Iced tea techniques produce cool sips of success


June 30, 1993|By ROB KASPER

It is hard for an old iced-tea maker to learn new temperatures. But I have switched from hot to cold.

Instead of making tea with boiling water -- as my grandmother, the great tea maker of our clan, taught me -- I now brew the tea with cold water.

The other night I tossed about 4 teaspoons of tea into a quart of cold water. I used a ceramic teapot, and I let the liquid sit for three hours. The tea was smooth, full of flavor, with none of the bite that hot brewed tea often has.

Moreover, this tea did not melt all the ice cubes the way my old hot tea method used to. When I poured the strained, cool tea into a glass filled with ice cubes, the ice cubes held their shape.

The kind of iced tea I learned to make as a kid -- hot tea flavored with lemon and sugar -- used to wipe out ice cubes. This was in the days before there was a powerful ice cube maker in every refrigerator. Back then ice cubes were made in trays, and by suppertime there were usually only two trays of ice cubes sitting in the small freezer compartment of the fridge. This first tray was supposed to cool the hot tea down to a drinkable temperature.

The next tray of ice cubes went into the glasses. They were supposed to make the tea iced. If they melted, there were no replacements. Instead of iced tea, what you got was tepid tea.

However, with the cold-brewed tea the only way to get tepid tea is if you get impatient and pour the tea before it has fully brewed.

That happened the other night. After letting the tea steep for two hours I was thirsty. I poured some in a glass filled with ice cubes. It was OK, but too weak.

I waited another hour and the wait was worth it. This time the tea was darker and had more body. Then I began tinkering with the tea.

I added some lemon juice and sugar. The lemon helped, but the sugar had a hard time dissolving.

A year or so ago a reader called and gave me her secret recipe for iced tea. I scrawled the recipe down, and lost it. I remember it had orange juice in it. So in an attempt to come up with this lost tea, I added a little orange juice to my cold-brewed tea. A shot of orange juice made the glass of iced tea taste good. I figured more juice would make the tea taste even better. I figured wrong. The juice overwhelmed the tea.

So it is back to the teapot, a ceramic pot. Making tea in metal or plastic gives the tea an off-taste. I guess I could use a big glass jar. But in our house the teapot was the only glass or ceramic vessel I could find that was big enough to do the job and was not cracked.

My mother makes tea in a large glass jar that she fills with water and tea and sets out in the backyard of my parents' house. But she only began using that big glass jar after my three brothers and I grew up. When we were kids, a glass jar filled with water and tea would not have lasted more than three innings of a backyard baseball game.

Before I made cold-brewed tea at home, I had tasted it at a couple of spots around town.

In South Baltimore, Jerry Railey made an excellent cold-brewed iced tea that he sold at his family's Bar-B-Q Pit in Cross Street Market. It is the kind of tea, Railey said, he grew up drinking in Elm City, N.C. The tea was made by tossing leaves in cold water, letting the liquid sit overnight then sifting out the leaves and serving. Sugar and lemon were added after the brewing was finished.

A few miles north at Stone Mill Bakery cafe in Greenspring Station in Brooklandville I had another glass of cold-brewed iced tea. Proprietor Billy Himmelrich, who grew up drinking iced tea made with Lipton tea and flavored with orange juice, said the tea he sells in the cafe is made with cold water allowed to brew overnight.

While at the cafe I also drank iced tea in a can, and liked it.

This is a change of habit for this old iced tea drinker. Until now I hated canned iced tea. I thought it tasted, at best, like sugar, and at worst like metal.

But these cans of iced tea actually tasted liked tea. The cans were big, tall, cost about $1 and were decorated with Southwestern colors. They were labeled Arizona Iced Tea.

It turns out that the tea did not come from Arizona. Leslie Footlick of Bond Distributing Company, who handles the Arizona Iced Tea in the Baltimore area, said the tea was canned at the G. Heileman Brewing Co. plant in Baltimore. The same plant that makes National Premium beer also turns out Arizona Iced tea. No wonder I liked it. It may be nonalcoholic, but this iced tea is distantly related to a beer.

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