tea and how to make ice tea

What is Tea and How to Make Iced Tea

Tea and how to make iced tea post explores different ways of making iced tea and looks at the different types of tea and some of their differences.

Tea is one of the purest drinks out there, with no added chemical or artificial ingredients in the final product. It is a very versatile beverage, great for infusions, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, etc., and at the same time with lots of health benefits.
When I lived in Georgia, US, I got used to drinking iced tea; it is a refreshing and thrust quencher drink. Back then, I worked for one of the Marriott hotels, and we had a lot of banquette business, every time we prepared the table set up next to the glass of water, we had a cold glass of freshly brewed iced tea.
At that time, I never really asked myself if there is any better way of making an ice tea, and does it really makes any difference if using hot or cold water, or if it is all about flavor perception and expectations.

I genuinely appreciated tea and the tea manufacturing process during our family vacation to Thailand. One of our stops was in the Chiang Rai province, where we stayed in a small resort, right in the middle of a beautiful tea plantation. I was introduced there to a local tea ceremony, tea testing, and understood how hard the locals are working, so we can enjoy our cup of tea.

Making a cup of tea at first glance seems as simple as it gets; all you need is tea and hot water. In reality, it may not be that simple.
The moment you start asking yourself what tea should I drink, how long to steep it in, is the green tea better than the black, should I use boiling water or not, is the loose leaf tea better than the one sold in teabags, etc. At point probably, you already realized that there is more to tea than just hot water and teabags.

What is Tea

Tea plantation
Tea Plantation

All tea is made from the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. There are two primary varieties, Camellia Sinensis Chinese tea, and Camellia sinensis – assamica – Assam or Indian tea – this plant, or I should say tree, can grow up to 5 meters.

Tea is full of health-boosting antioxidants. According to some researchers, it is also believed that the ingredients in a cup of tea can improve focus, mood and even help fight against depression and dementia.
As the tea comes from the leaves of the same plant, the processing steps and the oxidation determine the differences in their flavor and chemical composition.
The main difference between tea types is based mainly on oxidation levels.

Types of Tea

These are the main types of tea:

White TeaYoung unoxidized and is rich in antioxidants. It has the highest caffeine content out of all the tea types because it is the least processed.
Yellow teaA rare unoxidized tea with a grass-like aroma. It is grown only on a few plantations in China.
Green Tea – Japanese green tea**Green tea is made from unoxidized leaves and is one of the less processed types of tea, as heat is applied – by using the process of steaming or pan firing – right soon after harvesting.
Oolong TeaSemi-oxidized during withering, the leaves are fired to stop the oxidation process after rolling. It has a higher polyphenol content than black tea but not as high as the previous three types of teas.
Black tea*The leaves are cut and bruised, which changes the cell structure and allows all the leaf juices (containing polyphenols) and enzymes to mix, leading to complete oxidation.
Post fermented TeaDuring aging, the tea can slowly oxidize and undergo microbial fermentation by controlling the moisture and temperature that cause microbial fermentation.
The final taste can be compared to an astringent black tea.

Types of Tea

Pu-erh or Puer

Pu-erh is one of the most well know post-fermented tea. It originated thousands of years ago in the Yunnan Province of China, and it is named for the town from which it was initially sold en route to other countries (Pu’er City).
Pu-erh is an aged tea; the aging process can take about 15 years for a ‘raw’ (unfermented) pu-erh to get the dark color and flavor. In the 1970s, shou processing (or ‘cooking’) was developed to speed up the fermentation process. Nowadays, it takes about 45-60 days to complete the fermentation.

Note:* Black teas, for instance, are fully oxidized. The leaves are first allowed to wither, and then they are ‘rolled,’ which involves rubbing or crushing the leaves to release the chemicals to begin oxidation. The leaves are then left to oxidize in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, turning completely brown before being dried. Because of this process, black tea has fewer green catechin polyphenols than other teas.
Note:** For more on Japanese green tea, click here.

