How to Make Iced Tea

August 5, 2022

Iced tea is practically a staple in the South. Even if you are not a resident here, though, you would have undoubtedly tasted this delicious beverage at some point. However, if you have ever tried to replicate the recipe at home, the results may have been quite disappointing.

While the concept behind iced tea may seem simple enough, it is actually a rather complex drink to make. So, if it isn’t brewed in just the right way, it won’t taste all that great. If you want to master how to brew this particular beverage, then here is everything you need to know about it, including the best way to make iced tea.

The History of Iced Tea

There isn’t any record of when iced tea was first invented. However, there is some evidence to suggest that people in the Southern states were drinking it as early as the 1870s. Back then, of course, the drink was made with green tea.

It wasn’t until 1904 that people started making it with black tea. As the story goes, Richard Belchynden was a merchant at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. It was a hot day and Belchynden was having a hard time selling his hot tea. To make the drink more appealing, he added ice chips to the brew and so the popularity of iced tea began. 

Iced Tea vs. Sweet Tea

In the Northern states, you are more likely to come across “iced tea”. When you head down South, however, you will suddenly be offered “sweet tea”. So, is there a difference between these two beverages or do they simply have different names?

Well, there is an actual difference between iced and sweet tea. Iced teas are made – and sometimes drunk – without sugar. Instead, the tea is simply brewed and cooled. Sweet tea, on the other hand, is sweetened while it is brewed. As such, the drink is naturally a great deal sweeter.

sweet tea

Types of Iced Tea

There are as many types of iced teas as there are teas. So, here are the more popular options available:

Black Iced Tea: this is the more common type of iced tea. It is made from black tea leaves which are more oxidized than other true teas. As a result, you get a more robust taste. These iced teas work well with different kinds of flavors, sweeteners, and even milk.

Green Iced Tea: green tea leaves aren’t oxidized as much and are often considered to be the healthiest forms of iced tea. The taste is more or mellow and aromatic. This tea isn’t as versatile with additions as black tea.

Oolong Iced Tea: although not as popular as the other two true teas, this tea is surprisingly tasty when iced. This is because it is naturally semi-sweet and produces a refreshing taste, regardless of how it is made.

Herbal Iced Tea: herbal teas aren’t actually teas. Instead, they can be made from flowers, stems, and even roots. When making herbal iced tea, you can mix various flavors and blends and even have green or black tea as a base. 

Variations in Brewing Iced Tea

As mentioned, iced tea can be a great deal more complex than people realize. To begin with, there are different options available when brewing it. Let’s take a look at just how many avenues you have to brew iced tea:

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Hot vs. Cold Brewed Tea

The most traditional way of making tea involves first boiling the water. Then, you allow the tea to steep in the water for a particular amount of time. Once the solution has reached the right concentration, you can add ice to the drink or place it in the refrigerator for a period of time. The hot brew option is favored as it tends to be a great deal quicker and easier.

Then, there is the cold-brewed method. Here, the tea is placed in room temperature or cold water and then kept in the refrigerator to steep. This concoction must be allowed to steep for several hours, often overnight. The tea leaves or bags are then removed and the drink is served.

With the cold-brewed version, the extraction process is based on time, not heat. As a result, you get a much smoother tea and you don’t have to worry about an astringent taste either. See, while hot water draws out the flavor from the leaves more quickly, it also releases tannins. This is what makes most brews bitter. You don’t have to worry about this with the cold brew version. 

Loose Tea vs. Tea Bags

Another decision you will need to make is regarding whether to rely on loose tea leaves or tea bags when brewing your iced tea. Tea bags are often used because they are quite convenient. When brewing with these, you don’t really need any other kind of equipment.

However, the tea leaves in tea bags aren’t that great. Most of the leaves are either of inferior quality or have been cut into very small pieces. This makes them more likely to release tannins when steeped in water. Not to mention, the flavor profile isn’t as complex.

When placed in water, loose tea leaves unfurl and release more taste and aroma. As a result, you will end up with a drink that tastes fresher and smoother. So, whenever possible, try to use loose tea leaves as it will make all the difference with brewing the perfect iced tea

iced tea with milk

A Guide to Brewing Iced Tea

There are actually several factors that you have to keep track of when brewing this drink. Learning these tricks is the first step to figuring out how to brew iced tea.

