t’d off: Chill out with these stress-free tea-making tips 

Kristy Jennings dispenses hot water into the black currant tea leaves during the iced tea making process.  mh
  • Kristy Jennings dispenses hot water into the black currant tea leaves during the iced tea making process. mh

Does anything taste more like spring than iced tea? It’s the perfect beverage for picnics, pairs well with fried chicken and anyone can make it — with varying degrees of success.

For a beverage that seems simple, iced tea can go wrong in several ways; it can be as flavorless as water, grainy with too much sugar or astringent from steeping for too long.

That’s why Kristy Jennings, owner of t, an urban teahouse, 7518 N. May Ave., agreed to step in and teach everyone the simple steps to a top-notch iced tea.

Kristy Jennings, owner of t an Urban Teahouse, selects a tea from a wide variety.  mh
  • Kristy Jennings, owner of t an Urban Teahouse, selects a tea from a wide variety. mh

STEP 1: Use good tea

“If you start with low-quality ingredients, you’re going to end up with a low-quality product,” she said. “That’s why the very most important part of great iced tea is using great tea.”

That means putting away the tea bags and using loose-leaf tea, Jennings said, since bagged tea is filled with pulverized tea dust.

Different tastes call for a variety of teas, but Jennings chose black currant tea, which includes dried black currants and whole leaf black tea from India.

Kristy Jennings pours hot water into the black currant tea leaves during the iced tea making process.  mh
  • Kristy Jennings pours hot water into the black currant tea leaves during the iced tea making process. mh

STEP 2: Filtered water

The ingredient list in iced tea is pretty short, so it’s no surprise that the right water also plays a big part. Jennings said filtering water removed impurities and minerals that can give the tea off flavors. Bottled water isn’t necessary — home filtration systems do a good job of getting the water ready to boil.

STEP 3: The right ratio

We taste cold teas in less detail than hot, so iced tea requires more loose-leaf tea to make an impact.

“Each variety has its own ratio of tea to water, but a good rule of thumb is that iced tea uses one and a half times as much tea as hot,” she said. “A good seller will give you precise brewing instructions for each kind of tea.”

STEP 4: Heat things up

The ratio isn’t the only measurement that matters. To get the best flavor out of tea, the water must be the right temperature for extraction. Too hot and the tea leaves are scalded. Too cold and it won’t pull out enough flavor.

Most tea sellers will give you instructions on water temperature, but most black teas require 212-degree water for the best taste.

“Be sure to start the timer right when you pour in the water,” Jennings said. “Tea that steeps for too long will get so astringent that no amount of sugar can fix it.” That bitter flavor comes from an overabundance of catechins — a natural antioxidant found in tea.

STEP 4.5: Sweeteners

This one is optional. Some sweeteners — including honey, agave syrup or stevia — need to be melted, which can be done with some of the hot tea water. Once it’s liquefied, it can be added to the final brewed product.

To use sugar, Jennings recommends making simple syrup, stirring sugar into hot water until dissolved and then cooling off the mixture. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months and can be added to iced tea after it’s already cold without any graininess.

click to enlarge Kristy Jennings, owner of t an Urban Teahouse, shakes the hot tea in first cooling container filled with Ice.  mh
  • Kristy Jennings, owner of t an Urban Teahouse, shakes the hot tea in first cooling container filled with Ice. mh

STEP 5: Cool it (twice)

For a great taste and presentation, she ices her tea twice in quick succession. First, she adds it to a martini shaker filled with ice and swishes it back and forth briefly to bring down the temperature.

“Hold that ice back — it doesn’t go into the final product,” she said.

Once the temperature is lowered, she pours it over whole ice in the glass, which doesn’t melt as quickly.

If you have more time, let the tea cool naturally before putting it in the refrigerator, which will eliminate the need for more ice — just make sure it doesn’t go into the fridge hot, lest it become a breeding ground for bacteria, Jennings said.

Print headline: t’d off, Chill out this spring with these stress-free tips for making perfect iced tea.

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