If the Boston Tea Party was taking placed in 2022, it would definitely involve throwing pitchers of iced tea overboard. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., we drink 85% of our tea iced, a glaring anomaly in a hot-tea world.
Most iced tea fans end up sipping a chilled beverage made from ready-to-use concentrates or are brewed from tea bags whose powdered contents have sat on the shelf for eons.
A few years back my taste buds were employed for a tea industry project. I sampled dozens of canned and bottled iced teas. It turned out to be a pretty revolting experience. Many of these bottles and cans were loaded with additives, preservatives and sweeteners, and little real tea flavor or benefits.
The alternative is brewing iced tea from scratch, a process that can take as little as 10 minutes, saves money, and crafts a glass that tastes the way you like it.
I sought counsel from Boulder-born Ku Cha House of Tea, which offers more than 170 loose teas and blends, served hot or iced. Owners Rong Pan and Qin Liu have expanded to five shops. On a hot day I met Rong Pan in the quiet, glass-ceilinged tea room at Ku Cha’s Pearl Street Mall location.
“It can be 20 degrees outside and people in Boulder will still drink tea iced,” says Pan, smiling in amazement. When she was growing up in China, she says she never saw anyone drink tea iced.
Pan showed me critical steps in doing iced tea right as she brewed a pot. First, use high quality green, white, black or other tea leaves—not tea bags.
Technically, any beverage that doesn’t contain tea leaves—like Celestial Seasoning’s Red Zinger or Sleepytime—is a “tisane,” but the technique is identical. Pan talks tea as she brews a pot of Ku Cha’s caffeine-free Capetown rooibos “tea” and fruit blend.
Pan always uses filtered water whenever making tea to avoid any off flavors in the water supply.
She knows cold brewing is popular but doesn’t recommend it. “You need hot water to extract the flavor, 195 degrees,” Pan says. Pour the hot water over the tea leaves in a pot for about three minutes, a little less for green teas. Even after all these years, Pan uses a timer.
Pour the tea through a filter into another pot filled with ice cubes. Allow to chill for about two minutes and pour—minus the cubes—into a glass and serve. Pan doesn’t pour tea over ice because it gets rapidly diluted beyond the ideal flavor.
The result is a glass of full flavored, refreshing iced tea with fruity notes that isn’t bitter.
Iced teas are usually brewed at about twice the strength of hot tea because it will be diluted by an equal volume of melting ice cubes. That’s about one heaping teaspoon for eight ounces of water, or one ounce per gallon. The longer it steeps, the stronger tea gets, but it also gets bitter faster, she says.
The beauty of making it yourself is that you can tweak it to your own taste. I like strong iced tea, so I add more tea or use ice cubes made with tea.
Speaking of cubes, filtered water makes better-tasting ice cubes and smaller cubes chill drinks faster.
Rong Pan frowns when I mention sweeteners, although Ku Cha happily offers a range of sweetening options. “Good tea doesn’t need it. We don’t put sweeteners in any of our teas,” she says.
The pandemic hit Ku Cha House of Tea directly as it did other service-oriented businesses. “We looked for other ways to get tea to people. We decided to can our teas so they were more available,” Pan says.
The result is Ku Cha’s Golden Monkey black tea, Summer Tranquility and Jasmine Oolong—the same tea served at the tea house without sweeteners or preservatives like citric acid. My favorite is the Sakura Cherry, a lightly sweet Sencha tea thirst-quencher infused with tart cherries. Ku Cha’s two kombucha varieties are brewed using Sakura Cherry Green Tea and Lemon Blossom Oolong Tea. The cans are available at Japango, Blofish, Pig & Tiger at Avanti and other local eateries.
After you make a pot of great tea, it’s a shame to waste it. First, use the tea leaves again. You can easily brew a second pot of tea, sometimes more, from the same tea leaves, Pan says.
“If I have tea left over in the pot from the morning, I put it in a glass in the refrigerator for later,” Pan says.
(The best way to sweeten iced tea is revealed in “Summer Hack” on Page 29.)
Dining Out July 7 Aids Ukraine
Simply eating at Ask’kara, Blackbelly, Acreage, Cafe Aion and Centro on July 7 will help supply medical and protective gear to troops in eastern Ukraine. Colorado’s Ukrainian immigrants are sponsoring Night out for Ukraine, when dozens of eateries will donate a portion of their proceeds to the nonprofit, volunteer effort. Local restaurants participating on July 7 include Crosscut Pizzeria, Crystal Springs Brewing, Glacier Ice Cream, Gold Hill Store, The Huckleberry, Japango, Jefe’s, Murphy’s Tap House, My Neighbor Felix, Rio Grande, Rosetta Hall, and South Street Market. See the full eatery roaster at: sunflowerseedsukraine.org
LOCAL FOOD NEWS
The recreated Chautauqua Cafe is open at Chautauqua Park between the Chautauqua Dining Hall and the General Store. The original open-air cafe started serving light meals and drinks in 1899. … Cuji Foods, a market offering South American foods and fresh-cut meats, is open at 3340 Arapahoe Ave. … Bellota is open at 4580 Broadway. Chef Manny Barella started his local career at Frasca. He teams with OAK at Fourteenth to open his second Mexican regional eatery. Barella was recently named “Top Chef” by 5280 magazine, and nominated for a 2022 James Beard Award.
Words to Chew On
“I do not believe for one second that butter is the cause of anyone’s death. Overeating may be, but not butter, please. I just feel bad for people who make that mistake.” —Nora Ephron
John Lehndorff hosts an hour-long live edition of Radio Nibbles 8:30 a.m. July 7 on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at kgnu.org) with guests: chef Dan Asher, farmer Andrew Nowak and restaurateur Dave Query.