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Making Your Own Iced Tea

Iced Tea
Iced Tea

Warmer weather is coming to the Northern Hemisphere as Spring cranks into full gear. That means one thing: Iced Tea! You can settle for the bottled stuff and take your chances on what’s in it. Better yet, make your own — a tradition since the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 when tea merchant Richard Blechynden introduced it to a hot and weary public.

Your first decision is which tea to use. Most bottled brands use “orange pekoe,” which isn’t orange but black and is in many well-known bagged teas. (According to The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, “orange” refers to the Duke of Orange and “pekoe” is an overused term once meaning high quality tea.) You can stick to this or take a venture into a more unusual choice.

Green tea is one. It can be very tasty when chilled and is available bottled. Some have fruit-like flavors and sweeteners added. Making your own, though, lets you choose which green tea to use and what, if anything, to add. Try Jasmine Petal, Artichoke Green, and Chai Green. They all have things added, but you know up front what they are.

White teas are another option. They are the not-quite-matured leaves and buds, so the flavor is free of astringency, a real taste-killer in chilled teas. Fruit-flavored ones have natural sweetness. Try Snow Dragon.

Breakfast blends steep up strong-tasting tea that’s slightly bitter when chilled, but sweetener and/or lemon help. These can contain Ceylon, Darjeeling, Keemun, Kenyan, and other black teas. Try Monk’s Blend, English Breakfast Blend No. 1, and Earl Grey.

More options for you: I just taste-tested several Darjeeling teas and find that all of them taste wonderful chilled.

Now that you’ve picked a tea, how do you go about making your own iced tea? (Actually, a better term is “chilled tea.”) To be brief, about the same way you go about making hot tea. You need the basics: good water, tea, additives you prefer, and teawares. Now, you have a choice to make. Do you steep using the cold method or the hot method?

The hot method:

  • Put tea in the teapot
  • Heat water (black: 212˚, green and white: 180˚)
  • Pour water into teapot
  • Steep (black: 5 minutes, green: 3 minutes, white: 2-3 minutes)
  • Pour tea (strain if loose leaf) into a container and refrigerator overnight

The cold method:

  • Put tea and water (1 tsp. per 8 oz. of water) in a refrigeratable container
  • Refrigerate overnight (you might get away with only four hours)

When the tea is thoroughly chilled, add your enhancers (lemon, sugar, sweetener, etc.). Serve chilled but without ice. Ice melts and dilutes the tea. (Many iced tea recipes call for brewing the tea up strong to offset the melted ice, but I prefer a tea that’s brewed to its proper strength and then chilled for awhile. Good things are worth waiting for.)

Caution about sun tea: Some experts warn that bacterial growth could result. Advice I’ve seen (from Jon Stout of Golden Moon Tea) is to let the steeped tea sit in the refrigerator several hours, then check for what looks like small strands floating in it. These are strings of bacterial cells. If you see these, throw out the tea. Better yet, start with purified water or boil your water for 5-6 minutes.

One other item: “sweet tea” — a phenomenon peculiar to Southeast U.S. It’s basically iced (chilled) tea with lots of sugar. As someone raised in the Midwest and who’s traveled around the States and abroad, having a waitress in the Southeast ask if I wanted “sweet tea” was a culture shock since it’s virtually unknown elsewhere. I ordered a glass. One mouthful was enough. To say it was sweet would be like saying that Mount Everest was a bit tall.

Sweetened or not, sun brewed or regular brewed, enjoy a cool moment during the heat of the day with a tall glass of chilled (iced) tea.

Check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, for more advice on living what she calls the “tea life.”

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