Friday, May 20, 2005

Tea For All

There are many ways to drink tea. Anyone who drinks it tends to have a strong opinion as to how it should be drunk. Some drink it hot, some drink it cold (I hope none drink it in the pot nine days old), but enough! I bring the topic to the table of cold black tea -- or iced tea, as it is called for whatever reason. (Herbal tea and it's variations is a whole other world -- I only enjoy that hot, and only certain kinds, so I won't discuss that today.)

Growing up in New Jersey, iced tea was mostly out of the can: powdered, sweet Lipton mixed with water in a great pitcher, and drunk in huge quantities until my mom realized we were rolling on a caffine/sugar induce high, and we switched to Kool-aid (not sure how much better that was). Once or twice I remember making "sun-tea", because we saw the "recipe" for it in a children's magazine and it looked like a fun project. However, this was not presweetened -- it takes sugar forever to dissolve in lukewarm water, and there was no instant gratification, so...back to the Kool-aid.

Upon moving to upstate New York, I discovered another kind of tea. I believe it was actually in Pennsylvania, at Greg's grandma's house. I was offered some iced tea, and thought, "oh, that'll be different, I almost never drink that!", and accepted a glass. On the first huge mouthful, shock hit me and I nearly spit it back into my cup. Bitter!! Uggghh! Who forgot to sweeten it? I quickly shoveled a few spoonfuls of sugar in and tried, unsuccessfully to stir the granules into the cold liquid. A few crunchy (still bitter) swallows later, I noticed that everyone else was drinking their tea with great enjoyment -- without anything added. OHMYGOSH. Some people drink it unsweetened! Some of you are laughing, but I'm serious. I had no idea!

Upon moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, I discovered the perfect tea: Chick-Fil-A's sweet tea. I have never had a tea more perfectly balanced, or more enjoyable to drink. Nothing like the powdered stuff back in New Jersey, and certainly nothing like the bitter cup I'd had in PA! Now, I still have never had what would be qualified as Homemade Southern Sweet Tea, but I now have friends from the South who are going out to lunch with me next week to a Soul Food restaurant that they claim has "proper" southern tea -- properly sweet, I assume, so I'll report on that when I try it.

There is one more difference (that I know of) in tea: sun-brewed tea vs. boil-brewed tea. With sun-tea, of course, it is brewed all day in a juice jar or bottle out in the sun. Boil-brewed is when you put about 10-12 tea bags into a half gallon or so of water, bring it to a boil on the stove, let boil for about 10 minutes, then steep for maybe 5, before pouring into a jug that has sugar in it, and then adding cold water and ice to it (and often fresh lemon). Now really with the boil method, there are more ways to do that exactly than there are people to drink it, it seems, but you get the point.

I made boil-brewed a little while ago and just made sun-tea yesterday, so I've had opportunity to taste the two nearly side-by-side. Interestingly enough, I found a huge difference in taste. They are both good. The sun tea has a mild, round flavor that reminds one of...well, something that's been sun-warmed. Boil-brewed is deep and dark, tea leaves floating through the bottom of the glass because of the nearly violent method with which it is made. I prefer boil-brewed, but both are enjoyable in their own right.

Now to you, my reader, I pose the question: what is the Right way to make and drink iced tea? Why?

(As an endnote, I have noticed that I drink a glass of iced tea faster than any other liquid. My dad says the same thing. Anyone else?)

(Second end-note: since I am so susceptible to caffeine, I make my tea with decaf bags. It does, however, have about 2% caffeine still in it, so I can't drink much after about 5pm or else I'll be up all night -- true story.)


Captain said...

You should try Pennsylvania Dutch iced tea if you ever have the chance. it is very different from any other tea i have ever had. You can actually make it as two separate liquids - one tea and one sweetener - and mix them together per your preference.

Well, as you can imagine, i consider sun tea to be the right way to make iced tea - being raised on the stuff. i think, on a chemical level, sun tea is different than boil-brewed tea. Obviously the temps are vastly different, but sunlight can cause some reactions that heat alone cannot. i have no idea if there is any real difference, just speculating. i see sun tea as drinking a little bit of liquid sunshine. Maybe it absorbs some Vitamin D - probably not. Either way, drinking sun tea makes me feel good. Maybe that's because of what's in it, or maybe it just reminds me of home.

susie/mom/a.susie said...

as you can tell from captain's comments, i always made sun-tea as opposed to boil-brewed tea when they were growing up. so i can understand his preference...probably partly taste and partly sun-brewed. as to my OWN preference, i don't know where that came from. maybe just b/c i was kind of a health food freak when my kids were younger and i understood that was a healthier method of making cold tea.

as to the chemical differences, from what i understand there are indeed some. sun-tea doesn't activate as much bitterness OR caffeine. and maybe it does soak up vitamin D. that's entirely possible.

my favorite tea in all the world is sun-brewed tea made with, and only with, red rose teabags. red rose tea develops a deep, luscious tea flavor without crossing the line into bitterness. if you have fresh mint growing anywhere around, be sure to drop in a large sprig. let it brew at least a half of a nice sunny day, fill a brilliantly clean, clear glass with fresh, not old, ice cubes, pour the suntea over it and you are prittin' er' close to heaven! (that's my attempt at...i don't know what kind of talk!)
adding a few celestial seasoning's blackberry tea to the jar is really yummy too, but not too much.

now...if you are into the southern sweet tea thing, or pa. dutch country, gary's absolutely swears by and will drink no other than clover farms "ICY TEA". it's VERY famous!

susie/mom/a.susie said...

added note: the only thing i drink faster than iced tea is iced water...but i'm a huge water lover.

secondly, i'm not sure what to say about the caffeine issue...just have to experiment.

i hope some more people answer this blog b/c i'm really interested!

Sarah Kil said...

I think the only time I had sun tea was at the Roselles' as a kid. I remember all the Kool-aid, too. :)

My Poppie (grandpa) and Uncle Mike used to make iced tea from some kind of mix and put it in glass orange juice bottles with the labels peeled off. The tea was dark and pretty sweet; we went through tons of it in the summers. For some reason I liked the shape of the bottles(squarish, with a indentation to grip), and I feel comforted when I think of Poppie's iced tea.

I really haven't liked sweet drinks since I entered adulthood, so I rarely drink juices, etc. I drink unsweetened hot teas all the time. (I just had an orange spice white tea.) My hubby (DH :-)) doesn't like tea, but I plan to make many a cool pitcher for myself this summer.