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What’s the Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Tea?

If you’ve been on the lookout for iced teas, you’ve probably noticed two different methods: iced tea and cold brewed tea. Yes, there is a difference between the two even though they sound similar.

When someone says the term ‘iced tea’ it means cold tea, most often by brewing it hot, then cooling it down and finishing it with a few ice cubes. This is by far the quickest way to enjoy cold tea.

Cold brew tea is exactly as it sounds- the tea leaves are brewed in cold water and left to steep for a longer period of time. When you start off with cold water the steep time is slower, and flavors are extracted much differently than if you steeped in hot water for a few minutes.

Comparing Cold Brew and Iced Tea

The difference between the two methods is time and temperature.

Quick Iced Tea can be achieved by the same process of brewing hot tea, brewing it stronger and then cooling it down with ice. Alternatively, the brew can be left to cool in the fridge. This is a quicker way of making iced tea when you need it in a pinch.

Cold brewing tea is a much longer process where the flavor of the leaves is extracted over a longer period of time. The cold brew process is much simpler, you just add leaves to water, at room temperature or refrigerated, and then brewed for 12 to 24 hours. The lengthier amount of time is necessary to extract enough aroma and flavor. 

Taste differences

With iced tea you’ll get the same flavor and strength as its hot brewed counterpart. There will be sweetness along with astringency though drinking tea cold reduced our sensory to detect its aroma, which is usually delivered through steam. If brewing at home, be sure to make it strong enough to stand up to the ice and make sure your ice cubes are made with good water.

With cold brew, the slower brewing process creates a sweeter brew that is more delicate and nuanced. There is very little bitterness and astringency (and caffeine) in this brewing process, even if the leaves are left in water for a longer period of time. Darker and roasted teas tend to have a bold, deeper, and more complex flavor.

Which Method Is Right for You?

If you’re looking for a more delicate, aromatic cold tea, the cold brew method may be the right choice. For a more instant refreshment with a strong flavor, go with the iced tea. It’s fun to try both methods using the same tea to compare flavors.

You may be surprised at the notes you can extract from a cold brew, which can taste completely different from the iced version. For more cold tea ideas, check out our blog post on choosing the right tea method for you.

Our Favorite Oolongs for Iced Tea

Ruby Brew Oolong is heavily oxidized and roasted tea. Like Royal Courtesan, also a delicious iced tea contender, it is a relative newcomer in Taiwanese tea making. Just within the last decade, local tea producers collaborated with tea academics to perfect the art of high oxidation and gentle roast. Production of this tea is still scarce and has only recently made its way to the West.

The crimson, silky-textured infusion smells of toasted chestnuts; the caramel-sweet palate opens with stroopwafel and cherry, and transitions into warming notes of dehydrated corn.

For those who prefer a gentle smokiness, we also recommend our Iron Goddess for iced tea.

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