Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ice Tea

According to a story I heard on NPR years ago, North Carolina consumes more tea per capita than any other place on the planet, including the British Isles. And almost all of that tea is served iced, and most is sweetened. Coming from the Old North State, I consume my fair share (a couple gallons a week in the summer, around a gallon a week in the winter). But I only drink unsweetened tea. This is my story.

Ice tea was first introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair. It was an instant hit. With the advent of Rural Electrification and refrigerators, the drink swept the south. As soon as kids are weaned from their moms, they’re served ice tea. It’s a ritual and it was no different in my family. We always served sweet ice tea at meals and there was a glass waiting when you came in all hot from playing outdoors in 98% humidity. About the time I started high school, my mother decided to go on a diet and started using this new-fangled artificial sweetener called saccharine. You’d add just a handful of pills to a gallon picture of tea and it was suppose to be sweetened. Luckily for me, as saccharine has turned out to be bad for you, I couldn’t stand the stuff. So I started drinking my tea unsweetened. And it didn’t take long before I was hooked. And now everyone my family, except for my brother who tries hard to make people believe he’s a redneck, drinks unsweetened tea. In my not so humbled opinion, nothing is more refreshing than chucking down slightly bitter ice tea without sugar, real or artificial.

In honor of George Orwell, who wrote more than one cares to know about how to make a good cup of hot tea, I will now share my secrets of preparing the perfect pitcher and glass of unsweetened ice tea. Orwell had 11 pointers; I’ve cut them almost in half.

1. Start with good clean water. Use a filter to get the chlorine and other junk out.

2. Bring a quart of water to boil and then take it off the stove and add the tea. Forget the idea of sun tea. It’s often too weak and besides, the hot water might kill some of the germs transmitted to the tea by the picker’s hands.

3. Use name brand tea. I use Lipton because that’s what my mother uses and besides, as a kid, I was in love with Peggy Lipton of the Mod Squad. Tetley and Luzianne Teas also produce a nice slightly bitter glass of ice tea. Stay away from store brands!

4. Leaf tea is probably better than tea that’s imprisoned in bags, but since bags are so ubiquitous these days, and easy to use, I use ‘em and just let the tea steep longer. Use 4 cup sized bags per half gallon of tea and let it steep for approximately 10 minutes. I'm sure Orwell is spinning in his grave at the thought of tea bags, but then again I can't imagine putting cream in my tea!

5. After steeping, place some water in a tea pitcher (this is especially important if it is a glass pitcher for the hot tea can break it). Add the steep tea and then addition water to the ½ gallon mark. Some people add ice here, but I save the ice for the glass.

6. Use only tall, large capacity glasses (glass glasses are the best, but if I’m heading out the door, I’ll use plastic. By the way, stemmed glasses are for wine and waste space. You need volume for ice tea, especially on a hot afternoon. Fill the glasses first with ice, then with tea, and then garnish with a lemon wedge. The glass should be cold to the hand, toss back your head and start chugging. Its cool, it’s refreshing, it’s cheap, and there are no calories.


  1. Never was a tea drinker but my brother who now lives down south has been converted. He drinks the sweetened version. My wife drinks tea that I brew for her every morning but it is the hot kind, also Lipton.

    Years ago, I did find a tea that I liked. Our amish neighbors had some sort of bush behind their house and they would use the minty leaves to make a mint tea that was pretty tasty. To this day, I have no idea what that bush was and it has long since died out (my parents bought their farm when they moved to Wisconsin) from lack of care.

    My summer drink is iced diet Pepsi or perhaps a Corona with lime.

  2. Lipton for me too! We were weaned on tea as well....however when my mom learned of the evils of caffiene she went decaffinated. Thank goodness I was old enough to find the real stuff on my own.

    1904 huh? I would have thought much earlier since it is so much apart of our lives. I always order it at the restaurants at home but I don't make it for myself anymore....trying to stick to water all day and green tea at night.

