In the dog days of summer, few things are more refreshing than a glass of iced tea. Although National Iced Tea Day is June 10, Friday, Aug. 21, is National Sweet Tea Day. If you know anything about me, you know I’m never one to pass up a food holiday.
Popular lore traces iced tea’s popularity to the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exhibition World Fair. There’s are lots of other treats attributed to that fair including hamburgers, ice cream cones, banana splits, cotton candy and peanut butter. But in truth, iced tea has been on the menu since the 1870s.
What made iced tea novel wasn’t the tea but the ice, which was quite the luxury back then.
Iced tea has the same health benefits as hot tea, mainly being incredibly rich in polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant. These wonderful nutrients hunt for cell-damaging free radicals in the body and detoxify them. This reduces the risk of heart disease, and possibly helps prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Friday’s holiday celebrates sweet tea. Traditionally, sweet tea is tea that’s brewed very strong with a large amount of sugar added. The mixture of sugar and tea is served over ice. The amount of sugar may offset some of the health benefits of tea mentioned above, so please modify this recipe if that’s a concern for you.
With all that said, it kills me to see people buying premade iced tea at premium prices. Made at home, even if you use high quality tea and purchased spring water, it’s still very inexpensive at less than $1 per gallon. Come on, people! It’s just water and tea bags. We can do this.
A bit of advice: When your tea is finished brewing don’t squeeze the tea bags. Doing so compromises the flavor of your tea. Tea leaves contain tannins, naturally occurring compounds with a bitter, astringent taste. When you squeeze, you’re releasing the water where the tannins are most concentrated into your tea. In traditional Southern iced tea, a pinch of baking soda is added to offset any bitterness. It works.
So, let’s raise a glass and celebrate because everything is made better with a little sweet tea and grace.
TRADITIONAL SWEET TEA
Yield: 1 gallon
What you’ll need:
1 gallon water
6 to 8 individual black tea bags
1 cup granulated sugar
Pinch baking soda
Fresh mint leaves or lemon slices (optional)
Fill a gallon-sized pitcher with good water. If you don’t have a gallon pitcher you can repurpose a gallon-sized plastic water jug. Pour about one third of the water into a saucepan and heat to a rolling boil on the stove. Once it’s boiling, remove from heat and add the tea bags. Let this steep for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. I leave mine for 7 minutes and I think that’s the Goldilocks spot — not too strong, not too weak, but just right.
Remove tea bags but do not squeeze them. Just let them drip a little and discard.
Add the sugar while the water is very hot and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
Confession: I only add ½ cup of sugar and my family still loves me and my tea. Add a pinch of baking soda to offset any bitterness in the tea.
Let this cool to room temperature and pour it back into the pitcher with the remaining water. Just be sure you don’t pour hot water into a plastic jug.
To serve, pour the sweet tea into ice-filled glasses. Add a sprig of mint or a lemon slice, if desired. The sweet tea will keep refrigerated for about a week.
More tea tips
Your tea will only be as good as the water you use. Unless you absolutely love your tap water, use filtered water or purchase drinking water to make the best tea.
For variety, you can use different kinds of tea. There are so many available, but any herbal tea with fruit is a family favorite.
Mix equal parts lemonade and sweet tea to make Arnold Palmers.
Do you like your tea cold but not diluted? Make ice cubes out of iced tea. Extra points for adding pieces of lemon to the cubes.
Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at firstname.lastname@example.org.