A Lady's Primer on Iced Tea

"Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum."-To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

As I sit here it is fully 90 degrees outside, yet I am still expected to go to work (were the air-conditioning is most egregiously on the fritz) and class and absolutely no one has offered to draw me cool baths periodically throughout the day, add my apartment's shocking lack of a claw-foot tub and you begin to see the terrible cross I am forced to bear.  What's an extravagantly southern* girl to do in these times of trial?
"As God as my witness, there had better be a glass of sweet tea waiting for me when I am done picking these stupid turnips or heads will roll."
Iced tea is really the only solution.  It has mystical powers of cooling far beyond that of ordinary cold beverages.  I couldn't survive my mile-long walking commute without it.  Should you find yourself in a restaurant in the south, iced tea is categorically unsweet, "sweet tea" is sweetened -- usually quite overly -- iced tea.

How to Make Perfect Sweet Tea

In coding as in life: garbage in, garbage out.  First you need good quality tea, bagged tea is okay if from a quality producer but under no circumstances should "instant" or "cold brew" tea be regarded as anything but the abominations that they are.  Unless you are buying Imperial first-flush lung jing (which if you make into iced tea I will personally come over and punch you in the face), tea is an affordable luxury, much cheaper per serving than soda, go ahead and buy top quality. See below for some recommendations on specifics.  You also need a brewing mechanism that allows the tea leaves enough room to expand and to be removed from the tea the very moment brewing is done.  I favor this, or just a small pot with a good sized fine mesh brewing basket, for individual or double servings and this for making a pitcher.

  1. Set freshly drawn water to boil
  2. In your brewing mechanism put twice as much tea leaves as necessary to make the amount of tea you are brewing (unless you are making a pitcher, in which case use the normal amount of leaves)
  3. Add sugar to taste to the pot, before adding water (even though I take hot tea completely unsweetened, since cold dampens taste I find I want a little sugar, maybe 1 tsp per cup of finished tea)
  4. When the water has reached the correct temperature for type (boiling for black and just simmering for green or herbals) pour it over leaves and sugar.
  5. Leave to brew for the correct amount of time, slightly longer than you would for hot tea (about 5 minutes for black, 2 for green, and 7+ for herbals)
  6. If making 1-2 servings: immediately pour over ice, diluting it by half.  If making a pitcher: leave the pitcher to cool completely (that's why you didn't make it double strength), then refrigerate.  This will keep most teas from clouding, but some varieties of black are especially prone.  Clouding doesn't actually alter taste so don't get your bloomers in a bunch about it in any case.
  7.  If serving a party I suggest making the tea unsweetened and providing simple syrup adjacent, as people's tastes very significantly.  The entire American South seems to think tea ought to be syrupy sweet.  I disagree.
Also, try not to go crazy with the garnishes
Suggested Teas for Icing

A good basic Ceylon or Keemun: These are the varieties of black tea least given to clouding and thus the best for iced tea.  I do not believe non-black teas ever cloud.  I keep a combination as my basic sweet tea, or as a base for chai.

Lady Grey: This is probably my favorite.  It is delicately aromatic and citrus-y, refreshing and light.  It's flavor holds up well in iced tea and needs just a hint of sugar.

Orange Spice: When you are in more of a "go big or go home" sort of mood this is just the thing.

Greens & Whites
Jasmine: Yummy, aromatic, and delicately floral tasting, a quality version can be picked up at any good Asian food market.  Note that jasmine can be made from green tea or oolong, and in my opinion the green version is much superior for iced tea.  This is also lovely with dried rose petals.

Spiced Green: This is a nice, lightly spiced green blend, which I especially like (and find especially cooling) with a bit of peppermint thrown in.

Snow Geisha White: Ohmigosh this is my very favorite iced tea.  It is white mixed with dried cherries and rose petals , mixed with a little pure cane sugar it is perfect, a little pricey so I save it for special occasions.

Christmas Eve: This is sort of an herbal version of Orange Spice, but it has the addition of some subtle peppermint.  I am a big fan of peppermint with spice.

I'll admit to being not that much of an herbal tea person, but if you are, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for sourcing, and for some good blends.
Peppermint: This is sort of a classic childhood taste for me, but with honey is amazingly refreshing on the very hottest days.

Midsummer Night: I invented this one for a midsummer picnic a few years back: equal parts spearmint, lemon balm, and lavender

 Iced Chai

  • 1qt water
  • 1/2 C basic black tea
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 tsp cloves 
  • 1/4 tsp. each: ground cinnamon and ground ginger
  • 1/2-1 cup sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Boil water, place all ingredients but coconut milk and vanilla in a large teapot, pour boiling water over and brew 5-7 minutes.  Remove tea, etc and let cool to room temp, add coconut milk and vanilla, serve over ice.

Tomorrow I will post outfits appropriate for sipping tea on the veranda, possibly during a Junior League meeting.

*My Momma-and-them are from Alabama and Northern Florida and my Daddy's people are from East Texas/Louisiana, and I am named, by tradition, after the first lady of the Confederacy (who it turns out was actually kind of cool.  Apparently after the war and as soon as her husband kicked she scandalized everyone by moving to New York City and becoming, like total bff with Ulysses S. Grant's daughter).


Sarahbelle said...

I believe the above quote attributed to Miss Scarlett was, in fact, the actual words spoken by Vivien Leigh during filming in the hot back lot of the studio. David O. Selznik was not amused, and forced a re-take.

Also: while I am becoming fonder by the day of Tazo Passion "tea", iced and sweetened; I remain convinced of the innate cooling powers of iced Peppermint and Lemongrass, and, despite my Southern pedigree, prefer iced Herbal Infusions to actual Sweet Tea.
Maybe it skips a generation.

Sabayon said...

No way, Vivien Leigh was English. I don't think they believe in iced tea.

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