I know it’s not Tuesday. I almost finished this on Thursday. I thought maybe I could call it Tea for Thirstday. (Get it?) But now it’s Sunday. So … I’m just leaving it Tea for Tuesday.
A class reunion in August and trip to visit friends near Nashville, Tenneessee, and later my dad in the Carolinas, reinforced my love for southern cooking and beverages. I visited a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store one too many times.
I drank a lot of iced tea all summer long. Iced tea is almost as favorite a beverage as its hot counterpart.
In the south, iced tea is almost always served sweetened. I’ve said before that in the south if it isn’t sweet then it’s just a hot beverage gone cold. I’ve been to restaurants that didn’t even carry unsweetened tea. Those that carry both varieties sometimes call sweet tea “Iced Tea” while the plain version is called “Unsweet Tea.”
I may not like sweet tea as syrupy as some (blame my Northern / Midwestern origins), but I love a good iced tea with the right balance of astringency, flavor, and sweetness. This Labor Day weekend is a good time to drink even more!
Iced tea is natural and real brewed tea even has health benefits. It can be very economical. Plus you can control the sweetness when you make it yourself!
Not all tea is created equal — true for hot and iced. The tea matters! There’s a specific flavor I want.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Lipton and Luzianne both give a lot of the flavor I’m looking for. I’m sure I could make excellent iced tea using expensive, loose-leaf tea. But for me, nostalgia rules where iced tea is concerned. Why spend the extra money?
That said, I like several variations on iced tea — peach tea, strawberry tea, hibiscus tea, and half & half tea aka an “Arnold Palmer” (1/2 tea, 1/2 lemonade). All can be yummy. I’ll save those for another post.
For classic iced tea I use Family Size tea bags. It takes a lot of tea to make really good iced tea. One puny, single-serving tea bag will tint your water brown, but not much else (unless you want a really small glass of iced tea).
As a busy mom, I find it easiest to make the tea in a 4-cup glass (Pyrex type) measuring cup with a pour spout. I usually heat the water in the microwave. (Be careful if you add tea to super-heated microwaved water. It can boil over. Use a container that is larger than you need.)
Directions on both Lipton and Luzianne are similar. I don’t change much at the beginning.
1.) Heat 2 cups of water to a rolling boil (Again, be careful if microwaving. The boil may not actually roll until you add the tea, but still be hot enough.)
2.) Add 1 Family Size tea bag.
3.) Steep 3-5 minutes. (I leave it for about 7-10 minutes. Any longer can make the tea bitter.)
4.) Remove tea bag (squeeze gently) and sweeten to taste. (More on this, below.)
So here’s where I mix things up.
Luzianne’s instructions say to add an additional 2 cups of cold water and then chill (ya know, just relax a little). Lipton’s iced tea instructions start with 4 cups of water and 2 Family Size tea bags, but the ratio of water to tea bags is the same as Luzianne’s. Then Lipton says you should stir in 6 cups of ice cubes (or 4 cups cold water) and refrigerate.
What? Water down my tea on purpose?
I personally don’t add extra water or ice to the tea until I’m ready to drink it. I let the tea concentrate cool some on the counter before refrigerating, or I just pour the concentrate over ice in my glass (some ice will melt). Even better than a glass, I often use an insulated stainless steel bottle with ice. It will stay cold for many hours and not “sweat” (no condensation on the outside). (I have too many stainless steel bottles. That’s another story.) Most of my stainless steel water bottles hold about 17 ounces, so I get a full bottle plus extra with 2 cups of tea concentrate plus ice.
It’s easy to add water later if you find the tea to be too strong. Adjust as needed. It’s not easy to make tea stronger if it gets too watered down. Plus if you keep the tea in the refrigerator, adding more water just takes up more space in the fridge.
So just make the tea concentrate and be happy! And chill.
I usually like iced tea with a little squirt of lemon. Sometimes I add it, sometimes I don’t. I also like it sweetened. Individual sweeteners may vary.
It’s practically impossible to dissolve sugar in ice-cold tea (it takes a very long time). So add any sugar while the tea is still very hot. About 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar for each cup of tea seems to be standard for sweet tea. But use more or less to taste. Stir well. Or make a simple syrup to add to the tea later. Simple syrup is just a lot of sugar dissolved in boiling water. Make sure it’s still a liquid when it cools (not hard candy).
I don’t always want real sugar in my tea. I know. In the south, I’m probably considered a heathen. But sugar is bad for my teeth and not great for my waistline either. I already eat too much of it.
So what do I like? I like a mixture of sweeteners.
The following amounts are based on about a 14 ounce serving of tea concentrate served over ice (ice that will partly dissolve). Some of the water comes out with the tea bags, so it’s not a full 16 ounces any more.
If I’m going sugar free, then I like 2 packets of Stevia in the Raw plus 1 packet of sucralose (like Splenda). Stevia on its own tastes a little too weird to me. The sucralose seems to even out the taste nicely without adding too much weirdness of its own. Plus this way it’s mostly natural. Just 1/3 mystery ingredient! Both dissolve fairly easily even in cold tea.
If I’m going to go a little wild (I know how to live it up, don’t I?), then I like Truvia Baking blend. It’s a mixture of sugar and Stevia. Since it has sugar, it’s best to add this while the tea is still hot. The flavor is close to real sugar, thanks to the, you know, real sugar. I’ve also mixed this combo with sucralose for a good sweet tea flavor that has very little sugar. That would be 1 teaspoon of Truvia Baking blend plus 1 packet of sucralose. Using Truvia alone, I’d go with 2 teaspoons. Adjust to taste.
Try some variations yourself and see what you like best. Enjoy and have a cool Labor Day weekend!