It seems sometimes that a lot of the discussions about iced tea revolve around the various methods for preparing it. There are several that are most commonly used. You can steep the tea in hot water like most people do for hot tea and then chill it by pouring it over ice or simply by chilling it. You can cold brew it by pouring water over the tea and chilling it for a specified period of time while it steeps. Or you can try the popular but somewhat controversial method of harnessing sunlight to prepare sun tea, which is kind of a combination of the aforementioned.

Something that seems to not come up as often when it comes to iced tea is the quality of the tea itself. All tea – be it iced or hot – has something in common: it is not created equal. I’ve never run across any research on the matter but, based on my own unscientific and statistically insignificant observations, it seems that a lot of people will use just about any tea to prepare iced tea and in many cases the cheaper the better.

But you get what you pay for with tea, as with so many other things, and the advice that I’ve given many times over is to buy the best tea that you can possibly afford. Perhaps the nuances of a really good tea might not be quite so apparent if you prefer sweet tea or something like it. Which is to say iced black tea with a whole lot of sugar tossed in for good measure.

If you’ve never considered the possibility of iced tea without sugar, maybe that has a lot to do with using sugar to cover up the taste of tea that’s not necessarily so tasty on its own. Or maybe you simply like your tea sweetened. It seems to be the standard for iced tea, and in the American South most people apparently don’t know of any other way to serve it.

My advice for iced tea, as I’ve sort of suggested already, is to try forgoing the sugar for a change, as well as those tea bags that contain less than stellar tea. Then, try preparing tea from leaves that are a cut above the rest. Who knows? You might actually find yourself rethinking your ideas about sweetened tea.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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