Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ah, Iced Tea

I have always loved iced tea. My mom used to make sun tea in the summers and I loved having the pitchers of it in the refrigerator. I loved coming home after a hard day of playing and chugging a glass of the icy-cold goodness.

I have also always loved my iced tea very sweet. For this reason, I rarely order it in restaurants or have it at someone's house, because it is kind of embarassing how much sugar I like to add and I don't enjoy it if it's not sweet enough.

I still remember the day that I discovered sweet tea. I was at a work meeting, sitting next to a coworker from Georgia. He ordered iced tea at lunch and then proceeded to empty a dozen sugar packets into his glass. Be still my beating heart! I had found my iced tea soulmate! I couldn't help but comment that I finally met someone who liked their tea as sweet as I did. He responsed that he could fill the glass with sugar and it still wouldn't taste like his mama's, because to be real sweet tea, the sugar and tea had to be brewed together. Another girl at the table, also from the south, said she would make me some real sweet tea when we got back to our hotel that night (we were at a month-long training and living in hotels that were basically apartments, complete with full kitchens). So, on our way back from the meeting, we stopped at the grocery store for to to buy a 5 lb bag of sugar, a box of tea bags, and a huge glass jar. . . oh, and some mint, though I personally don't like mint in mine, but apparently, it is essential to "true" sweet tea in some areas of the south.

She then showed me the secret to making sweet tea. Now, I will tell you, if you like your tea sweet, you will like my sweet tea. If you don't like your tea sweet. . . well, I will make you a glass of plain iced tea because I like to be a good hostess. But my friends love it and request it at playdates and parties. I love to oblige. I have three sun tea jugs because I always have at least one in the fridge, cooled and ready to go, one out on my back porch, steeping, and one is usually at a friends' house.

This blog entry is not about my sweet tea, however. It is about how I found the best iced tea in the world. . . in Mexico.

When my husband and I went to Mexcio for our honeymoon, I was nursing a kidney infection, so drinking alcohol was out. I ordered an iced tea on our second day there and. . . oh mah word. It was the best tea I had ever tasted - it blew my poor lil' sweet tea clean out of the water. It was sweet, had a touch of citrus flavor to it, came with little slices of lime, and was amazing. I sucked down cup after cup of this amazing brew. Most restaurants had the iced tea in self-serve cannisters, so I started bringing my own water bottle and filling it up. I just couldn't get enough of this exotic brew.

When we got home, I tried to recreate the flavor, and I couldn't. I brewed my tea stronger, weaker, tried different brands of tea bags. I thought adding lime would help, it didn't. I thought adding lemon, maybe? It didn't work. Nothing could get me that taste. I had failed in my quest.

M heard about this iced tea for two freaking years. When we planned our return trip to Mexico for our two year wedding anniversary, I swear I was the most excited about having that iced tea again.

It didn't disappoint. I sucked down three glasses within ten minutes of checking in.

This time, I was determined to find out the magical secret to "Mexican Iced Tea". I asked the servers how it was made, but the language barrier seemed to make it impossible. They kept pantomiming a jug and scooping motions with their hands. Nothing there.

It was on our last day there that disaster struck - NO ICED TEA in the cannisters. I asked our server and she indicated it hadn't been made for the day, but she could make me one. Boy howdy, this was what I had been waiting for. "Yes, please!" I said, desperate for the recipe more than the drink itself.

I surreptitiously followed her so I could see her magic work from the behind the bar. Imagine my shock when I saw her pull a container of Lipton Instant Iced Tea with Lemon from under the counter and do exactly what the servers had been trying to show me with their pantomimes: The cannister opened and she scooped in the powder. Then she added the twist of lime and some ice.

That was it? My secret, amazing, only-in-paradise iced tea was. . . INSTANT? From a can? Oh, the woe.

Turns out that, yes, it was. I thought perhaps she had just made the instant because it would be the fastest way to bring me what I'd ordered. But no, I took a sip, and that was it. Instant iced tea was the elixir I had been searching for.

I came home, eager to spread the word, only to find that others apparently do not share my love of the instant tea. Friends tell me that I am crazy and that my sweet tea is so much better. So the dirty little secret in the back of my pantry is my Costco sized cannister of Lipton Iced Tea**. I highly recommend it.

But if you want to make the real deal, here is the easy recipe for sweet tea that a good friend from the south taught me. Great for parties, playdates (I use decaf tea bags, so it's even kid-friendly, though then I use a bit less sugar - boo!), bbqs, or just hanging out around the house.

