In case you didn’t already know, June is National Iced Tea Month. Don’t worry, we didn’t realize it either. Benefits of home-brewed tea are obvious: cost and avoidance of artificial sweeteners amongst others, but there’s more than one way to brew, chill, and serve this summer staple. Most of you guys already know how to make a cup of tea, but we’re willing to bet some of you could benefit from a quick iced tea primer. So, we’ve compiled a few products wrapped around a simple (key) and effective way to make a damn good glass of plain ol’ iced tea.
The choice of tea is simple. When procuring, make sure you look for Orange Pekoe graded tea. No, it doesn’t taste like oranges, but rather Orange Pekoe is a method in which typical consumer-grade black teas leaves are measured (e.g. leaf size as it falls through refining grates). It’s not necessary to get into the science behind it, but if you choose an Orange Pekoe-graded tea you’re starting off with proper tea leaves. Stick with the basic options: Tetley Tea ($16), Lipton Tea Bags ($17), or Twinings Ceylon Orange Pekoe Tea ($17) are solid choices we tried. Don’t overthink it.
You want to make sure your pitcher is dishwasher safe and capable of handling rapid temperature fluctuations. Here’s the skinny on metal and plastic. Yes, they work, but when you put high temperature water into it they can often impart a flavor interference. These flavors are the last thing you want and from everything we’ve come to read and know, they’re not supposed to be there. Skip them. A tough glass or glazed pitcher is your best bet. We picked up a Williams & Sonoma Pitcher ($35), made of Duraclear glass. A bit pricey, but we’re planning to make a boat load of tea this summer.
Stick with the tea’s labeled ratio, or you can use a ratio we found to work well: 3 grams per cup. A half-gallon or two quarts would be about 24 grams – that’s about 12 standard sized tea bags. Make sure to fasten your tea bags together either by their own strings or a piece of cooking twine. Make sure to remove the paper tags since you’re dropping in the whole caboodle. Paper doesn’t taste awesome. Also, don’t waste your money with a tea bag infuser or special kettles. You know how to tie a knot and you have a large pot. If you want to use or have loose leaf tea, we recommend buying T-Sac Tea Filters ($7 for 100) for their versatility.
In your pot, bring the appropriate measure of filtered water right up to a boil (don’t let it boil more than few seconds). We’ve learned that a secret of some tea drinkers is to drop in a pinch of baking soda into the water once it’s boiled. Like you would expect from your 6th grade science lesson, it will bubble up for a few quick moments then settle. The result is tea that’s less cloudy and and imparts a smoother flavor from reduction in bitterness from steeping.
Let the tea steep for a 3-5 minutes and remove the bags. Now, depending on where you live you’re going to want to either add sugar (South) or not (North/West). For this measurement, stick with 1/3 cup which is just about right to a deep South-approved 3/4 cup of sugar for maximum sweetness. Otherwise, skip the sugar for the tasty low-cal variation.
Now, this is important: do not chill your tea with ice. Stick it in the fridge and let it chill without dilution, then when you’re ready to serve make sure you’ve fill some tall glasses like these Strauss Glasses with large ice cubes. For larger gatherings or batches, consider preparing and serving in a jar stand like this this Crate & Barrel Beverage Jar ($43), or hit up a local flea market. You’ll be surprised what kind of vessels you can find.
Deliver to your parched guests with plenty of sliced lemons.