I’ve talked before about infused water drinks, which make for refreshing summertime beverages and a nice change from the standards, because you can get so creative with them. This time, I thought I’d go a little more traditional and talk about iced tea recipes. Turns out there’s a lot more you can do with it than you might think.
Basics: How to make Iced Tea
Iced tea is definitely a Southern “thang.” Any decent restaurant in the Southeastern US must be able to make a good glass of iced tea. Outside that region, people may be less particular. It may even be you’ve never had a really good glass of iced tea. There are a number of ways to make a good iced tea, and different people will prefer different methods. The basic rules:
- Orange Pekoe is the most traditional blend to use.
- Lipton or another grocery store brand is absolutely fine – you don’t need expensive or fancy stuff for this.
- Plastic pitchers can affect the flavor, so for best results, stick with glass.
- Serve it chilled – don’t pour warm tea over ice cubes, as they’ll just melt and dilute it. Pour chilled tea from the fridge over ice cubes, and the drink will stay cool without getting diluted in the time it takes most people to finish a glass.
- How much sweetener you like is up to you – there’s no hard and fast rule about this, even among Southerners.
- If you find brewed tea bitter, add a pinch of baking soda. Yes, you read that right.
A word about sweeteners: there’s a reason southern restaurants offer both sweetened and unsweetened tea. When you add sugar to unsweetened tea that’s already chilled, it doesn’t dissolve so well. It melts much better when the tea is still hot. This also gives you the option of skipping chemically infested refined sugar (white table sugar) and using turbinado or other forms of raw sugar (which in my opinion have a better flavor). If you want to serve the tea unsweetened, there are some fantastic liquid sweeteners to offer guests: apple juice is my favorite (more on this later). Just pour a little apple juice into al already-poured glass of tea, and the flavor is phenomenal. Honey and agave nectar also blend nicely. If you’re okay with using artificial sweeteners, saccharine (Sweet ‘n’ Low) will dissolve best.
- Boil two quarts of water in a pot on the stove. (This is where you would add the baking soda mentioned above, if desired.)
- After the water has boiled, put 10-16 regular size tea bags in. (You’re going to dilute this later, which is why it’s so strong at this point.)
- Remove the pot from heat and let steep for about 5 minutes – definitely no more than 10. (This is when you should add any dry sweeteners such as sugar or Stevia, unless you’re planning to serve it unsweetened.)
- Fill a gallon pitcher halfway with cold water.
- Pour the hot tea into the half-filled pitcher.
- Let it sit in the fridge, until it’s chilled (overnight is fine).
- It’s preferable to serve it as soon as it’s chilled. The longer it sits beyond that point, the more the flavor changes, and it can become bitter. It’s better to make fresh tea every day, but I find every other day is okay, too.
The simplest way to jazz up this summertime staple is to use tea bags of various flavors. You can mix as many as you want. Just be sure there’s plenty of black tea in the mix (either orange pekoe bags, or flavored bags that use orange pekoe as a base) if you want it to still essentially taste like traditional iced tea.
Sweetening with fruit juice. One of the very best teas I’ve ever had was simple orange pekoe iced tea sweetened with apple juice instead of sugar. I had to ask the owner of the restaurant what was in it, because it didn’t taste like apple – it was the most amazing, blended flavor. Pear juice is also delicious. Orange juice or lemonade will affect the flavor more than apple, but since iced tea is traditionally served with a wedge of lemon or orange, that’s not a bad thing. Raspberry or pomegranate juice also work well.
Vanilla extract. Put in a few drops, to taste.
Coffee extract. It may sound weird, but a touch of coffee extract – seriously, just a very few drops to a gallon, not enough to overwhelm – can add a bold, roasted quality to the flavor of iced tea. You can add a sweetener as well.
Butterscotch extract. Mmmm, ’nuff said.
Brew with cinnamon sticks. Toss some cinnamon sticks – something like 5 or 6 if you want a bold flavor, and 3 if you want it subtle – into the boiled water at the same time as you put the tea bags in. Remove them when you pour the hot water in with the cold, or leave them longer if you want a really strong cinnamon flavor.
Mint. Adding mint sprigs is a very traditional way to flavor iced tea. Put them in when you pour the hot concentrated tea in with the cold water (Step 5).
Share your tips and recipes for iced tea in the comments!