Sweet Tea

■6 to 8 tea bags
■1 quart hot water (4 cups)
■1 quart cold water (4 cups)
■1/2 cup sugar (more or less to taste - and I use 3/4 cup in mine)***

Step One:

Pour the cold water into the sun tea jar (this is important - most sun tea jars today are plastic and could melt or warp if you pour the hot water in directly later on).

Step Two:

In a sauce pan, bring water to a full boil over high heat. Remove from heat and add the tea bags. Allow to steep for exactly ten minutes, stirring very gently a few times during the steeping time.

Step Three:

Remove the tea bags and add the sugar to the HOT tea. Stir until fully dissolved.

Step Four:

Very carefully pour the hot tea into the cold water in the jug.

Voila! Put it into the fridge to cool. Serve over ice.

*Oh, and if you must have mint, add that during the steeping time and then strain it out. Lemon wedges are also a nice garnish.

**No, I have not been compensated for this blog, though if the fine people at Lipton wanted to send me some tea, I wouldn't say no! ;)

***Most sun tea jars are gallon sized, so I usually double this recipe.


HereWeGoAJen said...

I don't actually like tea. I never have. I'm sure that if I did though, this would be quite delicious. ;)

~Hollie said...

HA! How funny. You could be shot in certain parts of the south for even saying INSTANT and TEA in the same sentence. For a moment, I EVEN thought about trying it, umm.... NO. I'm so happy that you enjoy it, and I want you to keep ON enjoying it. But for me, I'll keep brewing and I do believe that I love tea as much as you do. I go to certain restaurants BECAUSE they have good tea. And I've stopped going to restaurants because they changed teas. Acceptable teas in the south are Lipton, Red Diamond, and that Milo's tea you can get in the jug next to the milk. Other than that, you could seriously be ostracized. ;o) I even dilute tea for my child and put in his sippy! I figure diluted, its less sugar than soda or juice, and HE LOVES IT! :o) Tea in the southeastern US is pretty much like the house wine. Its everywhere. And if you are me, you will enjoy a GOOD glass of tea MORE than you enjoy a glass of wine.

It Is What It Is said...

We love iced tea here and were humming right along with our tried and true recipe (which uses the Lipton Cold Brew bags) and still are. However, I discovered McDonald's Sweet Tea (AKA Mickey D's Sweet Tea) two summers ago and it was single handedly responsible for a 2.2# weight gain last week (ok, it actually shared billing with a near nightly Skinnygirl margarita, but I digress). Their sweet tea clocks in at 280 calories!

Katie said...

Oh, Hollie, I KNOW. I am afraid all of my southern readership has now disowned me!

I have also frequented certain establishments because of their tea. And I do love the perfect glass of iced tea even more than a glass of wine! Well, most days, anyway - LOL!

Rebecca said...

I grew up in Canada, and "iced tea" there means the lipton instant tea. And it is so, so good! My mom would make it for us as a treat, and I would drink as much as she would let me and savor every sip. When I was 11, we moved from Canada to Arkansas, and the most difficult adjustment was the tea. In Canada, you couldn't just order iced tea at a restaurant, so I was amazed that "iced tea" was on the menus. But I was not happy to get glass of unsweetened tea instead of my instant stuff. We would go back to Canada and complain to people how their iced tea was just COLD TEA-- that's how much iced tea = lipton instant to us :)

After living in the South for years, I did learn to love good sweet tea, though. Extra, extra sweet :)

Katie said...

Ah, Rebecca. Another instant tea lover! Now I don't feel so very alone!

Anyway, I am glad I am not the only one and also glad that you like sweet tea, too. You'd like my recipe, then (with the amount of sugar that I use!). It's a bit. . . smoother, perhaps?, than the Lipton instant, but when you add some lemon to it, wowza!

Mel said...

McD's and Chickfila do a good version of sweet tea. I NEVER allow myself tea when not pregnant because if it isn't laden with 100 extra calories of sweetness, it simply isn't worth it. And I do NOT do artificial sweetners, I think they are worse than the real deal.

But right now? You could probably tap in to my veins and find sweet tea flowing like crazy in there. I cannot stop myself at 39 weeks pregnant and in TEXAS JULY. (seriously, we've had a run of 100+ degree temps for at least 2 weeks now)