Science Fun Time

The chemical composition is different in each type of tea. The reason for that is the chemical changes during the processing of the fresh leaves, mainly caused by oxidation.
Fermentation is often used to describe making tea, but it is essentially an oxidation process; the polyphenols are exposed to oxygen and oxidase enzymes, which convert the polyphenols into theaflavins and thearubigins.

The polyphenols in the tea leaves are stable as long as the leaves remain on the live plant. The oxidation process starts naturally as soon as the leaves are picked (like an apple beginning to go brown once it has been cut).
Depending on the variations in processing conditions, and technique it can change the tea and its chemical compositions.
Applying heat during processing stops the oxidation process and enzyme activity. By controlling the degree of oxidation, the tea-maker creates tea’s distinctive flavor and chemical profile.

Note: Green, white and yellow teas are subject to very little oxidation because they are heated soon after picking.
The polyphenol content of these teas is very similar to that of the fresh leaves, and the brewed tea has a mild flavor.
In contrast, for black tea, the leaves are cut and bruised. This disrupts the cell structure and allows all the leaf juices (containing polyphenols) and enzymes to mix, allowing complete oxidation.

After the leaves have been picked and the Oxidation process is done, the cell walls are mechanically broken after wilting (or withering). This process mixes catechins and enzymes, resulting in the enzymatic browning of the leaves and new taste and aroma profiles.

One of the main compounds in tea leaves is polyphenols, which can be up to 40% of the dry weight of the leaf; besides them, there are also amino acids, enzymes, methylxanthines – caffeine minerals and vitamins, as well as around 700 aroma compounds.
Polyphenols are also known as tannins; they are the reason for the astringency taste, some color, and are believed to have strong antioxidant properties.
The most important group of polyphenols in tea are flavonoids. During the processing, two new phenolic compounds are formed from flavanoids – theaflavins and thearubigins responsible for the color and flavor of the tea.

Tea catechins — antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — account for up to 42% of the dry weight of brewed green tea, and the amino acid L -theanine makes up around 3%. EGCG is thought to make people feel calmer and improve memory and attention when consumed independently. L – theanine is found to have a similar effect when consumed in combination with caffeine.

One thing I found interesting from a scientific point of view is that even these days, researchers still don’t understand how tea’s compounds work together.
For instance, If you look at caffeine, according to an article in Nature Boost1, we still don’t know everything about its interaction with other compounds.
“Caffeine is known to benefit mood and cognition, and its biochemistry is widely understood — it stops the sleep-controlling chemical adenosine from binding to its receptors, helping to maintain neural activity and making caffeine-drinkers feel more awake. But little is known about how caffeine interacts with EGCG. Similarly, it is not clear whether caffeine boosts the cognitive effects of L -theanine or vice versa.”

Making tea

The timing and frequency of harvesting fresh tea leaves are dependent on environmental conditions and ultimately impact tea flavor, quality, and type of tea.
Tea harvesting is an arduous labor process done by hand and with special pruning shears. The main goal is to pick the right buds and avoid bruising the leaves. The whole process is done by experienced pickers, who collect leaves only from the top of the tea plant, where usually there are only 1-3 leaves.
The length of the tea harvesting season is anywhere from eight months, in Southern Asia, to four months in Northern China.

Two main ways of producing tea

According to A K Barooah, director of the Tocklai Tea Research Association in India, two types of maceration techniques – Orthodox and CTC, produce different chemical constituents. As he explains, “Orthodox tea is more flavored and less colored, while CTC tea produces a very strong colored liquor with a mild flavor”; as a result, orthodox teas are usually considered higher quality and, therefore, more expensive than CTC teas.

Orthodox teas

They are usually harvested and processed by hand, focusing on whole leaves, and every stage of the process is determent by trained professionals. These teas(white, green, oolong, or black) are known for their flavor complexity and are highly prized in the world tea market.

There are different grade systems for Orthodox teas, and probably the most common one is the one using letters. That grading system is typically used to grade the black tea and is primarily used by exporters targeting Western countries. As far as I know, China is not using this particular grade system.

There are four major categories and are some of their grades.

