Charlotte’s Easy, Customizable, Plastic-Free Iced Tea

A glass of iced tea sitting next to a jug of iced tea. The background is dark wood.
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My daughter Charlotte began brewing iced tea regularly during the first lockdowns. It costs less than store-bought iced tea, requires only minutes to make and you can control what goes into it—and what goes into you. Perhaps just as importantly, homemade tastes delicious.

Iced tea ingredients laid out on a white and gray marble background: granulated sugar, loose-leaf tea and a lemon
Iced tea ingredients: non-optional tea and optional sugar and lemon

The short version of the iced tea recipe

Brew black tea much stronger than you would ordinarily drink it hot. Let it cool. Pour some into a glass full of ice cubes (these dilute it, hence the need for a strong brew). Enjoy.

I add lemon juice to mine. Charlotte prefers hers without lemon. She also doesn’t add sweetener as a rule. I like mine with a little bit of added sweetener. Her dad likes lots of sweetener and no lemon. And yet, we all manage to live under the same roof! Adjust the flavor as you’d like.

Save money

This recipe yields a half-gallon or 64 ounces. I use high-quality ingredients: organic loose-leaf tea, a small amount of organic cane sugar, a free lemon from my tree and (essentially) free tap water. I spend less than $2 per jug. This organic brand costs more than double that for a mere 42 ounces in a plastic bottle, which, once emptied, will outlive us all.

After you have brewed your tea, your leaves may have enough life left in them to brew a small amount of additional tea. At this point, I boil water, add my tea ball to the pot and let the tea sit from a few hours to all day, depending on what I’m up to that day.

Save time

Yes, time is money but preparing this drink requires very little of either. I can make a jug of iced tea in about 15 minutes and that includes 5 to 10 minutes for the tea to steep as I do nothing. Preparing iced tea gobbles up less of my time than running to the store to buy it.

Reduce emissions

Shipping heavy bottles of iced tea to the store consumes much more fossil fuel than shipping lightweight tea leaves. Eliminating the plastic bottles that homemade replaces further reduces emissions. (Made of fossil fuel, plastic pollutes all along its lifecycle.)

Reduce your consumption of microplastics

Much food packaging contains harmful chemicals and almost every non-alcoholic bottled beverage in this country is packaged in either a plastic bottle or a plastic-lined can. These plastic food containers shed microplastics—tiny plastic particles—into the food or drinks inside. When we consume the food or drinks, we consume the plastic. 

While these unappetizing facts may persuade you to brew your own iced tea, if you brew it with teabags, you may still consume microplastics. Many tea bags contain plastic in the bag’s sealant. The paper of some brands of tea bags contains plastic. And in the case of “silky” synthetic bags, the bags are completely made of plastic. (Synthetic is plastic.)

Consumers pay a premium for these novel and supposedly upscale silk-like bags, one of which can shed billions of microplastics into a single cup of tea. Please do not buy these. According to The Guardian,

For context, a liter of water in a single-use plastic bottle contains 44 microplastic particles; a portion of mussels contains about 90; a kilogram of salt over 600. One study found we consume 70,000 particles annually just from the ambient dust that settles on our food.

Those fancy tea bags? Microplastics in them are macro offenders

You can contact the various tea bag manufacturers to ask them if their bags contain plastic or you could look for loose-leaf and skip the hours of research.

As an added bonus, tea brewed with loose-leaf tastes better than tea brewed with teabags. If you don’t have access to bulk bins or a tea shop that sells loose-leaf tea, you may be able to find a canister of it at the grocery store.

The ingredients

If you choose a very strong black tea, such as puehr, you will need fewer tea leaves than if you brew something like Earl Grey (depending on the brand). You can also brew this with decaffeinated tea. Or green tea. Or a combination of green and black.

If sweetening, choose from granulated sugar, coconut sugar, sucanat, honey and so on.

Instead of adding lemon juice directly to the tea, you may prefer to garnish it with lemon slices or wedges. Or do both. The recipe is extremely customizable.

a glass and a glass jug of iced tea on a dark brown background
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5 from 1 vote

Charlotte’s Iced Tea

My daughter makes this as an alternative to soda and energy drinks. All you need are tea, water and, if desired, sweetener and lemon.
Servings: 8 cups


  • 2 to 3 tablespoons loose-leaf black tea see Note
  • 4 cups water plus more to dilute
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar or honey (optional) or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional) 1 medium lemon


  • Place the tea leaves in one or two tea balls. Bring 4 cups of water to boil. Turn off the heat and place the tea balls in the pot.
  • After 5 to 10 minutes, when the tea is much stronger than you would usually drink hot, remove the tea balls. If using, stir in your sweetener of choice until dissolved.
  • Dilute the tea with 4 cups of cold water. Stir in lemon juice if desired.
  • Using a funnel, pour the tea into a half-gallon jug or into a few bottles. Chill in the refrigerator before serving with ice cubes.


