Making Tea Ice Cubes

Frederick Tudor made tea ice cubes possible.

The inventor of ice (cubes), Mr. Frederick Tudor.

You may be asking “tea ice cubes? really? why bother?” but bear with us. In short, why not? And they are a great way to dress up cocktails at your next gathering.

Making tea ice cubes is really easy. Understanding when and where to use them requires a little more thought and work. Any tea you brew hot can be turned into ice cubes and this opens up a new world of possibilities. The trick is understanding the size of your ice cube tray so you know how much tea to brew. Because you are taking boiling water and trying to freeze it, expect several hours for these ice cubes to set, so prepare at least the night before you plan on using them. Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk a little history about ice cubes.

History of Ice Cubes in the US

So if you have done any foreign travel, one of the first things you may have noticed is that water or any cold beverage is served with little to no ice. This leads to the question, why do American restaurants and Americans in general expect and use as much ice as we do. We can all thank a gentleman by the name of Frederic Tudor from Boston, who after failing to sell ice harvested in Maine  in 1806 to the citizens of the Caribbean Island of Martinique, set his sights more local and started traveling the eastern seaboard of the United States and demonstrating his ice blocks at hotels, bars and restaurants in large cities. He created demand for ice from an entire population that had no idea they needed it. Ice in drinks became an exotic treat and the demand for ice increased. At this point, ice was harvested from northern streams and lakes in big blocks and the restaurant was responsible for chipping off ice from the block for drinks. This natural ice would not see consistent and reliable competition from artificially made ice in the United States until after World War I. Wide scale home production of ice would not occur until the 1930s, when refrigerators with electric motors that powered ice production, made it into American homes. So with the origin of our love of ice complete, let’s return to our tea ice cubes.

Understanding the Size of Your Ice Cube Tray

Before you brew your tea,take out your ice cube tray and a tablespoon. Try filling one compartment of the ice cube tray with water using the tablespoon. Usually, most ice cube trays make cubes that require 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons of water. That is not to say there is not a variation in size, because there is based on the age of your tray and the shape of the cubes. As cocktails have become more popular in the United States, ice cube trays have become very artistic. If you dig around a bit at your typical cooking supply store you can find ice cube molds in the shapes of airplanes, stars and ones specifically built for high ball and low ball cocktail glasses.

Tea Ice Cubes

So once you determined the amount of water your ice cube tray holds, you will need to measure out roughly 3 grams (Roughly a teaspoon for smaller leafed tea and a tablespoon for your larger leaf teas) of the tea you want to every 8 ounces of water. Brew up your tea as if you were going to drink it (so get the correct steeping time and water temperature for the type of tea you are making). Instead of drinking it, pour it into the ice tray. As a warning, if you have a metal tray, it will get hot, so you may want a hot pad near by to carry your tray to the freezer. Allow to harden in the freezer, which can take several hours, so I have always done this overnight.

Where to Use Tea Ice Cubes

Iced tea or iced chai tea with milk is a good place to start. If you are going to put iced tea cubes in iced tea, check your iced tea recipe as those recipes are geared to concentrate the tea flavor since it is going over plain ice. To use the cubes in iced tea, brew a normal cup of tea and then pour it over 8 oz of your ice cubes. Chai tea ice tubes make a great addition to iced chai tea as the cold milk usually dilutes the flavor of the tea.

Finally, for some fun you can take inspiration from some high end hotels and lounges playing with ice cubes. There are a number of cocktails that will take on the flavor of some of your favorite black teas or oolongs when these cubes are added in, so play and experiment at your next party. Our ancestors even had a green tea punch in the early 1800’s that might be worth bringing out.

Let’s us know what you put your tea ice cubes in!

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History of Iced Tea

With June being National Iced Tea Month we wanted to explore the history of iced tea a bit more, looking at its origins before 1904 and where it has evolved. Iced tea came into the mainstream in the United States when it was served, out of necessity, at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904.

Print on stereo card of 1904 World's Fair where ice tea was rumored to have been invented.

