We are all so used to brewing tea with hot water that the idea of steeping the leaves in cold water raises questions not asked before. Why brew tea in cold water? How to cold brew tea? How long does it take? Does it make a difference to the taste? Does the brew contain more or less caffeine, etc?
Why brew tea in cold water?
By steeping the tea leaves in cold rather than hot water, a different balance of tea’s ingredients is infused into the water. The cold-brewed liquor contains fewer polyphenols (which have a bitter taste) and less caffeine (which also has a bitter taste) and so the tea is sweeter and smoother. And the liquor is often brighter and more crystal clear. The cold brew method works really well for teas – such as sencha, gyokuro, and Darjeeling First Flush – which are notoriously difficult to brew in hot water without bringing out too much bitterness and astringency.
How to brew tea in cold water?
Use about 1.5 times the quantity of tea you would normally measure into your teapot. If cold-brewing your tea in the refrigerator, choose a jug that will easily fit inside, measure in the tea and the water, cover and steep for between 4 and 10 hours. The longer the tea steeps, the more flavour and the more caffeine will be drawn into the water. Green and white teas brew the fastest. Balled oolongs, large leaf black teas and dark teas take the longest. If you’re brewing Pu-erh, other dark teas or herbals (which can be a little dusty), it’s best to rinse them first in hot water before adding to the cold water. To make a really cold brew, add ice cubes and steep for longer. When the brew is ready, strain and serve.
For cold-steeped tea on-the-go, choose one of the handy, screw-top, carry-around tea-brewing bottles that are now so readily available from lots of tea companies. Measure the tea into the infuser, add cold filtered water, shake, leave for 15-30 minutes, remove the infuser and enjoy your cold-brew tea wherever you are. For a second or third brew (depending on the type of tea), replace the infuser and add more cold filtered water.
How long does it take?
It really depends on the type of tea you are cold steeping and how much taste and aroma you want from the tea. Experiment to see what works for you and what you like best. Steep a tea for 2 hours to and then taste it to see if it has enough flavour for your preference. If not, steep for another hour and taste again. Experiment with different teas, different quantities of leaf, and different steeping times, and see how the aroma, strength, sweetness, astringency, and mouthfeel vary.
If you fancy yourself as a cocktail mixologist, don’t forget that you can also cold steep tea – or just briefly shake the leaves – in different alcoholic beverages to add an unusual twist to your favourite mix. Try cold steeping Earl Grey, China Keemun or a roasty dark oolong in white port or vodka; or a small quantity of gyokuro or Chinese green tea in gin or white rum; or a rich black tea (a second flush Assam or a low grown Ceylon) in brandy. Drink the tea-flavoured beverages neat or add to your own creative cocktails with other spirits or wines, and soda, tonic, lemonade or other mixers.