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I am usually making big batches of sweet tea (20 gallon+). My problem is that after steeping the tea the temperature in the boil kettle will have dropped to the point where it becomes difficult to dissolve the sugar. Last time I had a big sugar crust left at the bottom of the kettle that had hardened.

So my idea is now to dissolve the sugar first and then steeping the tea bags in it.

Will this have a negative impact on the tea (reduced extraction rate from the tea bags etc.)?

  • How long do you normally steep the tea for(is the tea at room temperature by the time you add sugar)? Or how much sugar are you adding to the batch of 20 gallon tea? Unless you like your tea way way sweeter than the norm, there should be no reason why you can't dissolve an appreciable amount of sugar in above room temperature tea. – Jay Feb 15 '16 at 15:55
  • The tea is still at 180 F by the time I add the sugar, the problem is that I have heating coils inside the brew kettle which makes stirring almost impossible. – Andre Feb 15 '16 at 16:06
  • Running the heating coils, even briefly, will give you some convection. This may be enough stirring. – Chris H Feb 15 '16 at 16:39
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Counting my experience, i will advice you not to add sugar before you steep your tea. Tea leaves its flavor best without any other ingredient added to it. Alternatively you could use little batch of water and then add the required amount of sugar to it. Subsequently you could add the sugar(now syrup) to the tea.

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No matter when you add your sugar it will still form a nasty crust in your kettle as it will not fully dissolve without stirring. In fact brewing tea in your kettle directly is not a good idea either as it will discolor it over time and may even impart flavors depending on the material. You need to pour the water into something else to brew it in.

As to when to add the sugar it will definitely have an impact on the tea brewing, whether that is negative or positive will depend on your personal taste, the amount of sugar added, and the kind of tea you are using. Tea brews better when water still has dissolved oxygen, and adding sugar may reduce the available oxygen. It may also interfere with the water extracting flavors from the tea, which could change the resulting flavor. You'd need to try it both ways and see.

Try not to overbrew, 5 minutes should be enough, after that you'll start to extract more tannins.

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