In America, many of us LOVE iced tea. We really do. This is the culture that invented sun tea, after all, where we put a gallon or two of fresh water in a glass jar, add a few tea bags, and put it in the sun for a few hours to brew. When it’s done sweeten to taste (or not) and pour over ice. This is tradition, and there’s even one brand of tea bags sold specifically to make iced tea, sun or not.
Well, as it happens, someone with entirely too much time on his hands decided to find out if the age-old recipe for sun tea as passed down for generations was actually really the best way to make iced tea. (Read the story here.) His conclusion was that the best method of brewing was actually to put the tea jar in the refrigerator rather than the sun for the brewing process. However, there were some interesting tidbits to come out of his research that are worth considering when making summer tea.
This gentleman talked to the chief supply chain officer at Lipton who told him “the tea destined for the iced-tea market (that is, the cold brew stuff and the tea bags sold in the Southern U.S.) is the lowest quality tea of their whole lineup.” Well, bless their hearts. The tea people seem to be saving the really good stuff, the large leaves, for loose tea that serious tea drinkers savor.
The experiments also including breaking from tradition and trying other sorts of containers like plastic and aluminum. The bottom line is stick to tradition on this one. Glass produced the cleanest taste.
And then there was the part about skipping the sun:
For my next round of tests, I wanted to address the real big question: what exactly does the sun do for our tea? There are a number of possible answers. The most obvious is that it heats the water, and warmer water should make for more efficient extraction of flavor. It’s also possible that the warmer water actually changes the shape of some of the flavorful molecules in the tea, creating flavors that simply don’t exist from colder extractions. Finally, it could be that the light from the sun itself could be changing some of molecules in the tea—giving it a sunburn, if you will—affecting its flavor….
But here’s the surprising part: between the actual sun tea, the shade tea, the countertop tea, and the refrigerator tea, there was very little difference in flavor extraction….
The difference was that the fridge-tea tasted better. Cleaner, fresher, with a balanced acidity and very slight bitterness. The actual sun tea was nearly as good, but it had a bit of the tinniness and astringency that I associate more with brewed hot tea than cool tea.
Taste, of course, is completely subjective which is why this man’s opinion is his own.
However, it is worth noting that loose tea is higher quality (and more expensive) and that the water itself was not a part of the experiment.
So, for those of us who like a little romance and tradition in life, iced tea brewed in the sun it is. Personally, I prefer mine brewed with peppermint leaves.