Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Homemade Iced Tea

When you live in the South like I do, tea is more prevalent at dinner tables than water or soft drinks combined (unpublished data). For those not familiar with the lingo, tea = iced tea = sweet tea in the common vernacular of this region of the US. You have to specify if you prefer a cup of hot tea or a glass of unsweetened tea. Otherwise, whatever you order will usually be sweet enough to hurt your teeth. Don't worry, that's how it's supposed to taste.

Personally, I don't like to waste a ton of calories on what I drink, so I usually stick to iced tea with lemon or water without lemon (if I wanted lemon in water I'd order lemonade). What is amazing is when you come across an unsweetened ice tea that has really nice flavor. About 5-10% of decent Asian restaurants (my own estimate, nothing official) make their iced tea with jasmine tea. It turns out there are two ways to add flavor to tea: make it sweet or make it with good tea. I decided to use up some of my growing stockpiles of loose tea and try my hand at some tea-craft.

Tea Set-Up

If you have tea in bags that you really like, then feel free to use them. I like to use loose teas which you can get in all sorts of ridiculous flavors. I have only tried this with black teas so far, but I'm sure it would work for green, white or any other color tea that you want to try. I prefer a tea with a great aroma. I thought of this method on a whim and it turned out pretty darn good. You will need water (not pictured), a container for the tea, tea, a coffee filter (preferably unbleached), and a stapler. Please, bear with me.

Tea Bag

To assemble your ad hoc tea bag, fill the coffee filter about half full with loose tea. Here, I've used a combination of black teas with orange-spice flavors. Make small, sequential folds along the top (possibly termed crimping) until you reach the end. Staple the last fold so that the tea does not float out into the water. Place the tea bag in a pitcher of water. Don't worry about the ratio of tea to water too much because you'll probably have the amount of tea in far excess of what you need. Lastly, put the pitcher with tea bag in the fridge for 8-16 hours. Some people leave the tea to steep in the sun (my family calls it "sun tea"), but I've heard warnings that this grows bacteria, so just to be extra safe, stick with the icebox.

Homemade Iced Tea

Here's the finished product. Be sure to remove the tea bag and to not let it steep too long for fear of making the tea taste a little off. This was probably the most flavorful unsweetened tea I ever had. I find that some teas smell good but lack on taste. This one, on the other hand, delivered in full an orangey cinnamon punch. I felt like I was indulging in a glass of sweet tea. Speaking of which, if you are hell bent on making this tea sweet, the easiest way would probably be to make a simple syrup (1 part sugar & 1 part water cooked in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves) then add some into the tea a little at time until you are satisfied with the sweetness. Alternatively, you could just steep the tea in the simple syrup after the sugar has dissolved and as the syrup cools back to room temperature. It would be faster and none of that excess water would get in your way. Anyways, if you have 5 minutes before bed, throw together a batch of iced tea and in the morning, it will be ready as soon as you are.

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