How to make iced tea.

Glass of iced tea. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Iced tea is a particularly American beverage, and San Jose’s almost year-round warm weather makes iced tea really refreshing. While cold tea, served with or without ice in the glass, has been a familiar drink in the United States since the middle of the 1800s, especially in the warm Southern states, iced tea is generally agreed to have been “invented” – at least formally introduced – to Americans at the 1906 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. The story goes that an English tea merchant had a booth at the Fair, where he was giving out samples of his company’s tea, served hot, as usual. The weather being very warm and sunny, the Fair attendees kept passing by the hot tea stall, refusing samples, on their way to the lemonade and ice cream vendors.

The tea merchant, in order to attract his fair share of the public, allegedly had the bright idea to offer cold tea instead, poured his hot tea over some ice, and created a sensation, with crowds of people enjoying his new, refreshing drink. This story has achieved the status of a legend, and its origins are hard to trace, so it may or may not be true; however, the fact remains that more iced tea is consumed in the United States than just about anywhere. Some Americans have even devoted the month of June to National Iced Tea Month!

Since tea is naturally calorie-free and contains antioxidants and minerals, iced tea is a great choice for a refreshing warm-weather drink, although there are some Americans who love it so much they drink it year round! There are three main ways of making iced tea: hot-brew, cold-brew, and sun tea.

To use the hot-brew method, boil your water in a kettle, and make a pot of tea as if you were going to drink it hot, but add an extra tea bag or two, or teaspoon of loose tea to the pot, to make a stronger brew. You will need the extra flavor to compensate for the melting ice, and the fact that the tea oils aren’t being released by the heat of the water as you drink your iced tea. Steep your pot of tea as usual, and then pour the hot tea into a large heat-proof bowl or container, straining out the tea leaves or removing the tea bags, to cool. When the tea is cool, transfer the cooled tea to a serving container, and refrigerate. When it is thoroughly cold, pour the tea over ice cubes in a tall glass and serve. The tea will last, refrigerated, for a few days before it needs to be discarded (or used to water your garden).

To use the cold-brew method, fill a container with cold fresh drinking water and add your tea. Measure and add your tea for a strong brew, as above, using one tea bag or teaspoon of tea per cup of water, plus extra tea. Cover your tea-water container and place it in the refrigerator overnight, where the tea will infuse slowly. The next day, remove the tea bags , or strain out the tea leaves, from the container and enjoy your tea, served over ice! The tea will last a few days in the fridge. This is my favorite way to use tea bags, since the small pieces of tea leaves in the bags won’t make the tea bitter if kept cold.  I like to do this on a small scale with a teabag in my water bottle; the teabag can sit in the water all day, but you should replace it and re-fill your water bottle with fresh water the next day.

To use the sun tea method, prepare a clear glass or plastic container with a cover – a large, clean canning jar is perfect – and add drinking water and tea bags exactly as for the cold-brew tea making method. Instead of the refrigerator, cover your container and set it in the sun for at least 4 hours. Make sure the container is in the sun the whole time, so that the gentle heat can infuse the tea. When the tea is as strong as you like (taste it after 3 to 4 hours), remove the tea leaves, chill and serve as above.  Sun tea should be consumed as soon as possible, since any germs in the water or on the tea leaves haven’t been killed by boiling water, and they could become dangerous after they begin to grow.  If the tea looks like there are “clouds” or “strings” floating in it, discard it immediately!

As the California weather is relatively warm almost year-round, you can enjoy iced tea whenever you want it! Iced tea is traditionally served plain, or with sugar or sweetener, or lemon, but other additions like mint leaves or fresh raspberries can also add delicious flavor. You can also use iced tea to make other wonderful beverages, so why not keep some iced tea in the fridge all spring and summer?

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Sources and Further Information:
How to make sun tea
How to make iced tea


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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, Health, History, Recipes

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