Iced Tea (or, How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation)
By Chris Cason
For those without the benefit of a calendar, Memorial Day has come and passed. This is significant for two reasons: First, it means I can finally wear my white shoes at the mansion in the Hamptons. Second, it signals that summer, Iced Tea season, has officially begun. It is time to hang up those hot tea mugs, replace them for giant, frosty glasses, thirsty for iced tea.
If you're sitting there reading this while a pitcher of super-sweetened, tea-colored liquid chills in the fridge, buckle down... we've got quite a bit of ground to cover. But for the already-enlightened, don't click-off! In this latest installment of your favorite 'Monthly Newsletter for Tea Aficionados,' I'll share some my favorite "cool" new ideas for this refreshing summer beverage, perfect for both the novice and the experienced. With all the interesting Iced Tea ideas that have been imported, ingenious recipes that have been created and old favorites that have been improved, it is apparent that tea is just as hot Iced.
Chill with your friends this summer by infusing Iced Tea into your next party. Of course, "normal" iced tea is always a safe bet to serve at this event. To make a great pitcher, simply double the amount of tea leaves (making it two teaspoons per cup of water), and steep as usual (five minutes in most cases). Once tea is ready, dilute with an equal amount of cold water or ice and garnish with mint or lemon. For a tropical variation, try a Mango flavored black tea and garnish with melon balls and pineapple.
Another delightful variation of "normal" Iced tea is a Dixie favorite called Sweet tea, which adds sugar to the mix.
(click for more sugary information on Sweet tea)
But this is not the limit to what iced tea can do: many interesting possibilities exist. For example, when diluting the iced tea, use a blend of your favorite fruit juices instead of water and add fresh fruit and seltzer. The result is a sweet, scrumptious summer Sangria.
Another surefire hit is Green Tea Margaritas -- a much fuller, more interesting variation on the classic Margarita. Simply combine a neutral green tea (such as Pekoe or Dragonwell), Lemon Juice, sugar, Tequila, Cointreau and Triple Sec and pour into a salt- or sugar-rimmed glass (note: this drink works just as well if the alcohol is omitted!).
Also, with the many innovative and original new tea brewing devices that brew tea that are now available as well (such as this ingenious teapot), tea is sure to be not only the "taste" but also the "talk of the party."
The coolest Asian import to hit US shores since General Tso's chicken is a quirky cousin of Iced tea called Bubble tea. "Boba" tea, as it is referred to in the Asian community, is quickly becoming one of the biggest sensations among America's youth. A combination of juice, milk, tea and sugar (yes, my carb-cutting colleagues, unfortunately Mr. Atkins wouldn't have approved) comprise this concoction, finished off with the unique addition of tapioca pearls. The wide vast possibility of flavor, along with tapioca's distinct texture, Bubble tea is sure to subdue summer's sizzle.
(check out this article for an insightful and amusing article celebrating Boba)
But Bubble tea isn't the first Asian Iced to migrate west. For years, after indulging in pleasantly piquant Thai cuisine, many American taste buds have been quelled by Thai tea. Also called Cha Yen, this delicious delicacy blends the characteristically Thai tastes of coconut milk and star anise with vanilla, clove, cinnamon, orange, sugar and, of course, tea (usually a China black). This, in my humble opinion, is the perfect complement for a spicy summer meal.
Another Eastern tea to meet iced cubes comes from India. The enormously popular Masala Chai, or what many Westerners now refer to as "Chai" (which simply means "tea" in Hindi, but Americans have boiled the word down to this one version), is usually offered by many cafes and tearooms in an Iced form as well. This is traditionally prepared with cardamom, cinnamon, clove, milk, sugar, tea and vanilla, but variations exist based regional recipes.
Veni, Vidi, Real Tea in Vending machines
Unfortunately, commercial Iced tea has received a bum rap in the US, thanks to companies like Arizona and Nestea, who offer syrupy, over-flavored beverages that bare little semblance to tea. However, new innovations in bottled iced tea are on the horizon. Several entrepreneurial companies have begun offering better bottled teas, just hitting the shelves and vending machines of many specialty and gourmet foods stores. Instead of using loads of sugar and flavor, this new tea movement retraces its steps to simple, pure, delicious tea. Thanks to quality tea and unique bottling techniques, the products these companies provide are refreshing and healthy, worthy to be called Tea.
Branching off from this bottled tea revolution is another novel idea: Tea soda. Strange as this idea may sound, early emergence shows signs of promise. It may be the best way to compete with giants in the beverage industry such as Coca Cola, and also may be a good "threshold beverage," introducing newcomers to the world of tea.
Yet another new idea for Iced tea is not actually an iced tea at all, rather an Iced Tisane (or herbal beverage). Building upon the renewed popularity Iced tea was recently enjoyed, many companies are shying away from the seemingly flooded iced black tea market, turning instead to the lesser caffeinated, but equally delicious, herbals. New bottled beverages, such as Iced Red (Rooibos) "tea," Iced Ginger "tea" and Iced Mint "tea," provide a perfect alternative for the caffeine-sensitive (or those who are just trying to get some sleep).
Any way you brew it, the most important thing to remember when making iced tea is quality. These ideas I've shared are to be utilized with this kept in mind: for the best iced tea, you'll need the best tea.
Stay cool and drink deep.