Clouds in Your cup, Iced Tea 101- By Joshua Rigsby

This article is from the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal (Aug '2011). This publication contains many interesting articles on both tea and coffee. It is a great place to learn about tea and the growing .regions. Please note that portions of the article have been altered to read more towards the home tea drinker.

Iced Tea

The Tea Association of the USA tells us that more than 80% of the teas consumed in the U.S. are iced; the majority of these being sold during the summer months.

The Problem “Clouding” refers to the opaque, fog-like appearance of a tea’s liquor that sometimes develops after brewing. It is the first step in a phenomenon known as “creaming down,” in which the liquor takes on a creamy or milky color (though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably). Clouding is generally seen as a negative quality, as years of marketing have created the assumption among consumers that tea should be completely transparent. Ed McMahan initiated the first cloud-free marketing campaign when he pitched Instant Iced Nestea as, “a crisp, clear tea that’s never cloudy” on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1971. Recipes and home-spun strategies for dealing with cloudiness can be found in Good Housekeeping magazine as early as the 1930s. To say that cloudy tea has been spurned for generations is to put it mildly.

Modern consumers continue to question the quality of their vendor’s teas based on the assumption that tea should be completely clear. Some consumers believe that cloudiness is an indication of poor quality tea, that it contains foreign particulates, or that it will adversely affect flavor even though, in reality, clouding has no impact on taste. The problem is especially onerous because iced tea is usually served in clear glasses; displaying the apparent defect for all to see.

To make matters worse, it appears to occur at random. The same batch of tea can yield some cups that are clear and others that are not. I’ve heard from tea shop owners who’ve streamlined their steeping process with Autobahn efficiency yet still find themselves unable to predict clouding
any better than the stereotypical weatherman. So, what causes clouding after all?

Causes of Clouding There are two reasons that iced teas become cloudy. The first possibility is that the water itself may be to blame. David Beeman, founder of Cirqua Customized Water explains that, “when water quality gets over 300 parts per million the likelihood of iced tea clouding goes up. By the time you hit about 450 parts per million it is almost definitely going to happen.” Hard water has high concentrations of minerals which, when brewed with tea, can form visible solids which do not dissolve at cooler temperatures.

The second explanation is a bit more complex. Various natural building blocks of tea have been blamed for clouding over the years, including Theaflavins, Thearubigins, Catechins and Caffeine. Yet modern science is pointing to Theaflavins as the chief culprit of the group. As Sanje Widyaratne, CEO of Walter’s Bay & Co. writes, “the percentage of Theaflavins seems to be the largest contributor towards creaming or clouding…especially when precipitates are formed during cooling of the brewed tea.” A 2005 article in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry explains that Theaflavins are only soluble in water at higher temperatures, and will only remain suspended if the temperature changes slowly. So, if the tea cools too quickly (i.e. is stuck into the refrigerator immediately after steeping) the Theaflavins will not remain suspended, and the tea will cloud. Tea industry consultant Richard Guzauskas has coined the term, “iced tea shocking” to describe this phenomenon.

Predicting a Cloudy Cup Now this is where the discussion about clouding gets a little –well, murky. It is not known exactly how many Theaflavins certain varieties of tea contain at a given time, which makes predicting clouding difficult to do with certainty. According to popular belief, different origins have propensities either toward or against clouding. For example, it is generally accepted that Ceylon and South Indian teas are less likely to cloud than those from Assam, and that South American teas never cloud at all. For many years it was thought that teas grown at a high altitude were more likely to cloud than those grown closer to sea level. Some people also assert that clouding is actually a sign of a higher quality tea rather than the other way around. Internal tests we’ve conducted at QTrade have found that none of these theories are universally true. We steeped black Ceylon, Assam, Yunnan and Argentina teas conventionally (three grams in six ounces of water at 208º for five minutes) then placed them immediately into the refrigerator.

Contrary to popular expectations, the Ceylon, Argentina and Assam all clouded after 30 minutes. The tea from Yunnan did not cloud at all. This affirms the findings of Dr. Abdul Gaffar, former chief technologist at the Sri Lanka Tea Research Institute who says that clouding, “can take place in teas with good quality (say High Grown) and low quality (say Low Grown).” Terroir factors and production styles which contribute to the Theaflavin content of a given tea often change from harvest to harvest. As Royce Van Twest, blend-master at QTrade told me recently, “Any tea can cloud; it’s just a matter of having the proper conditions in place for it to do so.” Quality and  geographic designations may indicate a general propensity toward or against clouding, but are not fail safe guarantees in and of themselves. It is up to your preparation methodology to determine with certainty whether or not a tea will cloud.

Solutions Here are some options to help reduce muddy-looking teas:
1. Adjust your steeping method by allowing the tea to come to room temperature naturally before you put it in the refrigerator or pour it over ice. This avoids “shocking” the tea by giving the Theaflavin compounds time to adjust to the changing temperature while remaining suspended, making them far less likely to cloud.

2. If the tea has already clouded you can add a smidgeon of hot water to it before serving. This will quickly reorganize the chemical structure of the infusion and clear up the liquor right away. Be careful not to add too much as this will dilute the final product. Usually a teaspoon per cup is enough to reduce the cloudiness.

3. Make sure that you are steeping in water that’s minerally balanced. Try bottled water or a water filter such as Zero Water, Pur or Britta. If using bottled water, avoid distilled water.

4. If the cloudiness is still a major problem, try an herbal blend that has a rooibos base. There are also many good fruit blends that will not cloud and taste delicious. Please note that these blends are not made from the camellia sinensis leaves that cause iced to cloud.

Joshua Rigsby is Marketing andCommunications Coordinator and QTrade
Tea and Herbs.