New versions of old drink add ice and then some

TEA TIME

August 15, 1993|By Maureen Sajbel | Maureen Sajbel,Contributing Writer

While tea drinking is a nearly 5,000-year-old pleasure that began in China, sipping ice tea is a fairly recent American invention.

The story goes that on a hot, humid day in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair, a discouraged vendor wasn't having much success in selling Indian hot tea. With a scratch of the head and a burst of American inventiveness, he added ice. Within hours, fair-goers were drinking glass after glass of the thirst-quenching iced drink.

As a matter of record, the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water is tea. After all, 1 billion-plus Chinese can't be wrong. In the United States, however, we continue to follow in the footsteps of that inventive vendor: The almost 35 billion glasses of ice tea consumed last year accounted for an astounding 70 to 80 percent of all the tea consumed in America. The predisposition to drinking chilled beverages makes ours the only country in the world where ice tea outweighs hot tea consumption.

Overall tea sales surged in 1991 because of -- ice tea. The introduction of ready-to-drink (r-t-d) teas, which are bottled or canned, is credited with rising sales. Made by companies including Lipton, Tetley, Nestea, Snapple and Ozka, these teas, which eliminate all the fuss of brewing and waiting, come in flavored, sweetened and diet versions. Big ad campaigns and billboards featuring sports stars, fashion models and comedians have paid off. In just two years, r-t-d teas have grown from obscurity to an $84.8 million business, according to the Tea Council of the U.S.A.

The industry, as one might expect, is thrilled down to its saucers.

"The ready-to-drink teas bode well for the industry," says Joseph Simrany, executive director of the Tea Council. "They appeal to the segment of the market that wants convenience. As new r-t-d tea drinkers acquire a taste for tea, they're likely to experiment with other forms, like gourmet teas."

For the first time ever, tea sales in grocery stores and restaurants have topped the $1 billion mark, according to industry statistics. In 1992, ice tea sales alone in grocery stores and restaurants were figured to be about $1.28 billion.

Besides convenience and flavor, health considerations play a role in tea's increasing popularity. This all-natural beverage is viewed as a healthier choice than soft drinks because it's virtually calorie-free, non-carbonated and contains no artificial additives or colors. The most health-conscious consumers can choose from a large number of herbal blends and decaffeinated varieties on health food store shelves.

"Tea is the wine of the '90s," says Bill Rosenzweig, a partner in the Republic of Tea, a San Francisco company that markets natural gourmet teas through department stores and by catalog. Mr. Rosenzweig and partners Mel and Patricia Ziegler (who were the entrepreneurs behind the innovative Banana Republic clothing store chain) believe people are ready for tea because of the country's shift in values and emphasis on healthy living.

Many of the company's teas, like ginger peach and mango, work well for ice tea, as do those of another California company, Paradise Tropical Tea. Paradise is sold in upscale grocery stores and has come out with such flavors as passion fruit, mango, papaya and kiwi.

Ice tea lovers, however, don't have to confine themselves to bottled or pre-mixed teas when he wants something a little different. Many variations can be concocted at home using ordinary grocery store fruit juices, fruit and spices.

Once the tea is brewed and chilled, there are many ways to dress it up:

* Use flavored ice cubes that change the flavor of the tea as they melt down. Cube recipes from the Republic of Tea are below.

* Citrus, cranberry, fruit-flavored and herbal ice teas can be made from the recipes below. Their advantage over the commercially bottled teas is that you control the amount of sweetness. The cranberry sun tea coolers have almost no sweetness, so sugar may be added to taste.

* Chill iced-tea glasses, then dip rims in lemon juice, then in sugar, to get a cool-looking frosted glass with a margarita-like ring of sugar.

* A mild but pretty children's party tea can be made by using equal parts of decaffeinated herbal ice tea and apple juice. Add apple and orange slices and chill for an hour to let the fruit flavors develop. Add ice before serving.

Mint ice cubes

Makes 2 trays or 24 cubes

4 cups water

1 cup sugar

24 mint leaves

Boil water and sugar 5 minutes and cool. Press each mint leaf between fingers to release essence and place 1 in each compartment of ice cube trays. Pour sugar-water mixture over each leaf and freeze. Use cubes in regular or mint-flavor teas. Tea will become sweeter and more mint-flavored as cubes melt.

Fruity ice cubes

Makes 2 trays or 24 cubes

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups pineapple juice

1 cup orange juice

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