Whole leaf teaSFTGFOP1 – Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe –
Grade 1 – Usually the highest grade of tea for sale.
SFTGFOP – Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 
GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
Broken-leaf teaBOP1 – Broken Orange Pekoe One
GFBOP – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
TGFBOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
FanningsBOP1 – Broken Orange Pekoe One
GFBOP – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
TGFBOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
DustOPD – Orange Pekoe Dust
BOPD – Broken Orange Pekoe Dust
BOPFD – Broken Orange Pekoe Fine Dust
FD – Fine Dust

Whole-leaf teas need longer infusion times, whereas broken leaf teas require shorter steeping, and fannings and dust infuse the fastest. Whole-leaf teas are also best for multiple infusions.

CTC teas

CTC stands for crush, tear, curl. The tea leaves are passed through a machine with sharp teeth, which essentially minces the leaf.
There are different grades of CTC teas, and here are some of them.

BPO1(Broken Orange Pekoe one)
GF BPO (Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe one)
BPS (Broken Pekoe Souchong)
The full CTC grades table can be found at https://www.teacupsfull.com/blogs/blog/what-is-ctc-tea

CTC teas are the base for many famous blends, like English Breakfast or Spicy teas – masala/chai, cardamom, ginger, etc.

Differences between Orthodox and CTC teas, besides the production process, are mainly in flavor, price, and use. Orthodox tea is more expensive, have a more delicate flavor, and their appearance is not as small as the CTC teas, which look like tiny pellets.
Is one better than the other one, not sure; it is a matter of personal preference at the end of the day?

Tea quality also can be affected by the environment, the time of harvesting, which leaves are used, and farming practices, but not to the same extent as the production process.

Steps in Tea Manufacturing

How to make a cup of tea

The answer is easy– boil water, put the tea in it, and wait. Or maybe not.
Does it matter how we make tea? Does the amount of tea being used, the water temperature, and how long is the steeping process essential to the flavor of the tea?

How much tea?

Usually, the amount of tea used is 2g per 100ml for tea testing and 1g per 100ml for everyday use, steeped in for about 5-6 minutes.
According to Leo Kwan in his article Better Tea-making: Measurements, “Good measurement practice is key to successful tea-making” the usual capacity of a teacup is 250ml, but since we are filling in only 2/3 of it, the liquid used for a cup of tea is not anymore 250ml, but more like 150ml – 175ml. If we base our assumptions on that, we can adjust the amount of tea needed.
So how do we measure the 1g or 3g of tea leaves? They all come with different densities; a teaspoon full of one tea doesn’t necessarily mean the same amount of another type of tea?
The short answer is; you need a small weight scale. If you don’t have one, check the link to this article to get more detailed information about tea measurement and much more.

Water temperature

Water temperature plays a vital role in extracting the tea chemical compounds and flavor. The temperatures are based on the assumption the teapot is pre-warmed and served at room temperature.

Example of suggested water temperatures

White TeaOrchid shape, traditional85~95Cº – 200Fº
Yellow TeaFine leaves85C° – 195F°

Green Tea
Fine leaves; twisted, curled, or flattened Gyokuro or other large leaf shaded grown steamed teas95C° – 165F°
70C° – 160F°

Oolong Tea
Green, Anxi, or Taiwan styles
Phoenix (Fenghuang) green or bouquet styles
Brown, classic, or “honey” styles
95C° – 200F°
90C° – 195F°
85C° – 185F°
Black and post-fermented teaFully fermented styles95C° 200F°
For more information, check this article at Tea Guardian. https://www.teaguardian.com/about/standards/measurements/#n1

Iced Tea

When making an iced tea, usually we use hot water, tea and let it infuse, strain, and put in the fridge. The question is; Is it better to infuse the tea with hot water or cold water when making an iced tea. The answer is not straightforward, and it depends on personal preferences. After all, comparing taste and aromas can not be objectively categorized. Nevertheless, here are some factors to consider.

Let’s say, If we pour hot tea over ice, the resulting drink will have a stronger astringency taste, and it will release additional bitterness into the tea.
Does that mean we should not use hot water to make iced tea? Of course not, and here are some suggestions for making an iced tea using the hot and cold brew methods?