Water Quality

Regardless of whether you are making hot brewed or cold brewed tea, it is important to use the right water. Understand, most tap water contains different minerals and even chlorine. All of these can combine with the tea and alter the taste of the drink. To preserve the original flavor, it is best to stick with cold, filtered water.

Water Boiling Temperature

This applies to hot brewed iced teas. Keep in mind, each tea brews best at a different temperature. Lighter teas such as green and oolong teas should be steeped in cooler water. So, take the water off the heat before it begins to boil. Then, allow the water to cool for a few moments before adding the tea leaves.

With black teas, you can take the water off the heat just when it begins to boil. Since these leaves are more robust, they stand up better to higher temperatures. Most herbal teas can be steeped in water that is just taken off the stove as well. 


As a rule of thumb, you should add 2 grams of any kind of tea for every 6 to 8 ounces of water for homemade iced tea. This holds true for herbal teas as well. If you are using tea bags, most brands would advise you to use one tea bag for every 6 to 8 ounces.

With cold brew tea, you may want to increase the quantity of tea leaves a little more. Traditionally, experts will advise you to use twice the quantity of tea leaves for cold brew tea. Since the flavor relies on time rather than temperature, you may get a stronger brew with more tea leaves.

The good news is that iced tea is more forgiving than its hot counterpart. Thus, you can get away with adding more tea leaves or tea bags to your iced tea recipe. You can then water down the solution with iced water later on. Of course, you should still avoid adding too much as you don’t want the tea to be too bitter. 

Steeping Times

If you are making hot brew tea, then follow these steeping times for loose leaf teas. For tea bags, simply follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Green tea: 1 to 3 minutes

Oolong tea: 3 to 5 minutes

Black tea: 3 to 5 minutes

Herbal tea: 5 minutes

For cold brew versions, these are the ideal steeping times:

Green tea: 6 to 8 hours

Black and Oolong tea: 8 to 12 hours

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lemon iced tea

The Best Iced Tea Recipes

Now, that you are aware of the fundamentals, it is time to learn how to make homemade ice tea:

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Basic Iced Tea Recipe

This is the basic, unsweetened iced tea recipe.


  • 8 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons of loose black tea


Heat the water until it reaches a simmer and take it off the stove. Add the tea leaves to the water and allow it to simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain the tea and allow it to cool. After this, transfer it to a pitcher and refrigerate. Serve when chilled. If you want to know how to make iced tea with tea bags, you can follow the same process. Just substitute the tea leaves with 6 tea bags and steep the tea for the same amount of time. 

Cold Brewed Iced Tea


  • 1 ½ teaspoons of tea for every cup of water
  • Preferred amount of water


Place the tea leaves in the water and put it in a sealed container or pitcher. Place the solution in the water for a required period of time. Taste and add ice or cold water, depending on preferred concentration. 

Sweet Tea Recipe


  • 6 tea bags or 3 tablespoons of loose tea
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • 6 cups cool water
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • Pinch of baking soda


Sprinkle a pinch of baking soda into a heat-proof pitcher and add the boiling water. Add the tea leaves or bags and leave up to 15 minutes, depending on the preferred concentration. Remove the tea and stir in sugar until dissolved. Pour in cold water and refrigerate until chilled. 

Herbal Iced Tea


  • 4 herbal tea bags of preferred flavor
  • 2 green tea bags
  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup of sugar


Boil water and add the herbal tea bags. After three or four minutes, add the green tea bags and allow to steep for one to two minutes. Remove the tea bags and stir in the lemon juice and the sugar until dissolved. Refrigerate the drink until it is chilled.

If you want to perfect the art of iced tea, you now know how it’s done. Simply follow the tips, guidelines, and recipes mentioned here. In no time at all, you will be brewing a delicious cup of iced tea. 

Want even more iced tea goodness? Then check out our Pinterest page. It is chock-full of tea recipes and everything else tea related. 

About the Author
Dr. Dheena Sadik
Dr. Dheena Sadik is a consultant Nutritionist and Dietician. She has over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry.
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