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Iced tea is a simplicist.
After all, it requires only two ingredients, one of which is fresh water. The other, tea, could be black, green, white or herbal.
But even though it’s a minimalist drink, it does have a spot among the pantheon of cold beverages and harps on quality.
Good, fresh tea leaves and water are paramount for a perfect iced tea. “It is important to use fresh ingredients because they give the best flavor,” says Nathaniel Pantalone, owner and manager of Dobra Tea in Squirrel Hill.
Cynthia Gold, tea sommelier and manager of L'Espalier in Boston, adds that any water won’t do. “Don’t use water that has a chemical or chlorine taste,” Ms. Gold says. “If your local water tastes off, consider using filtered or spring water.”
Also, Ms. Gold says, if the same water is reboiled often, you will be de-oxygenating the water. “This can lead to a flatter tasting tea.”
It is best to use fresh, cold water because it contains more oxygen than hot water from the faucet. Tea meisters say more oxygen is important because it enhances the flavor of the tea. When the water comes to a rolling boil, pour it over loose tea leaves or a tea bag, and the burst of hot water will open the tea leaves and maximize the flavor.
Typically crisp teas are good cold, and rich teas are used in hot beverages. Mr. Pantalone says “tea that is good cold is also good hot, but it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around. Some kinds of fermented Chinese teas called Pu-er make great hot teas but horrendous cold teas.”
Although iced tea is extremely popular during the summer months, it has become the beverage of choice year-round.
Bret Thorn, senior food editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, says iced teas are getting more popular as “consumers are getting increasingly wary of carbonated drinks and their sugar and artificial sweeteners.” They want something cold and refreshing, and so turn to iced tea, he said. Consumers also think it has a health halo effect, he adds.
Peter Goggi, president of Tea Association of the USA, says 85 percent of tea consumed in America is iced. “We are an iced tea culture, and we are the only country in the world.”
Consumption is driven up by baby boomers and millennials. In fact, 87 percent of millennials drink tea, according to the Tea Association. Mr. Goggi says that’s because millennials grew up hearing “the tea and health story” and they grew up in the ready-to-drink era that accepted tea as a good alternate beverage to soda.
Although its popularity has risen in the last two decades, iced tea has been around for a long time.
Richard Blechynden is credited with making the first iced tea in 1904, when he purportedly poured tea over ice at the World’s Fair in St. Louis because sales for his hot tea were plummeting when temperatures were soaring that summer.
However, there are earlier written accounts of ice tea, according to Mr. Goggi. One is as early as 1879, and the recipe credited to Marion Cabell Tyree used green tea. Later, in 1884, a recipe from Boston Cooking School called for tea to be poured over ice, he said.
When making iced tea, Mr. Pantalone says it’s best to use a lot of tea in a batch. “We often see people using too little tea. We recommend eight to 14 teaspoons of tea per gallon depending on the tea,” he says.
The tea also should have room to expand during the infusion process because if it doesn’t the tea won’t properly release flavor to the water, he says.
Generally, the tea is steeped in hot water for about six to 15 minutes before additives such as fruits or herbs are added. “Anything longer than 15 usually ends up being a waste of time,” Mr. Pantalone says. “But, if the leaves are compacted in some way, like with pearl tea or rolled teas, then longer is better.”
If planned ahead, tea could also be steeped in cold water. “It’s marvelous. You simply put your leaves into fresh cold water and place them in the refrigerator overnight,” Ms. Gold says. “Taste your tea and remove the bags at that point, or give it up to 24 hours.”
The optimal time for steeping will depend on the tea leaf variety and size. “I like to use a larger amount of tea leaves for a cold steep than you would for a hot steep. Perhaps one-third more,” Ms. Gold says.
If you want to sweeten the tea, add the sweetner after brewing tea in hot water. If the sweetner is added earlier, it will change the osmotic pressure of the water on the tea leaves, which will result in a slower infusion, Mr. Pantalone says. However, he adds that you don’t have to wait for the water to completely cool down because sugar will dissolve in tea more quickly at higher temperatures.
Don’t be put off if the iced tea looks cloudy, which in the industry is called “creaming.”
“It does not mean that there is anything wrong with the tea. In fact, some of the finest quality leaves will cloud; it is just that it is throwing off a precipitate that is clouding the tea,” Ms. Gold says. “If you hot steep your tea very strongly and then rush cool it, you are more likely to cause it to cream.”
“Cloudiness in iced tea, especially iced black tea, is actually a good thing,” Mr. Pantalone adds.
Is there a magic time within which iced tea should be served? Well, it all depends on the tea variety.
“Iced black teas keep very well in the refrigerator for about a week, but iced Jasmine teas can get funky after about three or four days. The best time to serve iced tea would be as soon as it’s ready. But that is easier said than done,” Mr. Pantalone says.
Arthi Subramaniam: email@example.com, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @asub
Blueberry Iced Tea
2 cups boiling water
4 tea bags (regular or black tea)
1 cup fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
Pour boiling water over tea bags; let steep for about 10 minutes. Remove tea bags. In a saucepan, bring to boil blueberries, sugar and 1 cup of water. Let cool and then blend them. Strain the syrup. Add juice from lime and stir to combine. Combine tea and blueberry syrup in pitcher. Serve with ice.
Peach Ice Tea
4 cups water, divided
3 family-size tea bags
3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
Bring 3 cups of water to a rolling boil. Pour over tea bags; cover and steep for 5 to 8 minutes. Blend peaches and 1 cup water until smooth. Strain peach juice. Add peach juice, tea and sugar in pitcher. Stir well. Add more water if needed. Serve with ice.
Boston Iced Tea
1 gallon water
15 small tea bags
1/2 cup white sugar
1 can (12 ounces) frozen cranberry juice concentrate
Heat water until it comes to a rolling boil. Pour over teabags and let steep for about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove bags. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Stir in cranberry juice concentrate, and mix well. Serve with ice.
Iced Green Tea
4 cups filtered water, divided
4 green tea bags
4 dried rose petals (optional)
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons honey
Pour hot water over tea bags. Add rose petals and coriander seeds and let steep for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove tea bags but leave rose petals and coriander seeds in tea for another hour. Strain petals and coriander seeds. Add honey; stir well. Serve with ice.
Lemon Iced Tea
1 cup sugar
5 cups water, divided
7 black tea bags
Juice from 5 Meyer lemons
Add sugar to 1 cup of water and let it simmer until sugar dissolves to make a simple syrup. Bring remaining 4 cups of water to boil, pour over tea bags and let them steep for 10 minutes. In serving pitcher, add lemon juice, ice, simple syrup and tea. Stir well.
Pittsburgh-Style Sweet Tea
1 gallon cold water
12 tablespoons Dobra Tea’s Assam CTC Black Tea
2 cups sugar
Bring water to a boil. Pour over Dobra Tea's Assam CTC Black Tea and let steep for 15 minutes, covered. Let it steep. Strain tea. When cool, refrigerate until cold.
To serve, fill 16-ounce glass with 14-ounces of tea. Add juice of 1 lemon and sweeten to taste. For yinzer sweet, it translates to about 1/4 cup of sugar per glass. And of course, yinz make sure to share a glass with your family and friends.
-- Nathaniel Pantalone, owner of Dobra Tea