Through the Kitchen Window

One of the things I most enjoy about my trips in the southern United States is the way they serve iced tea almost unfailingly, wherever you go. Not for them the sickly sweet concoctions premixed, pre-measured, in bottles or cans, that pass for iced tea up here. These places all know exactly how to serve it. Even to producing little packets, much like ketchup and vinegar, of liquid sweetener and lemon juice so that not only your sweetness is exactly as you like it, but so is your tartness. Can we say iced tea bliss???

No matter what the restaurant, snack bar, lunch stop, you name it, ordering iced tea is always a pleasure. You’re asked how you want it. Sweetened or not. Lemoned or not. Now I know this may seem small potatoes to you, but to me, who has always found commercially produced iced tea far too sweet, it’s like manna from heaven.

So, in honour of those establishments, both big and small, who know what it means to serve iced tea, I thought that this month we’d visit a few versions of my most favourite of all thirst-quenching (next to water) drinks for the summer.

For starters, about the tea. Green tea, black tea and oolong tea all come from a plant called Camellia Sinensis. The “tea plant” grows in most of the tropical climates in the world. So, what makes one tea different from the other? Simple really, both black and oolong teas, when being processed, go through a step called fermentation. Green tea doesn’t.

Whatever the colour, tea is a good source of natural anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are those elements which help neutralize "free radicals". Free radicals are molecules that can damage cells. So drink up, tastes great and is good for you too, can’t beat that!!!

Brewed Iced Tea

  • 4 regular tea bags (choose your favourite flavour or a combination)*
  • 2 cups fresh cold water
  • Water
  • Ice cubes
  • Granulated sugar or other sweetener
  • Lemon slices (optional)

Please make sure, if your tea bags are wrapped in paper, to remove all traces of paper, including any attached to the strings of the tea bags, then tie the strings together and place them in a 2 quart container that’s non-metallic and heat proof.

Bring 2 cups cold water (you should always start tea with fresh cold water) to a boil. Once you’ve achieved a lively boil, pour the water immediately over the tea bags.

Allow tea to steep for 30 minutes or more. This will be your base and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove tea bags, allow them to drip but do not squeeze out excess liquid and discard.

When you’re ready to serve, simply finish filling the pitcher with enough water to equal 2-quarts. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled before serving. If you wish to serve the iced tea right away, then add a dozen or so ice cubes to tea concentrate first, then fill with water to the 2-quart level.

To serve, pour tea over a generous amount of ice cubes in a tall glass, stirring in desired sweetening and a squeeze of lemon.

*You can use loose tea instead of bagged tea. Just measure two tablespoons of loose tea, into a paper coffee filter and seal tightly with a twist tie, or pour water over loose leaves (this is my preference) in a small heatproof container, then when ready, separate the liquid from the tea leaves using a strainer.

Variation: You can vary the flavours by substituting one tea bag for a bag of your favourite flavoured tea.

  • Yields: 8 servings

So that’s the basic recipe for brewing your own; let’s look at some variations then.

Sun Tea

This one is fun and easy to make
    Simply fill a 2 quart container with cold water, add 4 - 5 teaspoons full of loose tea. Stir and cover loosely. Next step is to place it in full sun light for 3 - 4 hours according to how strong you like your tea. Strain into a clean container and chill. Add sugar and lemon to taste and serve over ice in tall glasses.

I’ve come across, in my travels, two separate (well okay, lots of separate) recipes for Thai tea. I’m including a couple of them here, however. The first is the traditional, not pre-mixed or boxed version, the others make use of the perfectly fine pre-mixed Thai teas that are available today. They’re all of them are quite good, just that one is more traditional. But I’ll leave the preference decision to you.

Thai Tea Recipe From Scratch

  • 1 gallon water
  • 8 Chinese star anise, ground
  • 1 tablespoon orange flowers
  • 1 tablespoon powdered vanilla
  • 1 pinch of clove powder
  • 1 pinch chopped cinnamon
  • 3/4 quart long cut China black tea leaves
  • 1 to 2 cups sugar
  • 1 quart half & half
  • Red food coloring
  • Crushed ice

Boil water. Add star anise, orange flowers, vanilla, clove, cinnamon, and tea leaves to boiling water. Continue boiling for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cover and allow to steep until luke warm. Strain, and add sugar to taste. Serve in a clear glass over plenty of crushed ice. Top with half & half.

Traditional Variation: Substitute coconut milk for half & half. Decaffeinated Variation: Substitute decaffeinated tea leaves. Low-fat Variation: Substitute evaporated milk or rice milk for half & half. Natural Variation: Substitute unrefined cane sugar for refined sugar and beet powder for food coloring.

Filtered Thai Iced Tea

  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup Thai tea
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup half & half

Heat the water to boiling, then using four layers of cheesecloth as a filter, pour the water through the tea four times or until the tea until reaches the right color. Set the tea aside to cool. Mix together the remaining ingredients. Fill glasses with crushed ice; pour milk/sugar mixture about 1/2 full into each glass; carefully pour cooled tea over top to preserve separation.

Pre Mixed Thai Iced Tea

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Thai tea
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

Place 2 tablespoons of tea powder in a muslin bag, and arrange over the neck of a jug. Pour in 12 ounces of boiling water, and allow to steep. Transfer the bag to a second jug and pour the water into the bag again. Repeat this process several times then vigorously squeeze the bag to remove as much liquor as possible. Add a quarter of a cup of sweetened condensed milk, stir to incorporate, and allow to cool.

Long Steeping Thai Iced Tea

    This process gives me Thai Tea that tastes exactly like it does in my favorite Thai restaurant. I put a cup of the loose tea leaves into a big pot of water (the kind of pot one boils pasta in, a big stove pot). I bring the tea and water to a rolling boil, stirring constantly and monitoring the heat so that it doesn’t overflow. After it has boiled for a minute or two, I reduce the heat and allow the tea to simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Then I cover the pot and allow the tea to cool on the stove top. At first the tea leaves all stay at the top of the water, but as the water cools they all drop to the bottom of the pot. I then carefully pour the tea into a pitcher, using a metal strainer to catch any leaves that happen to get stirred up during the process. (However, virtually all of the leaves stay settled.) I add sugar until the bitterness of the tea goes away, usually between one and two cups. If the tea seems too strong, I also add water to dilute it a bit. I pour the tea over ice, filling the glass 2/3 full, then top it off with half-and-half.

Twice Boiled Thai Iced Tea

Here's a tip from
    Let the wonderful fragrance of Thai iced tea fill your home, and enjoy a stronger-tasting tea. In medium pot boil 8 cups water and add 8-10 heaping tablespoons of Thai tea mix. Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Add water to balance and let simmer for additional 1 hour. Add water once again and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Strain, cool and serve as per above method. This method yields a stronger tea and is the more common way of preparation in Thailand.

And just to add some interest, I’ve included a couple of websites I found that were fascinating and chock full of information, recipes and variations.

Now, find your favourite, mix up a batch, pour it into a long tall glass full of ice, then find that novel you’ve been meaning to read, throw the cats out of the hammock, and enjoy a summer afternoon basking and indulging.

And pass the lemon please . . .