    I go by the places that have the good stuff and get them to go all the time with my little piece of lemon floating around while I run my errands.

    I wanted a glass with dinner Sunday night but caught myself and had to go with beer as they don't really have "sweet tea" on hand at your dinners by the fish camps here in Montana!

  3. Ed - Do you put your huge thumb over the top and tip it upside down so the lime floats all the way to the bottom (now the top) and flavors everything?

  4. Murf - I use liquid lime juice. Much easier and you get a lot more flavor. But if I use a lime, I just let it float around the neck of the bottle. All beer must pass it to get to my mouth anyway.

    Sage - Deana makes a good point. What about the Boston Tea Party? Was that hot tea and therefore doesn't count?

  5. I am humbled to admit that I was wrong about the St. Louis World's Fair. The Boston Tea Party, as it happened in December, would have been the first time ice tea was available on a large scale! But it was sun tea as they didn't brew it first, so it really doesn't count and the 1904 Fair still holds the honor in my book.

  6. Or, you can just go to Bojangle's and get the best iced tea on the planet. I prefer it without lemon.

    Note: some Bojangle's people do not know how to make tea, apparently. There is one particular one I like...LOL

  7. In a pivotal scene on Sex Lies & Videotapes, they were debating what drink to use

    James Spader said "ice tea. Everybody drinks ice tea." And so they used iced tea

    Well I never get a chance to tell that story

  8. I can drink my iced tea straight, w/ no sugar. But I now prefer it with splenda. I'm hoping we don't find out that's bad for us later too. =o( I totally agree though - Lipton's is the best, with the other two coming in for a tie at second.

  9. not much of a tea drinker, myself, but thanks for the *tea tips*.

  10. I love tea...but it's not usually American teas that I drink. I drink cold green teas and I drink hot chai teas (for the most part - supplemented by my all-time favorite english breakfast with a splash of milk).

    I've heard that making sun tea is now bad for you - that nasties get in because caps aren't on tight enough and they are out soaking in whatever is floating through the air.

    Me, I make my tea like this: bags or leaves, clean water, all go in the fridge...soak for a few days...voila...the best tea ever (if you like green tea).

  11. I love a good glass of cold tea. But I have to have mine sweet.

    Hope you enjoyed your visit to 'Bama.

  12. I like to add a few fresh mint leaves with the tea bags. I grew up with saccharin tea too, but I still have to have mine sweet. Only sugar will do, none of that pink or blue packaged stuff.

  13. i love iced tea too!

    michele sent me.

  14. I like my mom's homemade ice tea. They grow some tea plants themselves on the farm. But I'm afraid I like mine with real sugar.

  15. I'll have to admit that I do sometimes add a mint leaf into a glass of tea--it's a nice touch. But Dawn, never milk! Not even in hot tea. I use to drink a lot of hot tea--especially Indian Teas--when I was hiking, that was before you had okay coffee in tea bags (I couldn't stand instant coffee). I still enjoy hot tea on cold evenings.

    Tim, what kind of tea trees grow in PA? Wonder if they'd grow in MI?

  16. Good to know. I'll tuck that away in my head somewhere.

  17. Here from Michele.
    Love a glass of Tetley or Luzianne (Prefer Tetley), sweetened with lots of lemon. Yummmmm!!!!

    If you should ever be in Chicago, look up the "RUSSIAN TEA CAFE". They used the cafe instead of "room" so as not to have confusion with the NY restaurant. The name may have been changed but they were still there a year ago. They serve all things Russian which means lotsa beets. But, they blend their own tea leaves into the MOST HEAVENLY mixture. I buy the loose tea every time I'm there. It is fabulous hot and I don't usually like hot tea. It is also yummy iced. THE BEST TEA ON THE PLANET!!!

  18. You know, sage, I don't really know. It's just tea plants that always grew on our farm or that relatives gave us as far as I can remember. Good question, though.

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