Isn't iced tea the perfect summertime drink? Actually, at our house, we like it so much that we pretty much drink it year 'round. It's easy to make, inexpensive, calorie free, and full of antioxidants. I make a couple of gallons a week around here.
However, when I serve people iced tea, they often comment, "This is good! What kind of tea is this?" or "How did you make this?" I didn't realize it was such a mystery to so many. Since I've been asked on numerous occasions, I figured it might be time for a little tutorial.
First of all, I use good old plain Lipton black tea bags. I buy them in bulk at Costco but you can find them at your regular grocery store. Nothing fancy, nothing gourmet. For one gallon of iced tea, I use 8 regular-size tea bags. I have an electric tea kettle, which I fill up and bring to boil two separate times, and that fills a gallon-sized jug. I place the tea bags in the pitcher (don't hang them over the side - just set them on the bottom) and pour the first pot full of boiling water over the tea bags. Then, I refill the tea kettle and bring it back to a boil, and add that boiling water to the tea already brewing. At that point, I set my timer for exactly 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, I remove the tea bags and cool the tea to room temperature before refrigerating. At this point, if you like "sweet tea" you can add sugar to your liking and stir to dissolve. But I prefer to leave my tea unsweetened and let people sweeten it to their own liking with a simple syrup. Rich likes it unsweetened with lemon, and Drew likes his heavily sweetened, so it's perfect. (By the way, if you have teenagers that like sweet drinks, sweetened iced tea is WAY WAY healthier than giving them soda, gatorade and the like, and not to mention so much cheaper.)
A simple syrup is the way to go to sweeten tea. If you pour sugar into cold tea, it doesn't really dissolve and sinks to the bottom of the glass. So, I make a batch of the syrup and keep it next to the tea in the refrigerator. It's ridiculously simple to make - just bring equal parts of water and granulated sugar (I use 3/4 cup each) to a boil in a small saucepan over the stove. Turn off the heat, and whisk a moment or two to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved, allow it to cool to room temperature, and pour into a serving bottle (an oil or vinegar type dispenser works well). Mine looks a little tan and murky because I use organic sugar. If that bugs you, go ahead and use the white stuff and the syrup will be light and clear.
Now, since I'm a caffeine-free type of gal, and the rest of the normal human race drinks caffeinated beverages, I brew the regular for them and make my own personal decaf jug of iced tea. I like to use Paradise decaf or Good Earth original, which is herbal. Paradise is expensive and (gasp) artificially flavored, so I don't usually have it too often (but BOY is it good.) Good Earth is very sweet, cinnamon-y and quite unique in taste - if you like it hot you should try it iced sometime. I will say that it's definitely an acquired taste. My boys HATE it and I mean that in the strongest sense of the word! Do you remember the Good Earth restaurant chain? Back in high school, my girlfriends and I used to go there, and would just sit there happily sipping their iced tea and chatting for hours. We would also occasionally order a cashew chicken sandwich or their 12 summer vegetable soup- oh how I miss that place (and Carol if you're reading this, remember all the times we went, and how sad we were when they closed down?). Another "recipe" I like for iced tea is decaf green tea bags and a handful of fresh mint. The mint gives the tea such a nice taste. I usually put in a few squirts of agave nectar after the tea bags and mint are removed (but while it's still hot). Anyways... in all my decaf recipes, I use the same amount of tea bags that I use for the original iced tea, but I tend to brew my decaf teas an extra 10 minutes, since they are a bit weaker in strength.
So there you have it. Perfect iced tea that is super easy to make. Happy summer sipping!