My Grandma Mae had a way with instant kitchen helpers — she seasoned her crockpot chicken and noodles with instant soup mix, used cake mixes for her Sunday Bundt and her famous cherry “crispy,” and made the best iced tea from a jar of Lipton powdered mix.
Her tea was always perfectly chilled with just the right amount of not-too-sweetness. With a long metal spoon, she stirred in the proper ratio of instant tea powder-to-water in the vat-sized tea dispenser with a spigot that got a workout from visitors in and out of her house on warm Sunday afternoons.
Maybe anything grandma made tasted better (she once made me a simple breakfast sandwich of fried bacon and buttered toast that was the best thing I’ve ever eaten), because I never had the same success with instant tea, usually ending up with a strange, dusty foam on top or undissolved tea sediment at the bottom of my glass. But she established, for me, a lifelong love of the comforting quench of iced tea.
I drink iced tea year-round. It is the ultimate refresher, even in the long, cold days of winter. My choice to wet my whistle at airport layovers in Dallas-Fort-Worth, iced tea is also my mainstay beverage eating out — breakfast, lunch or dinner. One of my favorite meals one scorching June day in Nashville was a plate of hot roast beef and sides washed down with a sweating glass of cold iced tea.
Tea, over ice, has been a popular drink since the late 1800s, when it was served in railroad stations and hotels, according to “Tea Time! Chill Out with 40 Iced Tea Recipes You can Make at Home — Refreshing, Energizing, and Soothing,” by Martha Stone (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2017). But iced tea really took off in 1904 when Richard Blechynden, a merchant and tea plantation owner, introduced it at the World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Plain, black brewed tea over ice — crisp, clean and slightly floral — is nearly perfect and does the job. But over the years, my tea penchant has made me aware of the many possible brews for this favorite.
A number of years ago, I was served a passionfruit tea at a hotel in Beverly Hills and discovered the flavored tea was available in stores. Any bagged tea (from chamomile to Earl Grey) can be delicious, iced.
Tea can be tea-less (technically termed a “tisane”), steeped from dried fruits, fresh or dried herbs and even fresh or dried flowers. My friend Anna once treated me to a luncheon where she served a deep-purple iced tea made from brewed dried hibiscus flowers infused with cinnamon sticks, orange and lemon, and sweetened with honey.
Warmer days make this drink a must. However one takes their iced tea, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Keep it strong: I remember when sun tea came out. We had gallon glass milk jars, several tea bag “tags” hanging out from the lids, steeping in the backyard. It took a long time for the sun to filter through the cold water and steep until the tea was strong enough, but it was worth it. There’s nothing sadder than weak tea (or coffee), so whether your tea is solar or brewed from a tea kettle or stove top, be sure to use enough tea bags (eight or more per gallon of water) and allow enough of a steeping period (brewed tea, four minutes or more; sun tea, three to five hours).
Keep it flavorful: Surprising flavor pairings (try mixing brewed peppermint and raspberry teas for a simple, yet stunning refresher) can elevate the taste of iced teas. Adding fruit or fruit juice, or herbs like classic mint or even thyme and basil, bolsters iced tea flavor and adds variety to your options. Mixers, like lemonade added to black tea (known as an “Arnold Palmer”), inspire other combinations, like the mint and green tea lemonade punch recipe I share here.
Keep it sweet (if you like): If you prefer your tea sweetened, simple syrups are a way of adding sweetness without having undissolved sugar sitting at the bottom of your glass. The basic simple syrup formula is one cup of water to 1/2 cup of sugar, honey or measure-for-measure sweeteners like Splenda or tevia, heated to simmering until sweeteners are dissolved (this could be added to a large batch of tea or kept in a small pitcher to sweeten individual servings).
Keep it cold: Keep your brewed tea chilled in the fridge. If your tea is brewed strong enough, it can be iced over regular water ice cubes, but you can also try freezing part of the tea or compatible fruit juice in ice cube trays to keep the tea from diluting and enhancing flavor. Try garnishing (and chilling) fruity teas with frozen berries.
Rebecca Howard grew up in Kansas and has written for the Los Angeles Daily News, the Los Angeles Times and LA Parent Magazine, and currently writes the food blog, “A Woman Sconed.”Minty Green Tea-Lemonade Punch Recipe