Iced tea? That’s not alcoholic! Well, it can be if making a Long Island iced tea, or even when adding new fangled iced-tea-flavored vodka into something (please don’t do that last thing, though). But I’m talking good ol’ fashioned brewed tea and ice, with a touch of sweetener, for hot summer days. Once we’ve established a good base for our iced tea, we can adulterate it later.
Consistently getting good results when making homemade iced tea is difficult to achieve. I don’t have a baker’s sensibility with tweaking and keeping ingredients in balance, so it took me years to finally get a standard recipe that was consistently good and where I could then experiment, knowing what was flexible in the recipe and what had to stay the same.
Two things I found definitive were not to add citrus fruit and the proper ratio for making flavored teas, a berry-flavored tea for example. First, don’t add citrus to the steeping tea, ever. Don’t add it to the cooled tea in its serving container, either, unless the tea will be served and finished within an hour or two. Add citrus, if desired, to the glass as a garnish while serving. Despite almost every canned, powdered, and bottled iced tea having citrus, steeping or long-term contact with citrus fruit will add off-flavors to the tea. A slice of lemon may ideally touch the tea only when the tea is thoroughly cooled and served to drink. Regarding flavored teas, subtler is better, so when I make flavored tea, I use ¾ black or green tea, with no flavors, to ¼ flavored tea. In practical terms this comes to six black tea bags vs two flavored tea.
Those eight tea bags are steeped in six cups of boiled water for five minutes. I do this in a Tupperware container that holds two quarts. After the tea bags are removed, I stir in ¼ to ½ cup of sweetener, while the liquid is still hot. The amount of sweetener depends on what it is. We prefer local honey at the DnU HQ, and a little honey goes a long way, so we use ¼ cup. Granulated sugar, I’d use ⅓ cup. Simple syrup, try ½ cup. Using less sweetener at this stage doesn’t mean it can’t be sweetened more later. At this point it is adult sweet. Have kids? Keep a squeeze bottle of simple syrup or, even better, agave syrup, both which dissolve in cold liquids, and let the little tykes decide how much to put in. They can’t make it worse than the powdered stuff!
Now that the container has sweetener, I cool down the tea by directly adding a tray-full of ice cubes until I’m at two quarts. I could just add more water to get to my two quarts, but I tend to use ice cubes because it helps cool down the tea, making it just about ready to drink (with more ice in the glass, of course). But a note here: If I were using a glass container to mix the tea, I would not add ice cubes here, and would instead add water. The ice cubes could create the perfect conditions to have the glass container crack from the temperature difference. Also, if I used water, I would not then pour this into a glass for the same reason, because even with the water, the tea has not cooled sufficiently. Putting ice in a glass and pouring the still warm tea over it will crack the glass.
So, again, in my plastic container, I’ve cooled the tea down with a tray-full of ice cubes, which I can then pour into my ice-filled glass. Otherwise, in goes in the fridge for at least an hour.
Usually, when I make flavored iced tea, it’s usually a berry- or citrus-infused tea, and I usually use all black teas. Green teas work well with more subtle flavors, and if I were mixing green teas with black, I’d have the green teas carry the infusion flavor, as infused-black teas may just overwhelm the whole thing. There’s an exception, of course, which is jasmine green tea. That’s nice all by itself, so I’ve used eight tea bags just of that in the past. And it pairs nice with other flavors, so I’ve made jasmine mango iced tea with six jasmine greens and two mango blacks.
Working with loose tea is a bit more complex, but the 3:1 ratio is still a good guide. Use the stronger tea for ¾ of the mix. Steep the mix for as long as it is recommended the stronger tea steep, but remember to double the total amount of tea. So, for instance, if the stronger tea takes 1 tsp. for 6 oz. of water at five minutes, it would take about 10½ tsp. for 64 oz. of hot tea (the final yield of tea in two quarts). We need to double it for making iced tea, 21 tsp., then we take ¾ of it if we’re mixing it with another tea, or just above 15 tsp. (or 5 Tbs). Do the same for the flavored tea, but only use ¼ after doubling the amount to make 64 oz. of hot tea. It sounds confusing, but step through it a couple of times and it makes sense.
Using this method yields consistently good, refreshing iced tea. I don’t think I’d add vodka straight to it, but a shot of lemonchello does sound nice.