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 highball and lowball 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.

Also, if you already have brewed iced tea, feel free to use that.

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 your iced tea and then pour over the 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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