  1. If you prefer, brew decaffeinated tea or green tea or a combination of green and black tea.
  2. And now for your next recipe! Brew another pot of tea with the tea leaves but use half as much water. Let it sit for a few hours or until very strong.

Canadian Cover of my book. Learn more here!

7 Replies to “Charlotte’s Easy, Customizable, Plastic-Free Iced Tea”

  1. Making the iced tea like this was my job everyday after school. Yeah, we drank a lot of iced tea when I was growing up. 🙂

  2. The leaves in loose leaf are much larger and thus can be stored for a longer time. This affects the taste to the better!

  3. This is how I learned to make it at school in cooking class. Very important: if you sweeten your tea add the sugar or honey while the tea is hot not once it’s cold.

  4. I don’t have a great place near me to buy loose leaf tea so I have been ordering it in bulk from Arbor Teas. Their packaging is “backyard compostable.” That is significant to me here in Nebraska because commercial composting is not readily accessible. You have to pay someone and take it to a drop-off yourself, which I do, but it’s still good to find a company that is looking out for those of us who don’t live in parts of the country where composting is as convenient as curbside recycling. They use shipping materials that are fully recyclable and I always ask my friends if they want anything so our stuff can be shipped together.
    I went with this option when the pandemic caused my local tea shop to decline to put tea in my reusable canisters. I really love everything I’ve gotten from Arbor Teas, and I ordered so much last time that I haven’t needed to buy more in a while, but I was curious what you think of this option. I am probably about a month away from needing more tea, and I could check back with my local tea shop. They might be willing to use my canisters again. Their tea comes in bags too and, although they are bigger bags, they are neither recyclable nor compostable. Though I would avoid some of the emissions involved in shipping, the shop is all the way across town from me, about a 15-20 minute drive each way – time that might be better spent trying another recipe from your book (which I am loving, by the way!). I do enjoy the experience of going to the shop though…so many things to consider. For a zero-waster in Nebraska, few things are simple.

  5. Laurie Spangler says: Reply

    comment for Anita; I have your dilemma sometimes so I consider the price per gallon of gasoline to drive to your local shop (if your car uses gas) vs what you pay for shipping plus what packaging shipping involves. That may help you decide. Also, what errands can you run on the way there? do your “turn right” errands on the way and my “turn left” errands on the way home.

  6. Laurie Spangler says: Reply

    And you are right! So much to consider. We are doing our best and becoming more aware thanks to our Zero Waste Chef and others educating the world. : )

  7. I never understood in the 22+ years in the US why anyone would buy iced tea in bottles. I thought when it is so easy to buy. In NM, a lot of people made “sun tea”, where they left several tea bags in a huge jar container with lemons in it and left it out in the sun for a whole day during the summer. Of course, other states don’t get the kind of sun that NM does, but since I wasn’t really a fan of iced tea any way, I abhor sugar, I didn’t find it as tasteful as brewed tea that then is cooled. I was always a water kind of person. I love my hot earl grey with milk in first as they insist in NZ, UK, and Ausse, and yes it does taste different and better as people of these countries always insisted to me.

    CBC had a plastic free running commentary today. I was horrified o hear that the host (Not Gloria today) did not know how to replace her Ziploc bags for the freezer, another journalist said she used silicone bags for her snack but did not know if they would go in the freezer. Some emails in sure educated them. I was also stunned to hear how some many listeners emailed in or talked on the phone with them knew so little about going plastic free, when we are in one of the wettest winter/springs we have ever had, and I don’t think there has been a day with sun where it didn’t also rain later in the pm, and we are slated hottest summers, (when I don’t know as it has been more than 17 degrees C. only once during the “spring” and so expected raging fires like last year. The segment from the Bowen Island, brought up that their kids learned well that being able to go plastic free is not possible for poverty stricken areas in Canada, or in the world. I and a co-worker who is great at recycling, but I know my why buy in the first place is considered hard core for her and other people, lamented recently that since BC has mandated that all milk plastic bottles and containers like almond milk must go to the recycling center, and that her poorer client could not do this. I have thought of the elderly that live in my building who no longer drive, and rely on grocery delivery have no way to “recycle” these products as condos/apts. do not do pick up of these items any more. The mother of the Bowen Island family did recount of all the time it took to prepare things as you preach so that a family/person can actually live plastic free. I embrace her crock pot yoghurt recipe. For me and I know many people who live in apts. the lack of a freezer space is an issue. I always had one in Colorado, but where we we put it and afford it here, is an issue, thus we don’t have one.

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