Hot Brew method

Use stronger flavored teas green, oolong, or black when brewing with hot water.
Here are some steps to consider when using the hot brew method:

  1. Use 2 bags for 300ml water or the equivalent in tea leaves
  2. Put sugar during the steeping process, when the water is hot, but not boiling.
  3. If need stronger flavor, add more tea, don’t extend the infusion time as it will increase the astringency in the tea.
  4. If you need to add more sweetness to the tea afterward, use simple syrup, and not granulated sugar as it might leave sugar grain on the bottom of the glass.
  5. Cool the tea before refrigerating, otherwise, it may get cloudy2.

Brewing using cold method:

Usually, cold-brewed tea comes out a little sweeter than its hot counterparts.

Add tea leaves to a container with cold water, let it stay at room temperature for about 30 min. After that, put it in the fridge, wait for 6-8 hours, strain, and refrigerate, if not needed right away.
Good quality tea leaves can be used again, but you might have to double the infusion time.

According to Elena Liao, founder of Té Company in New York and importer of Taiwanese oolongs. “The colder temperature doesn’t steep out the tannins in the way hot water does, so cold-brewed tea is less astringent and less caffeinated.” and ..the best teas to use are those that are a little bit sweeter, like a light oolong..”

Ice Brew Methods

They are also known as kouridashi-style brewing. It is an ice-cold method of extracting tea flavor, and it originated in Japan.

The key again here is to increase the tea leaves compared to the hot brew.

Here are four different methods of using this technique.

ReichaPour the tea leaves into the Kyusu
Pour the minimal amount of hot water into the Kyusu – 10ml per serving.
Wait a moment and allow the tea leaves to spread
Add ice to the Kyusu to reduce the temperature
Pour water into the Kyusu. Seep for 1 minute.
Mizu-dashiPour the tea leaves into the Kyusu
Add ice into the Kyusu
Pour water into the Kyusu. Seep for 3-5 minutes.
On the RockPour the tea leaves into the Kyusu
Pour hot water – a little hotter than usual at 80 degrees Celsius – into the Kyusu
Serve into glasses with large chunks of ice.
Kouri-dashi *Pour the tea leaves into the Kyusu
Place large ice into the Kyusu
Please wait for the ice to melt and allow it to seep as it melts.
https://japanesetea.sg/japanese-tea-pedia/how-to-brew-delicious-cold-tea/, no affiliation.

Note: A kyusu is a traditional Japanese teapot made of clay

  • The kouridashi method is a truly unique presentation. It might take 2-3 hours in order to have the tea ready. The way it works is by placing large ice cube(s) in a pot or large enough glass – if Kyusu pot is not available, and waiting for the ice to melt. The slow-melting ice concentrates the flavor of the tea without pulling out the astringency, which most of the caffeinated drinks have. This slow infusion process allows additional flavors to be added (ginger, citrus peels, lemongrass. berries, or whatever flavor is desired). This idea of infusion is similar to the one used in the Porthole drinks, minus the ice. – https://www.theportholeinfuser.com/
  • If this method seems a little bit too long to wait for a cup of tea, add some water and that will speed up the melting process.

There are so many great teas out there it is virtually impossible to mention all of them in this post, but this particular tea is one of my favorites, and it has also an exciting story to go along.

Lapsang Souchong tea

The tea originates from the Wuyi Mountains region of Fujian.
Lapsang souchong was first created in 1646, as civilians in the Wuyi Mountain areas fled from Qing soldiers who were advancing through the area on their Manchu unification campaign against the Southern Ming. Before they fled, to avoid spoilage of newly plucked leaves, batches were quickly dried over fire and buried in sacks. Afterward, despite the smoky odor, the tea leaves were shipped and sold to the Dutch traders.
At the time, the months-long journey from China to Europe necessitated preservation methods and the partial oxidation of this Wuyi tea, an oolong tea graded as bohea or souchong, was better able to preserve its quality.


  1. https://www.canadianliving.com/food/food-tips/article/six-rules-for-the-best-iced-tea-plus-recipes
  2. https://www.canadianliving.com/food/food-tips/article/six-rules-for-the-best-iced-tea-plus-recipes

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