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Summer is here – the time of year when we get to play hard, travel, and spend quality time with loved ones. And when you find yourself drained and maybe a little too sun-kissed, let’s face it: a hot cup of tea just doesn’t feel the same as it did a couple of months ago. But did you know that some sweet relief could be found in cold steeped tea?
Getting Our Teas Straight
True tea is made from the camellia sinensis plant and has been used for medicine in China starting as early as the 3rd century AD. The color of the tea depends on how it is harvested and prepared.
White tea is harvested at the start of the season before the plants open and then dried prior to oxidation. Since it is the least processed tea, it contains the highest level of antioxidants with the least amount of caffeine (about 6-55 mg).
Green tea is harvested later and also dried in order to prevent oxidation. Among its many nutrients is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a type of polyphenol that studies link to a lower risk of cancer. Its caffeine content is still about half that of a cup of coffee (30-70 mg).
Black tea, on the other hand, is intentionally oxidized to provide a richer, more robust flavor. It’s notable for containing theaflavins, a type of antioxidant that can help decrease the risk of plaque forming in blood vessels as well as reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Of the teas, it contains the highest level of caffeine – about 47-90 mg.
Herbal tea (which isn’t made from the camellia sinensis plant and isn’t technically considered tea) combines spices, plants, and flowers, typically causing it to be decaffeinated.
More Benefits of Tea
The most notable nutrients teas can offer are antioxidants. These compounds act to decrease inflammation and protect the body from damage caused by free radicals – slowing two processes that are highly linked to the development of disease.
Many diseases also are linked to insulin resistance, which can develop from high sugar consumption, leading to prolonged blood sugar spikes, and a prolonged insulin reaction. Over time, the body stops responding to insulin and becomes insulin resistant. This can develop further into metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in tea, are shown to decrease insulin resistance. These compounds also boost immunity and may relax blood vessels, which can then help lower the risk of heart disease.
Catechins (another type of polyphenol) found in teas can reduce the risk of osteoporosis by suppressing bone degeneration.
The polyphenols can also help prevent becoming too sunkissed. In one study, white tea extract applied to the skin helped protect against the harmful effects of UV rays. In addition, polyphenols were found to aid in preventing cellular damage to the skin.
Remember EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate)? Studies also demonstrate that this powerful polyphenol is capable of lowering the risk of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The studies found that drinking tea could lower one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 15% and lower one’s risk of Alzheimer’s by 35%. This is possibly due to the fact that EGCG helps mitigate the folding and clumping of proteins, a common risk factor for developing both diseases.
Cooling Off for Increased Nutrition
So you’re probably wondering: why the cold brew? Not only can it bring more relief in the hot summer months; it can also bring more nutrients.
In a study comparing the nutrients of teas when brewed hot compared to cold, the levels of antioxidants in white tea were higher when brewed cold for two hours.
Another found that tea retained more polyphenols when steeped for 12 hours at 40 degrees Fahrenheit as compared to being steeped in hot water for 3-4 minutes.
Don’t have 12 hours to steep? Iced tea – which is different from cold brew in that it is steeped in hot water before adding ice – can also provide a high level of nutrients. If steeped for 3-5 minutes at 175 degrees Fahrenheit followed by adding ice, one study found it contains similar antioxidants to cold brewed tea.
The cold and slow method also adds a difference in flavor. If you like sweet tea without the added “sweet,” cold steeping brings a sweeter, smoother, and less bitter flavor profile than both hot tea and iced tea. This happens because hot water releases “tannins” present in the wood and tea leaves, bringing out their acidity and bitterness.
A Note on Sun Tea
Reminiscing about Mom having sun tea brewing on the back porch? Me too. Setting tea out in the sun can bring it to a temperature of 40 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and after long hours, puts it at risk to develop harmful bacteria. But don’t fret – steeping it for under four hours and immediately storing it in the fridge should mitigate the risk.
How to Steep Tea
Any type of tea can be cold brewed. Some sources recommend white or green tea over black since their flavors are able to more naturally develop in a cold brew than their more robust counterpart. The best ratio of tea bags to water is one bag per 8 ounces of water.
When choosing the type of tea, it’s important to consider organic options since levels of pesticides can be quite high in conventional teas. It is generally easier to find quality tea for the best price in loose-leaf form. Brewing with loose-leaf tea has the added benefit of avoiding microplastics in your cup of tea.
You can choose to brew in three simple steps:
- Choose your vessel (pitcher, cold brew pot, mason jar, etc). Glass retains the flavor and is less likely to stain than plastic.
- Add 8 oz of filtered water per tea bag or 3.75 g loose-leaf tea.
- Let steep in the fridge for the below brewing times:
- White tea: 6 hours
- Green tea: 3-6 hours
- Oolong tea: 12 hours
- Black tea: 12 hours
- Herbal tea: 12 hours
- Remove tea bags and enjoy for up to 4 days in the fridge.
Want to add some unique flavors while maintaining the same nutrients? You can always add edible flowers and or your favorite fruits to top off any cold brew.
These refreshing recipes offer a variety of flavor combinations. (Note: You can always forego any added sweetener to protect the nutrient content).
Next time you find yourself in need of a little pick me up, consider cold brew tea as a great alternative.
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About the author: Lisa (Driscoll) Lopes is a certified Nutrition Therapist Master through NTI’s Nutrition Therapist Master Program. Having studied journalism and vocal performance in undergrad, she enjoys using her voice to share the benefits of living a holistic, integrated lifestyle in writing. You can find more of her writing in the Baltimore Sun, Classical Singer Magazine, Capital News Service, and FOCUS blog.
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