October 20, 2021

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Food never sleeps

The best iced tea brands and accessories

10 min read

It doesn’t matter if you’re a sweet tea loyalist or green tea enthusiast: There’s something about iced tea that simply hits the spot — especially during the summer. “Iced tea is a great refreshing go-to beverage in the hot summer months when you crave something cool,” said Emily Ackerman, a Lebanese-American food blogger and founder of A Pinch of Adventure. “It’s wonderfully versatile and can suit almost any palette, while at the same time giving you a little boost of energy without overloading you on caffeine.”

But iced tea isn’t just beloved in the heat — it’s a go-to for many no matter the season. According to the Tea Association of the USA, next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. More than half of the American population drinks tea and around 80 percent of tea drinkers prefer it iced over hot.

For those who are in the mood for a flavorful glass of iced tea, you typically have two options: homemade or store bought. Whether you want to brew some tea yourself or buy some from the bottle, we spoke to experts about the best ways to brew iced tea and rounded up some highly rated premade options.

SKIP AHEAD Iced tea accessories | Best bottled iced teas

The basics of iced tea

Simply put, iced tea is brewed tea that is plain, chilled and served over ice. With the majority of tea consumed in America being iced, Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the USA, explained that consumers are “increasingly driven by iced tea’s variety, convenience, health benefits, sustainability and availability.” Plus, he noted that more people are turning to tea as they focus on incorporating more plants into their diets, and refreshing iced tea fits perfectly into this trend during the summer months. “It is the perfect drink — calorie-free, refreshing and good for you,” he added.

According to Goggi, “true” teas originate from the Camellia sinensis plant and include black, green, white, oolong and dark teas. “True teas have been linked to countless health benefits,” he said.

Iced tea brewing methods

When it comes to making homemade iced tea, you have three brewing methods to choose from, according to Christina Musgrave, a food blogger and recipe developer:

  • Hot Brewed: This type of iced tea is brewed hot and then cooled down to enjoy as iced tea. It’s very easy to make — you just need to let the tea chill, though this wait time can also be seen as a con.
  • Cold Brewed: This method involves steeping tea in the fridge and then straining before serving. There is less of a wait time with this method and this iced tea has significantly less bitterness than other methods.
  • Sun Tea: Sun tea involves steeping tea bags in already warmed or cold water and placing it outside in the sun, or indoors by a sunny window. “It’s super easy — you just gather ingredients and forget about it,” Musgrave said. However, this method also involves a long wait time.

Accessories for making homemade iced tea

Our experts shared some of their iced tea-making must-haves, depending on which brewing method you are following.

Goggi describes himself as a traditionalist when drinking tea — and when it comes to making it, he loves his Chantal tea kettle. Made from magnetic carbon steel with an enamel finish and flat bottom to promote quicker heating time, this 2-quart kettle is compatible with all cooktops. Plus, Goggi noted that the kettle “has a great whistle when the water is boiling, and the teapot has the right volume for my tea mug.”

If you’re able to splurge, Carla Contreras, a professional chef and food stylist, recommended investing in this 1.7-liter stainless steel electric kettle. She explained that different teas have different temperatures that they are served best at, so having an electric kettle with a temperature gauge is a major perk. This cordless kettle has six preset heat settings as well as a 30-minute “keep warm” setting for busy mornings or enjoying multiple cups.

This is Contreras’ go-to when working with loose leaf tea. With two handles that easily rest on a standard mug or kettle’s edge, this large-capacity mesh strainer won’t fall in and doesn’t have to float like other tea ball options.

With its durable lid that seals airtight, this leak proof pitcher can be shaken and stored on its side in cramped refrigerators without the worry of a spill. It’s available in 1- and 2-quart sizes and the durable tritan body can withstand a range of temperatures, from boiling to freezing. “This pitcher is awesome for any of the three methods because it’s made specifically for iced tea and is also BPA-free,” explained Musgrave.

