Fresh ideas brew for tasty ice teas

Beverage: Flavored drinks have cool appeal when it comes to quenching hot-season thirsts.

June 23, 1999|By Kathy Casey | Kathy Casey,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

What is the perfect summer quencher? America agrees, it's a cooling and refreshing tall glass of ice tea.

Commercial ice teas are hitting it big across the country and have become one of the hippest segments in the beverage category. There are some sticky-sweet, flavored, bottled ice teas such as an artificial-tasting peach and a raspberry-lemon concoction that reminds me of Kool-Aid. Then there are some pretty clean and refreshing un-sweetened bottled teas.

With all the availability and popularity of exotic teas and flavored bottled ice tea creations, I thought it was time I created some that you can whip up at home. For example, try my version of Ice Green Tea infused with fresh lemon grass and ginger. You can even give it an interesting garnish of a lemon grass stir stick.

Also on the cool side is iced chai -- a black tea spiced with a blend of cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger and star anise. Though the traditional Indian way is to brew it with milk, it is excellent served iced.

In that same spicy realm, I love Thai ice tea but haven't had the opportunity to enjoy it very often. So now I've started making it at home. To demystify the recipe, just boil 6 cups of water, add Thai ice tea leaves (available at Asian markets -- follow package directions) -- and let steep, then strain. After it has cooled, serve it over ice with the secret ingredient of sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes when I feel like splurging, I add a little spiced rum.

Some of these recipes are especially appealing in the summer for those with abundant herb gardens. For example, the Rosemary-Lemon Herb Sun Tea looks pretty perched out in the sun to brew with tea bags of Lemon Zinger, slices of fresh lemon and big sprigs of rosemary, mint and other fragrant herbs such as tart lemon balm, all floating together to allow their flavors to mingle.

The Peach-Infused Ice Tea With Mint Syrup was inspired by my many work trips to Georgia in the past year. In the South, when you ask for tea (you get it iced unless you ask for hot), it always comes sweetened -- and boy, is it! So in honor of the Southern sweetened tea custom, I created a peach-infused Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling is considered by some to be the champagne of teas. It mingles perfectly with fragrant, juicy peaches. Serve this tea over ice with a small pitcher of homemade, fresh-mint-infused syrup, so you can sweeten it to your heart's desire.

In the recipe for Fizzy Raspberry Citrus Ice Tea, Constant Comment Orange Spice Tea is used along with sliced fresh lemon and orange, and fresh or frozen raspberries swirled in with a splash of soda water for a bit of refreshing fizz.

As for punches, while looking through a lot of old cookbooks, I kept seeing a recipe for an appealing Ice Tea Punch. So I took the idea and swirled it around and came up with Spiked Southern Ice Tea Punch. A perfect summer's eve or afternoon quencher -- brewed black tea, brown sugar, fresh mint, lemon, orange and pineapple juices floated with clove-studded oranges slices and spiked with Jack Daniels. If you wanted to be decorative, you could make a pretty ice mold with edible flowers and mint in it. Or stud a couple of washed oranges with some cloves, freeze, then float them in the punch along with the ice cubes to keep it cold. You could even place individual mint leaves or tiny edible flowers such as Johnny-jump-ups in each individual ice cube before freezing.

Nah, I'll take mine on straight ice cubes and very tall.

Ice Green Tea With Lemon Grass and Ginger

Makes 4 cups

1 (1-inch) piece peeled ginger root

1 stalk fresh lemon grass

2 green tea bags

1/4 cup honey

4 cups boiling water

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

ice cubes

Cut ginger piece into 4 slices.

Cut dry ends off lemon-grass stalk and peel off outer layer of stalk and discard. Cut top half off lemon grass and save for swizzle sticks. (Wrap in damp paper towel and refrigerate until needed.) Split remaining end of lemon grass and cut into 4 pieces, bruising it a bit.

Place ginger, split lemon grass, tea bags and honey in heat-proof container or bowl. Pour boiling water over. Let steep and cool to room temperature. Remove tea bags. Stir in lemon juice. Chill until ready to serve. Serve in tall glasses over lots of ice with reserved lemon-grass stir sticks.

Spiked Southern Ice Tea Punch

Makes 7 cups

1 orange

20 whole cloves

4 very large, fresh mint sprigs

2 Lipton or other black tea bags

3 cups boiling water

1 cup ice water

1 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup Jack Daniel's or bourbon

ice cubes

Stud orange with the whole cloves, then cut orange into 3 slices. Place in heat-proof pitcher or bowl along with mint sprigs and tea bags.

Add boiling water and let steep 10 minutes.

Remove tea bags. Add ice water and orange, lemon and pineapple juices. Stir in brown sugar. Chill.

When ready to serve, stir in whiskey. Serve in glasses filled with ice.

Note: For more spiked version, let guests add a little more bourbon to each individual drink.

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