Birdseye View World’s Fair, Shared by Boston Public Library, CC BY 2.0

History of Iced Tea

In actuality, iced tea had been in homes in the United States since the early 1800’s. Iced tea back then was more of a cocktail than a refreshing drink. Early cookbooks show recipes for Tea Punch, made with a combination of ice, green tea, sugar, cream and liquor. The green tea is not a surprise, as that was the predominant tea coming into the United States until the Opium Wars interrupted trade with China redirecting the tea trade to India and black tea. This punch took on regional names from Regent’s Punch (New England) to Chatham Artillery Punch (Savannah, Georgia).

Cookbooks in the later-half of the 1800’s started to talk about iced tea in the forms most American’s think of today – tea, ice, lemon and sugar. This is not a surprise given that ice boxes, the first form of the refrigerator, had become more prevalent in American homes at the same time. Sugar was present in all recipes but not in the quantities that are typically associated with sweet tea, until 1879.

Photo of Housekeeping in Old Virginia which housed one of the first recipes for ice tea.

Housekeeping in Old Virginia by miz_genevra, CC BY 2.0

Ice Tea Recipes and Varieties

The oldest known recipe in print for sweet tea was published in 1879 in Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. It called for 2 teaspoons of sugar for roughly 6 ounces of tea over ice, followed by a squeeze of lemon.  Sweet tea is such a staple in the Southern United States that when visiting restaurants it is advised to ask for unsweet tea when ordering iced tea if sweet tea is not wanted. In other parts of the US, you will have to make your own sweet tea at the table with the available sugar packets.

Thai Iced Tea Photo

Thai Iced Tea by Mark Guim, CC BY 2.0

Thai iced tea has become a more frequent fixture in the US as Asian culture has become part of main stream America. This tea is very close to the early American recipes for iced tea in that it includes tea, cream and sugar – no alcohol though.

Today, much like soda, iced tea is readily available in many flavors, sweetened or unsweetened in bottles. While convenient, they still don’t hold a candle to the fresh brewed taste of homemade iced tea.

What do you put in your homemade iced tea?

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Cold Brewing Iced Tea

Brewing Iced Tea in the Sun

Sun Tea by flickr user SanFranAnnie, CC BY SA 2.0

As a native of Arizona, I spent most of my childhood drinking sun tea.  It was always an interesting sight to watch the tea bags infuse the water in the glass jar using just the rays and heat from the sun.  At the height of summer, it usually took no longer than a few hours for it reach the color my mother wanted.  When we moved to Florida, it was disappointing to learn that sun tea didn’t quite work there, so in came the countertop ice tea maker.  This remained my go-to method of getting quick black iced tea for many years, and still has its place in my tea making equipment.  Then I learned of cold brewing tea and quickly found this easy method opened up a whole new world of drinking some of my favorite hot teas cold.

Anyone with an iced tea maker will tell you it is impossible to get green iced tea out of it that is not horribly bitter.  As someone who steadfastly refuses to add anything to my tea, this was very disappointing.  The water is just too hot and the steeping time too long for the tea.  Even some of the best flavored teas lose their flavor in the ice tea maker; Jasmine tea being one.  Cold brewing these teas leaves their flavors intact.

Cold brewing iced tea to filter for serving.

Cold Brewed Iced Tea – Perfect for Summer

How to Cold Brew Iced Tea

It is super easy to cold brew tea.  You just need a pitcher and water.  The ratio is roughly 7 teaspoons of loose tea to 750 mL of water.  Put the loose tea and water into the pitcher and put it in the refrigerator for about 6-8 hours and see what happens.  The trick behind cold brewed iced tea is getting the liquid out at the end of brewing without the tea leaves.  That’s a piece of cake if you find one of the pitchers with mesh infusers at your local big box store.  Or if you happen to have 2 pitchers and a fine mesh strainer, you can strain the contents of your brewing pitcher through the strainer into the other pitcher and then discard your teas leaves, hopefully as compost for one of your favorite plants.  Play with the amount of tea versus water and your steeping time until you find the combination that works for you.

This cold brew method has been used in Japan for many years.  Not a surprise when you think about all the green tea Japan drinks.  So feel free to try this with your favorite green tea and see what you get.  This method also allows oolong to become a fabulous iced tea.  Those complex oolong flavors remain after brewing cold.

My favorite so far is cold brewed sencha iced tea.  It is really refreshing after a workout.  Have you tried cold brewing your favorite tea?  What do you think?  As we head into summer we’ve highlighted the teas that we think will cold brew well for you on the Dominion Tea specials page.

Hillary @ Dominion Tea

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