These wide-mouth, 16-ounce glass jars are Contreras’ most-used containers in her kitchen. When it comes to tea, she said this set of 12 versatile pieces works well because you can place hot tea in them and let it cool or use them to make sun tea outside. “Just be careful when handling hot jars or let cool before moving,” she noted.

For a larger option, Ackerman recommended this 2-liter Mason jar option with a clamp lid for making big batches of sun tea. “It’s very basic, but it works perfectly,” she added.

To achieve the perfect ice for refreshing homemade iced tea, Contreras uses this silicone tray to make large lemon juice cubes. “They are delicious and refreshing when added to iced tea — as they melt, they flavor the tea,” she said. “Simply juice the lemons, make sure to take out the seeds and add the juice of one lemon or half a lemon.” She freezes the BPA-free tray overnight and has easy-to-remove, 2-inch square cubes in the morning.

When you’re ready to serve your iced tea, Contreras recommended drinking it with a glass straw in addition to your garnish of choice. She prefers this eight-pack of reusable glass straws both for their polished look as well as how easy they are to clean. Plus, these BPA-free and dishwasher-safe straws come with straight and bent options as well as cleaning brushes.

Best bottled iced tea options

Although homemade iced tea can be great, you may not always have the time or motivation to make it. When you want to grab and go, consider one of these beloved bottled options.

Available in individual bottles as well as packs of up to 48, this sweetened black tea with lemon is made from real tea leaves without artificial sweeteners. It also comes in an unsweetened version and is one of Musgrave’s favorite bottled options on the market. “This iced tea is incredibly refreshing, perfectly sweet and great for a hot summer day,” she said.

Musgrave’s other favorite brand to buy is Tazo for its variety of flavorful bottled iced teas. “From plain iced black tea to peach and passionfruit, the wide range of flavors make this a great option for those who want more flavor without making [iced tea] at home,” she said. And if you find a flavor you love and are ready to start making larger batches yourself, they also offer Iced Tea Bags for home brewing.

Jessica Formicola of Savory Experiments picks this organic, gluten-free iced tea when she wants to grab a premade bottle. It’s real brewed tea made from Fair Trade certified green tea leaves from China and India, cane sugar and honey for a touch of sweetness.

If Ackerman is in a hurry and doesn’t have the time to make sun tea, she loves to have Arizona Iced Tea with Lemon Flavor Sun Brewed Style on hand. “It’s the next best thing to home brewed sun tea,” she explained. This real brewed iced tea is made free from artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and is available in can and bottles, depending on your preference.

Made from organic certified whole leaf green tea infused with jasmine, this zero-calorie, unsweetened tea is rich in antioxidants. Contreras loves this jasmine tea for its light, refreshing taste, and the fact that the 16.9-ounce bottles come in packs of 12 makes it convenient to grab and go on busy days.

Why make iced tea at home?

Yes, you can simply buy pre-made iced tea, but there’s something to be said for making it at home — beyond the long-term financial savings.

  1. The act of making tea at home can be an extremely calming ritual in one’s daily routine. “We noticed that particularly during Covid, consumers created their own ‘tea ceremony,’ which served as an enabler to de-stressing and calmness,” said Goggi. “Simply prepping and consuming tea has [been] proven to be relaxation-inducing.”
  2. Making iced tea at home lends itself to customization, allowing consumers to experiment with a broad variety of different additions and flavors.

Tips for making sun tea

Depending on upbringing, tea can mean different things to different people, explained Ackerman, and there are many different ways to make it “One amazing and overlooked way of making tea is by using the actual sun. Yes, sun tea,” she said. “This method of tea brewing is relatively easy, assuming that enough time is given to make it and that the sun is out.”

The Lipton or Luzianne black teas are Ackerman’s go-tos for making sun tea, but it is ultimately up to personal preference. “Just remember that black, caffeinated tea works the best,” she noted. After you select your favorite store-bought tea bags, she explained that all you need is a large mason jar. After you have that, do the following:

  1. Fill the jar with any temperature water.
  2. Place the tea bags inside.
  3. Secure the lid.
  4. Place the jar outside in full sun for two to four hours.

