Am I The Only One With Cloudy Iced Tea?

What Makes Iced Tea Cloudy

Fear not! You are not alone. Many have brewed a fresh pitcher of crisp, delicious iced tea only to watch in dismay as the tea develops a murky, unappealing haze. Don't worry - it's not you, it's the tea! Plus, it's totally fine to drink.

For something that appears simple to us (leaves and water), tea is actually a complex suspension of many polyphenols, methylxanthines, and other compounds in water. It's how these compounds interact with each other that affects the clarity of your brew, whether you're making hot or iced tea.

The Chemistry of Cloudy Iced Tea

Polyphenols, Methylxanthines, Amino Acids, Oh My!

Tea contains an astonishing number of incredibly healthful and beneficial compounds that are extracted from the leaf when steeped in water. These compounds include polyphenols, which are antioxidants naturally found in plants. The most important polyphenol in tea is EGCG, sometimes referred to as catechin, and is the tannin you taste in tea. Tea also contains methylxanthines, such as caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, which have a pharmacological effect on the body, like the energy boost you get from caffeine. Among the other important compounds in tea you will find amino acids like L-theanine, which has a uniquely relaxing effect on the central nervous system. These compounds are extracted into the water when you steep tea and may become more visible to the naked eye as the tea cools, causing your brew to appear cloudy.

The Chemistry of Cloudy Iced Tea

Cold Brew vs. Hot Brew Iced Tea

The most likely culprit for cloudy iced tea is a combination of caffeine and catechin. This binding is what causes caffeine to act differently in tea than in coffee, but as the tea cools below room temperature these larger bound compounds may precipitate out of the tea, making it appear cloudy. This is especially likely to happen if you are brewing your tea hot and then adding ice or cold water before the tea fully cools. That being said, the large majority of caffeine and tannins (that catechin polyphenol we keep talking about) are extracted with heat, so you can always use our favorite method of cold brewing your iced tea for a more reliably clear glass!

The Chemistry of Cloudy Iced Tea

Cloudy Cold Brew

You cold brewed your Yunnan Da Ye and it's still cloudy? Us too! With Yunnan Da Ye and some other traditional teas, this is a result of the specific chemistry of the tea you're brewing. Some teas are simply not meant to be brewed as iced teas, no matter how delicious we think they might be. For Yunnan Da Ye, for example, the specific ratio of caffeine and catechin make it a poor candidate for brewing a clear cold brewed iced tea (though if you don't mind a little haze, it certainly is delicious and refreshing!).

The Chemistry of Cloudy Iced Tea

Tap vs Filtered vs Spring Water

While tea might be the star of the show, it never pays to forget that the base of any tea preparation is water! You need a certain level of minerals like magnesium and calcium in your water to properly extract the tea leaves, but water that is too hard or mineral may cause cloudy tea. Just like the extracted polyphenols and other compounds found in the tea leaf bind with each other, they also bind with the particles found in the water you're using. We recommend filtered water for iced tea, just never distilled! Distilled water is completely stripped of the minerals needed to properly extract your tea, leaving you with a flat and bland brew.

The Chemistry of Cloudy Iced Tea

Is Cloudy Iced Tea Safe to Drink?

While it may not be the most physically appealing, cloudy iced tea is entirely safe to drink! Of course, presentation is a large part of the satisfaction we derive from food and beverages (just think of how much better the same salad plated in a restaurant tastes than hastily cobbled together at home), so we don't blame you if you want to try again for a clearer brew!

Making Iced Tea at Home

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Try our iced tea sample set: Good Libations, or check out our blog for the 15 best iced teas for summer!