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Any of the café’s teas, such as Organic Citron Green, can be made in an iced version.
Cool down with loose leaves

Perfect to a tea

Photos by Cathie Rowand/The Journal Gazette
Firehouse Tea and Coffee Cafe offers many varieties of tea including Organic Tropical Crimson

When Matt Spinks opened Firehouse Tea and Coffee Cafe three years ago, he brought an authentic Indian chai recipe and 60 other loose-leaf tea flavors to the East State Boulevard shop.

So, when a customer asks for just an iced tea, he wouldn’t mind if they knew they had more options than sweetened or unsweetened.

“Most people have only had Lipton and say they’re not really into tea, but you have to try tea the way it’s meant to be brewed,” he says. “When tea leaves are allowed to steep and move freely, you will get a greater release of flavor and intensity.”

This summer, don’t let teabags string you along – loose-leaf teas will give iced tea an enhanced flavor with a five-minute brew that can be served right away by following a few tips.

Know your tea leaves

The flavor profile of a tea leaf can be affected by the plant’s soil, how long the leaf stayed on the plant and the drying process before it is sold. White tea leaves are harvested earlier in the year and have a less bitter taste than green and black teas, which are harvested in later phases.

“There’s quite an art to it. There’s a lot of details that go into it, and real tea drinkers know the difference,” Spinks says. “You want to try all the different varieties, and then you will start to know the different categories.”

Try teas that pack a punch

Fruity tea blends make a more flavorful iced drink, Spink says. Firehouse currently uses Summer Lemon, Citron Green, Tropical Crimson herbal tea and Peach Blossom as go-to iced tea flavors. However, the coffeehouse can make iced tea from any of their tea flavors, and customers can buy tea leaves in a quarter or half-pound bag; Spinks says a quarter-pound bag will range from $12 to $15, with some of the fine teas costing up to $50.

“With hot tea, it’s easier to taste more subtle flavors,” Spinks says. “In order to get the full flavor of an iced tea on your palate, you’re going to need something stronger. Fruit flavors will cut through the fact that it’s served cold.”

Brew it hot, keep it cool

Hands-off brewing such as sun tea takes hours to develop flavor. Spinks says for the greatest release of flavor, pour strong, hot tea directly over ice. The technique is not only quicker; it will also hold the flavor even when the ice begins to water it down.

“I know a lot of people who put it out in the sun and leave it there. I suppose that’s why they have to leave it for so long – cold water doesn’t bring out the flavor as much,” Spinks says.

For a strong flavor, boil only half the water needed for a full glass or pitcher; tea measurements can vary depending on taste. Let the tea leaves steep in the boiling water for three to five minutes. When the brew is complete, pour directly over a half-glass or pitcher of ice and serve. Retail stores sell tea filters or brew baskets to keep tea leaves separate, if necessary. Spinks says that a properly steeped tea can last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

“It will last significantly longer than other drinks,” Spinks says. “There’s maybe 3 1/2 days for optimum flavor, but the funny thing is most people are not going to notice. If you keep it in your fridge for two weeks, it’s going to taste OK.”