The Timing Mistake That's Making Your Homemade Iced Tea Bitter

Homemade iced tea makes a strong case for the ultimate N.A. summer sipper. It's cool, refreshing, can be as sweet (or not) as you like, and can be infused with fruit or herbs for all sorts of different flavors — from a simple lemon wheel to macerated peach slices and a sprig of mint. But, there's one timing mistake to which home cooks all-too-often fall prey that can ruin the smooth taste.

As a general rule, you should brew iced tea a little stronger than you'd brew hot tea because the addition of the ice cubes will dilute it considerably and water down the taste. But, whether you're making an old-fashioned sun tea or using the hot-brew-and-chill method, take care not to over-steep for more than five minutes as it's a one-way ticket to a bitter, inedible mouthful. Bitterness also erases the more nuanced flavor notes that made you choose that selection in the first place.

Why does over-steeping have such a strong impact? Like wine, tea leaves are packed with naturally-occurring compounds called tannins, and the longer the tea steeps, the more tannins get released. They're delicious in moderation, but too many tannins will create a physical reaction of astringency, making your mouth pucker in an unpleasant sour scrunch. Like too-strong coffee, no amount of cream or sugar can rescue an over-steeped, tannin-loaded tea. You'll have to scrap the lot and start fresh, which in addition to being a waste of time and money is also a total drag. 

Take care not to over-steep, and know your tea types

Black tea is the type of tea most commonly used for traditional iced tea, and the sweet spot for most black teas is three to five minutes. Brew six tea bags (or 3 heaping tablespoons of loose-leaf tea) per 8 cups of water, and steep for four minutes before chilling. Set a timer to help you nail it, and feel free to play around with using more or fewer tea bags to achieve your preferred strength. 

Black teas might be the most popular, but they aren't the only type that'll make a great iced tea. Green tea can be citrusy or earthy, like sencha or jasmine, depending on the blend you select and takes around three minutes to steep. White teas like pai mu tan are more delicate and floral and can take up to five minutes for the flavors to really develop. Also, in general, whole-leaf teas tend to brew less tannin notes than tea bags, so opting for the former could help your batch of tea turn turn out flavorful without any worry of bitterness as well.