“The sun will give you the best tea,” she said, “and when you are ready to serve it, just pour and add ice.”

Jessica Formicola of Savory Experiments grew up with her mom using this method of letting the sun do the work of heating the tea. “I vividly remember that large glass container bathing in sunlight on our patio, but this doesn’t give enough heat to really allow the tea to fully bloom,” she noted. “You’ll end up needing to add a lot more, like sugar or lemon, to get a full-bodied flavor.” To prevent this, she suggested you start with hot water — but not boiling — to get the maximum flavor.

Other tips for making homemade iced tea

When Goggi makes iced tea, he said he always goes by “the four golden rules” in order to achieve delicious results:

  1. Use a teapot. “For the best flavor, preheat the teapot with a little hot water prior to use and cover your teapot with a cozy to retain heat during the brewing process,” he advised.
  2. Bring fresh, cold tap water to a full boil. (Note: If your water is heavily chlorinated, metallic or hard, he advised you filter it before boiling.)
  3. Use your favorite quality tea, measuring 1 rounded teaspoon or one tea bag per cup.
  4. Pour boiling water over the tea and brew by the clock for 3 to 5 minutes.

Then, just simply pour your tea over ice cubes (using a strainer if you use loose tea), and garnish and sweeten to taste for a delicious glass of iced tea. And Formicola recommended, if you have the time, allowing the temperature to reduce slowly and naturally first. “Add the hot water and let it sit for up to an hour to cool on its own before placing in the fridge to ice,” she said.

To prevent watering down your tea, she also suggested freezing some of the tea in ice cube trays. “Add cubed ice tea to your glass to keep it icy cold instead of regular ice cubes which will water down the flavor you worked so hard on,” she said.

For large quantities of iced tea, Goggi advised bringing 1 quart of cold water to a rolling boil and adding 8-10 tea bags per quart of brewed teas as desired.

If you want to make sweet iced tea, the best method — according to Musgrave — is to use simple syrup instead of pure sugar. “This will dissolve in the tea better and eliminate gritty sugar at the bottom of your glass,” she said. “Simply add the simple syrup in and mix well before serving.”

Lastly, she suggested using fresh basil or mint for a punch of freshness and to add berries or citrus slices for additional flavor. “For a very impressive iced tea presentation, freeze your favorite berries in ice cubes and serve [them] in the tea,” she added.

What to know about tea bags versus loose leaf tea

The difference between tea bag tea and loose tea is the leaf’s size and shape. According to Goggi, tea bags provide convenience and reproducibility while loose tea allows you to try individual teas or blend your own.

However, Goggi warned against falling into the trap of believing that all loose teas are great or that all tea bags are not, and he has found that some of the most expensive teas in the world are smaller-sized. “You should judge a tea by your own desires — some like it smoky (like a lapsang souchong from China), some like it light and bright (like a tea from Sri Lanka or South India), some like it thick and strong (like a tea from North India or East Africa) [and some like] tea that is red and clear for iced tea (like [from] Argentina or Malawi),” he said. “You need to try different teas to both explore the many varieties as well as to find your favorite.”

When shopping for both loose leaf and tea bags, smell is the biggest indicator of whether the leaf has gone bad or not, according to Formicola. “More smell equals more flavor,” she explained, noting that “it can be really challenging to pick a good tea, mostly because they are packaged in colored and sealed bags to preserve their quality, so you might not be able to see these things.”

Even if stores have samples, she said that they have likely been picked over and touched, so the actual product might be better. This is where shopping online can be beneficial for picking out tea. “Check the reviews — you can’t smell it, but after you find a brand you like, chances are you’ll get the same quality from each order,” she said. “I don’t recommend ordering loose tea in bulk, though, as it can go bad fairly fast.”

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