea (notably bubble tea) that has been very popular among youngsters. It’s little wonder then in the U.S., where culturally most people prefer cold drinks over hot ones, consumption of iced tea continues to rise.
Honestly, several times I was tempting to buy a bottle of iced tea when I browsed a growing selection of iced teas sitting in a cooler near a checkout counter. But the conscious side of my brain always stopped me, out of three concerns - freshness, added sugar and the source and quality of dry tea used as a raw material for mass production.
And it never occurred to me, not until a few years ago, that I could turn my home-brew hot gourmet tea into iced tea. For decades, I was so bounded by my own conviction that quality loose-leaf Taiwanese tea should only be drunk hot in order to capture its fresh taste and aroma. But I finally gave it a try after living years of hot summer in the East Bay and also hoping to slowly wean my family from mass-market sugary drinks. After experiments, surprisingly, iced Oolong tea can still hold on to its fresh taste and the tea has quickly become a staple drink to go with or after a heavy meal.
Interested in how to prepare the tea efficiently and with quality? Below is the foolproof way that I have been using to prepare 12-cups (measured in a coffee maker carafe) gourmet iced tea. Give it a try if you want to add an alternative to your choice of healthy drinks.
First, invest in a 1-liter 34-ounce French press coffee-maker. I discovered 15 years ago a French press of that size was a perfect match to brew my Taiwanese loose-leaf teas in volumes good enough for the night and have stuck with it ever since. And the french press is still going strong after traveling with me across three continents.
In my experience, a French press has a few advantages over a traditional Chinese clay teapot or a porcelain teapot or a modern-looking glass teapot with a strainer infuser, for three reasons:
Second, put 1.5 TABLE spoons of quality loose-leaf tea in your French press. Yes, quality of the tea trumps everything else in producing your gourmet tea, so select your tea carefully and be willing to invest more in exchange for quality. Although it’s hard to reach consensus on what defines a tea as quality or not given the taste and preference vary from person to person, a general rule of thumb has been: whole leaf tea offers better value than scrapped leaf tea; aroma and taste of the tea in both dry and wet form should come from within the leaf itself, not from artificial flavorings added to it during production.
Third, fill your electric kettle with 1-liter fresh or filtered water and boil it to the temperature recommended for the tea you use. Spring water and filtered water is always preferred over heavy water, as the later might contain calcium and metal that would affect the taste of the tea. Using water boiled from fresh water is also preferred over hot water from a water dispenser, as the longer the water stays boiled, the harder for the tea to release its aroma. On boiling temperature, for zero-to-light oxidized tea such as green tea and Pouchong tea, cool your boiling water a few minutes before pouring it over the dry tea; for semi-oxidized tea such as Oolong tea and heavy-to-fully oxidized tea such as Bai Hao Oolong and black tea, you can pour boiling water directly over the tea without much concern of killing off the nutrients.
Fourth, Wait 5-7 minutes and make sure that each leaf is fully expanded and tea liquid reaches the color it is mostly associated with before pouring the first steeping tea into a coffeemaker carafe. Generally, the liquid of zero-to-light oxidized tea mostly appears light green to pale yellow; medium oxidized tea mostly golden to deep yellow; heavy-to-fully oxidized tea mostly amber to burgundy.
Fifth, repeat the third step and give extra 6-10 minutes in the second steeping before pouring the tea into the carafe. High-quality teas, particularly Oolong tea, can survive several steeping without losing its taste or turning bitter. This unique character has made them stand from the crowd.
Once you produce 12-cup of tea, you may refrigerate it for 1-2 days. It serves particularly well if you are expecting a heavy, greasy meal or desert high in sugar. You may store the tea in your water bottle to bring it along to work or in an ice box for outdoor activities.
Want to get visual how this is done in real life? Check out our YouTube video "Prepare 12 cup gourmet tea in 10 minutes."