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Perfect Iced Tea

Fine Cooking Issue 52
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Growing up in the South, I learned that the ritual of making “ice” tea (there was no such thing as “iced” tea in North Carolina) was an honored one. I discovered early on that I could be a summertime hero by mastering the process of combining those simple-looking tea bags with water to make an intense, homemade brew.  

Hot tea and iced tea are not the same. Many people make iced tea the same way they do hot tea. This method fails to acknowledge that hot and cold temperatures create entirely different flavors. Cold dampens flavor, so it’s imperative to brew iced tea to a stronger level than you would hot tea.  

I prefer to make a concentrate of tea using a couple of cups of water and six tea bags. After steeping this mixture, I add six cups of cold water. Making a concentrate results in a more flavorful final product and lets you control the strength of the tea. You can adjust the flavor as you add more water.  

To maximize flavor, my method uses more tea bags and a longer steeping time—15 minutes—than what most tea companies suggest. I’m careful not to let the tea bags sit in the water too long, though, as tea—like wine—has tannins, and oversteeping allows these tannins to come to the fore and cause bitterness. If you want to make a stronger brew, add more tea bags instead of lengthening the steeping time. For a weaker tea, however, shorten the steeping time by a couple of minutes, but keep the number of tea bags the same.


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