The Common Mistake You Want To Avoid When Making Herbal Iced Tea

Fresh, light herbal tea is all about those nuanced flavor notes, which can range from floral to vegetal to herbaceous. The key to extracting the maximum amount of natural essential oils in the herbs — and allowing the delicate notes to shine without muting 'em or overdoing it — is nailing the steeping time. That's why it helps to know your tea. When it comes to iced tea, all the ice you add into the mix is going to introduce a lot of dilution, so it's important that your herbal tea is bold and well-steeped before the ice is added — but this is also where things get tricky. 

Long-steeping can bring out delicious depth in some types of herbal teas, but other types become unpleasantly bitter if steeped for too long. Just as weak tea won't be saved once the ice is added, the bitterness of over-steeped tea won't be rescued with a little ice, either. This is especially important to remember with floral varieties such as calendula, rosehip, lavender, hibiscus, chamomile, and chrysanthemum, as well as savory herb varieties like tulsi holy basil, rooibos, oregano, rosemary, olive leaf, peppermint, and nettle teas. For these varieties, only steep the tea for three minutes, then chill. Or, alternatively, pop those fresh herbs into a pitcher of cool water and allow them to steep overnight in the fridge. It's less efficient, but the cold water won't bring out the same bitterness and acidity levels in the herbs that hot-brewing does.

Take care not to over-steep the wrong herbal teas (and know which is which)

To steep a knockout herbal iced tea, one tea bag (or 1 teaspoon of dried tea leaves) per 8-ounce cup of water is the golden ratio. Four cups of water is enough for a small batch of iced tea. If you prefer a bolder flavor, use more fresh herbs or tea leaves — just don't tack on extra steeping time, which can ruin the flavor. If you're working with fresh herbs or edible flowers picked from the garden, use ¼ cup of plant matter per cup of boiling water. Some herbal tea varieties like lemongrass, Egyptian licorice, ginger, and cinnamon just get sweeter and tastier the longer you steep them, in which case a 20 minute steep is the sweet spot. 

From there, it's all about customization. You could take a cue from Ina Garten and and mix your steeped iced herbal tea in a pitcher with equal parts fruit juice for a refreshing summer cooler. Or, feel free to mix your herbal iced tea with other flavorful ingredients like lemonade or coconut water. If you plan to sweeten your tea, add the sweetener while the steeped tea is still hot for thorough, uniform dissolution. To release more flavor from your fresh herbs, gently crush them in your hands or pre-steep by rubbing them between your fingers or palms. The herb-crushing tip also works when adding fresh herbs to soups and stews, by the way.