Iced tea has been part of my life for nearly four decades. At the age of thirteen, my mother granted permission to indulge in a glass of her famous iced tea. That day changed my life because mom told me iced tea was reserved for grown-ups. The moment the golden brown liquid hit the back of my throat I felt I had entered the world of adulthood.
Mom brewed her iced tea in a small one-quart saucepan and had a dedicated wooden spoon to stir her delicious concoction. She would place five teabags in cold water, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat and let it sit on the stove for twenty minutes. Afterwards, she would gently squeeze each tea bag with the back of the wooden spoon as she poured the content into the faded blue pitcher.
When my mother passed away I inherited her tea-making pan, spoon and pitcher. Each time I make iced tea I feel her presence. My mind takes me back to days of being a young woman sharing a glass of iced tea with my mother in the cozy kitchen where many family events took place. For me, iced tea is comfort food.
Iced tea has come a long way since my entrance to adulthood. Today, tea lovers can create custom blends and brew up their concoctions in under five minutes. Iced tea is now touted as a health remedy, weight loss product and cure for insomnia.
Bottled tea can be purchased in grocery and convenient stores and is often showcased in health food stores. While prepared tea can be convenient, it is considerably more costly than homemade iced tea. The average cost of a 16-ounce bottle of brand name iced tea hovers around $1.50, while the cost to make one gallon of homemade tea is less than one dollar. In addition to saving money, home brewed iced tea elicits a fresher tasting product.
To make the perfect pitcher of iced tea it is important to start with quality tea. Years of experimenting with various teas has led me to believe that black or red teas are best for serving cold. The method used to prepare tea can affect the taste. Brewing tea usually yields a stronger tea flavor than sun tea. However, allowing tea to sit in full sun for at least six hours can provide similar results as brewing.
Naturally Brewed Sun Tea
I was introduced to sun tea after relocating to the Southeast. It seems only natural that sun tea would be a popular drink in the Sunshine State. A large glass jar or sun tea pitcher is required when making sun tea. Most retail stores sell pitchers which include a spigot for easy access.
Making naturally brewed sun tea is simple. Add 8 to 10 tea bags, fill the container with one gallon of spring water and sit in full sun for six hours. Once the tea is brewed place the container in the refrigerator and chill for two hours.
One nifty trick for preventing dilution of sun tea flavor is to fill ice cube trays with tea. Filling a glass with tea cubes retains the robust flavor. Add a slice of lemon or sprig of fresh mint for a refreshing summertime drink.
Southern Sweet Tea
Southerners have a reputation for making the best sweet tea. Although my mother wasn’t from the South, she had Southern blood and was deemed the Iced Tea Queen by family and friends. Her recipe is simple.
In a one-quart saucepan add six tea bags (or three family size bags) and two cups cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and steep for 20 minutes. Add one cup granulated sugar to one gallon pitcher.
Using a wooden spoon, press tea bags and pour tea into pitcher. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Discard tea bags and fill pan with cold water. Pour into pitcher and stir. Adding water directly from the tap causes tea to foam up and can leave a bitter aftertaste.