Behind the Recipes

How to Brew the Best Iced Tea

Whether you sip it daily or want a special beverage for summertime meals, here is how to make a lively, full-flavored brew.

Published June 27, 2023.

Iced tea sure is popular: Of the 3.8 billion gallons of tea consumed in the United States in 2018, a whopping 80 percent of it was iced. I count myself among the many who regularly quench their thirst with the stuff, so I was happy to steep and sip my way through dozens of pitchers to develop guidelines for making the best possible versions of black and green iced tea. Overall, I found that you don’t need to be quite as persnickety about iced tea as you do about hot (particularly if you’re adding flavorings). But you do need to take steps to avoid watery or overextracted brews. 

Read on for advice on what kind of tea to use, the novel method I came up for making homemade iced tea, including the best brewing temperature, and recipes for teas both plain and flavored.

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Appreciating Tea's Special Qualities

To fully savor your tea, iced or hot, pay close attention to the interplay of taste, aroma, and texture.

Taste: As with wine, the flavor of tea ranges from light and delicate to full and pungent. And all teas contain bitter polyphenols, but the exact content varies depending on a number of variables, including terroir, oxidation, and aging. 

Aroma: Distinctive aromas that span a broad spectrum are a big component of the flavor of tea. Expect fruity, leathery, floral, or even smoky aromas in black teas. Green teas tend to feature grassy, mineral, floral, and marine scents.

Texture: Great tea isn’t just about taste, it’s also about mouthfeel. Polyphenols can cause astringency, or a pleasant drying sensation, that lingers on the palate. Some infusions also contain compounds that give tea a lingering creaminess.

Should I Use Loose-Leaf or Bagged Tea for Iced Tea?

When I compared iced tea made from loose-leaf tea with iced tea made from tea bags (using the same type and brand for consistency), I found that the former produced a more flavorful, complex drink. That’s because most tea bags are filled with tiny broken tea leaves, called “dust” or “fannings,” that remain after the higher-quality whole leaves are sifted. These dregs have very little interior that’s not exposed to air, so aromas and volatile oils readily escape from the broken surfaces.

Members of the Cook’s Illustrated team rate iced tea samples during a tasting of black tea varieties.

How Much Loose Tea to Use for Iced Tea

If you’re making plain iced tea, it pays to spend a little more for good quality loose tea. 

Use 1½ tablespoons of loose black tea per quart of water to produce a vibrant yet not overly strong brew. 

If using loose green tea, which is generally subtler, increase the amount to 2 tablespoons per quart of water

Tea removed from individual bags is steeped alongside an equal amount of loose-leaf tea so that the flavor and strength of each type can be evaluated.

Use Tea Bags When Making Flavored Iced Tea

When I prepared our flavored iced teas (scroll down for the recipes) using equal weights of bagged and loose-leaf tea, the differences were too subtle to justify the extra expense of loose-leaf. That said, stick with good quality bagged tea.


The Complete Guide to Healthy Drinks

The Best Temperature for Brewing Iced Tea

Iced tea can be brewed using either cold or boiling water. In a side-by-side comparison, a cold-water, 24-hour infusion tasted flat. That’s because a number of the compounds that give tea balanced astringency and bitterness are extracted more effectively in hot water than in cold water. But iced tea brewed for 4 minutes in water that had been brought to a boil lacked sufficient intensity. Making the tea stronger by brewing longer in hot water only made the tea overly bitter and mouth-drying. Increasing the amount of tea worked, but I ultimately came up with a thrifty hybrid method using boiling water and ice water that produced the same great flavor without extra tea:

  • First, steep the tea in 3 cups of water that has been brought to a boil (or 175-degree water for green tea) for 4 minutes.
  • Then add 1 cup of ice water and continue to steep for 1 hour. At the cooler temperature, full-flavored aromatic compounds continue to infuse the water and the bitter and astringent ones do not.

How Long to Steep Tea for Iced Tea

Tea can be expensive—so brew with economy in mind. We make a full-flavored drink not by adding extra leaves but by using a hybrid steeping method that takes about an hour.


A short, hot steep draws out compounds such as caffeine, theobromine, and polyphenols that make tea pleasantly bitter and astringent.


Adding ice water slows the extraction of bitter and astringent compounds. Continuing to steep for 1 hour magnifies full-flavored aromatic compounds.

Best Tea for Iced Tea

Here are a few of our favorite teas to serve iced (and hot). To learn more about the differences between green and black tea, click here.


Variety: Assam

Profile: full-bodied tea with robust, malty flavor

Variety: Keemun

Profile: a smooth, creamy mouthfeel; slight smokiness; and hints of cocoa

Variety: Second Flush Darjeeling

Profile: mild sweetness, citrus, and light floral notes


Variety: Gunpowder or Dragon Well (slightly sweeter)

Profile: astringency and grassy, vegetal flavors

Variety: Sencha

Profile: seaweed, alfalfa, and umami

How to Sweeten Iced Tea

Granulated sugar can be difficult to dissolve in iced tea, leaving grit in your drink, but sugar in the form of syrup is easy to incorporate. Our quick method for a rich syrup (which has a higher concentration of sugar to water than a "regular" simple syrup, which leads to less dilution) uses warm water instead of requiring the usual stovetop simmer, making it even easier.

Whisk ¾ cup sugar and ⅓ cup warm water in bowl until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely, about 10 minutes, before transferring to airtight container. Makes 1 cup. (Syrup can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.)

Recipes for Homemade Iced Tea

Iced Black Tea

Our novel brewing method ensures that this classic iced tea will be lively and full-flavored every time you make it.
Get the Recipe

Raspberry-Basil Iced Black Tea

Thawed frozen raspberries mashed with basil, sugar, and lemon juice give this tea remarkably refreshing flavor. 
Get the Recipe

Ginger-Pomegranate Iced Black Tea

For brisk and refreshing iced tea with spicy fruitiness, we pair tart pomegranate juice with zingy ginger. 
Get the Recipe

Iced Green Tea

For smooth and refreshing iced green tea, we skip lower-quality bagged tea in favor of loose-leaf tea.
Get the Recipe

Cantaloupe-Mint Iced Green Tea

Cantaloupe brings a delicate fruitiness to this iced green tea, and mint makes it extra-refreshing.  
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Cucumber-Lime Iced Green Tea

For iced green tea with a cool twist, we use cucumber, lime zest, and lime juice.
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