One thing I really miss about living in the US is iced tea. I think it is a shame that the only non-alcoholic option in most UK eateries is a sugary soft drink. Being able to go into a restaurant and order a one-litre-sized glass of cold and refreshing iced tea for $2 that is freely re-filled to go with your gargantuan-sized, fried, fatty, American meal just seems right. It just seems . . . absurdly American. Sure, the iced tea is probably made out of Lipton or Tetley or Luzianne tea, but it is loaded with ice, and it is cold and refreshing – a perfect beverage for those 35C+ days, or at any even in the dead of winter.
Recreating this American beverage at home is extremely simple. There are just a things to consider: what tea(s) to use, infusion methods and whether or not to add sugar.
Picking a tea
I’m not convinced that using a good tea is a great idea. I’ve read the argument that certain infusion methods let you explore the flavours of a tea more. I know this is true with various Japanese green teas, but I don’t use expensive teas for two main reasons:
1. I’m extremely greedy when it comes to iced tea. At a meal, I’ll drink, well really guzzle, over a litre of iced tea.
2. Just like with beer or red wine, a true connoisseur would say that the flavours of beverages get masked when really chilled. I agree with this.
I think a pure black tea is best, followed distantly by a green tea. I’m sure all these blends made with fruit flavourings or tisane teas are fine for the odd glass here and there, but I don’t want them on a regular basis. Using a loose tea is always best. You can put the tea in filters, or just put them in whatever crockery you’re using to make the tea. In the US, all the large brands have tea blends specifically made for iced tea, and they package them in extra large tea bags (around seven grams each). I would imagine that 99% of all iced tea made in the US is made using tea bags.
Made with boiling water
To make iced tea with boiling water is not much different than making hot tea. I would use approximately the same tea to water proportions, as well as infusion time. Keep in mind that the ice will water the tea down, so a little extra tea is nice. I would highly suggest using a medium or full leaf loose black tea (Ceylon is great). Don’t try some industrial tea bags specifically made for milk. You will hate yourself for this experiment.
In the UK, where people refer to a ‘heat wave’ as a period when the temperature hits 22C three days in a row, sun tea might not be the best infusion method. For sun tea, you need a large glass jar (one to two litres) with a tight-fitting lid. Fill with cold water and tea (loose or bagged tea), then put in extremely hot direct sun on your porch or a cement footpath. Within an hour or two, you will have a copper-coloured liquor that is extremely refreshing, and much lighter/less bitter than iced tea made with boiling water.
Making tea this way is my latest experiment. At first, I was quite sceptical, but the cold-brew method makes a smooth glass of iced tea. I’ve tried a full leaf Ceylon and Assam, a second flush Darjeeling, and a broken leaf Turkish tea. The Assam and Turkish teas turned out the best, but I like my iced tea strong. The Ceylon was far too light. With this infusion method, you need to use one and half to two times as much tea as you would use with the boiling method. Put the tea in a jar with cold water and leave to infuse in the refrigerator for four to 10 hours. In the US, almost all the major tea companies, such as Liptons, Twinings and Tetley, have put cold tea bags on the market. I have yet to try any of them, as cold-brewed tea became popular after I left. I’ve read that cold-brewed tea has also become quite popular in some parts of Asia.
The politics of sugar
Whether or not you put sugar in your tea might indicate what side of the Civil War your great, great, great grandfather fought for. I’m from Kansas, and during the Civil War it was a violent meeting point between anti- and pro-slavery supporters. Today, the violence is gone, unless the topic of evolution vs. creationism comes up, but the state’s divided past means double work for whomever has to make iced tea for community dinners or family reunions. You’ll need to make two massive coolers – one with and without sugar – and label them accordingly.
I can’t stand sugar in my iced tea, so you know I sit politically with those north of the Mason-Dixon line, but ‘sugar tea’ is just as popular as tea without sugar in the US. It is advisable, especially if ordering iced tea in the south, to ask if the tea has sugar in it. It is also advisable to ask the server if it is ‘brewed ice tea’, or you might get Nestea. Many places also serve tea with a wedge of lemon, which you can take out or leave.
Other cold teas
Bottled cold tea
I’m not really wild about bottled cold tea, but it sure beats a pop. Brands like Snapple, Tazo and Lipton are quite common in the UK and the US. You can find them at most news agents, fuel stations or supermarkets. Asian supermarkets are also great places to find various bottled and canned teas. Good Asian supermarkets will have everything from oolong to green to black bottled or canned teas. I don’t know them well enough to make recommendations, but I would say that you need to be careful that you are not buying something full of sugar or other random flavourings. Same goes with the bottled teas in the UK and US.
Instant iced tea
Never, ever, under any circumstances, just like with instant coffee, should you ever drink this. Period.