- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Martha Stewart kept a few bottles of it on the defense table during her trial in federal court in New York. Ben Affleck drank it during an interview with Playboy. Teenagers gulp it down from large bottles with trippy graphics. And ladies who lunch sip it from crystal glasses with a slice of lemon.

Yes, we’re talking about iced tea, the unofficial drink of summer. Well, not quite unofficial. June, believe it or not, is national iced-tea month.

Around the country, iced tea is all the rage. According to Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association of the USA, Americans spent $2 billion on ready-to-drink iced tea last year, 10 times more than we spent in 1990. Just about every supermarket, convenience store and restaurant has some version of it. And dozens of new flavors are introduced by bottlers, large and small, every year.

It’s easy to understand why America has gone iced-tea crazy. With a more health-conscious reputation than carbonated soft drinks, flavors that range from green-tea exotic to sweet-tea familiar, and claims of benefits including cancer prevention to increased life expectancy, tea is the beverage trend du jour.

You don’t need to buy a bottle to be a part of the iced-tea craze. You can brew up a batch at home at a fraction of the cost and with less effort than it takes to carry a case of Snapple from Costco to your refrigerator.

Whatever flavor you’re making, the routine is basically the same: Boil water. Add tea bags (or loose tea, if you’re a major aficionado). Remove tea bags or strain the leaves. Add flavorings. Pour over ice. Garnish. Serve. The kind of tea you choose and the flavorings you add to it are what ultimately determine the flavor of your iced tea, and in both categories, the sky’s the limit.

Even a modestly stocked supermarket will probably have black, green, decaffeinated and herbal teas. A gourmet shop will have an even wider assortment. And if you’re up for buying your tea on the Web, you’ll find thousands of varieties to choose from.

As for flavorings: Juice, honey, sugar, syrup, fruit puree, extracts, spices and herbs all work beautifully. The real fun comes when you start combining flavors. As Miriam Novalle, owner of New York’s chic T Salon, puts it, “Imagination is the number one thing.”

For inspiration, you probably won’t have to look far. Teahouses, coffee bars and bagel shops around the country are serving some wildly imaginative blends. At T Salon, you’ll find drinks as varied as tea smoothies and iced mint chai. At music sensation Moby’s hip little teahouse, Teany, on New York’s Lower East Side, there’s iced tea with names such as hibiscus grape and vanilla berry cream, and five different Teany coolers made from various kinds of blended tea and juice.

Nationwide, Einstein Bros. Bagels serves spontaneiTea iced green tea with fruit and ginseng, and Starbucks offers Tazoberry, an iced black tea with apple and red raspberry flavors, served with or without cream.

Even bars have gotten into the iced-tea act. At Miami Beach celebrity hangout Bond St. Lounge, green-tea martinis are still all the rage, as they have been for the past few years. Owner Jonathan Morr calls them “the new cosmopolitan.”

In all its forms, alcoholic and nonalcoholic, classic and complicated, sweet and spicy, there’s nothing that makes a tall glass of iced tea look better than an unusual little garnish. So, when you’re mixing up a batch, don’t settle for the standard lemon wedge.

As Tony Abou Ganim, a Las-Vegas-based beverage specialist, suggests: “Think mint sprigs, cinnamon sticks, apple slices, blood orange wheels, red currants. … Have fun.”

Now slip on that bikini, fire up the barbecue and you’re in business. It’s summertime.

Mint chai

This recipe was adapted from T Salon, New York City.

2 cups brewed mint tea (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground dry ginger

teaspoon whole black peppercorns

teaspoon whole white peppercorns

teaspoon dried lemon grass

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Fresh mint for garnish, optional

Combine brewed tea, cardamom, cloves, ginger, black peppercorns, white peppercorns, lemon grass and vanilla. Strain over two glasses filled to the top with ice. Garnish with mint, if desired. Makes 2 servings.

MINT TEA:

2 cups water

2 tea bags of mint tea

Boil water, then pour over tea bags and let steep 4 minutes. Remove tea bags.

Green-tea martini

This recipe was adapted from the Bond St. Lounge in Miami Beach.

1 ounce brewed and cold green tea (recipe follows)

2 ounces Absolut citron vodka

1 ounce triple sec

Superfine sugar for dusting glass rim, optional

1 lime or lemon twist

Combine tea, vodka and triple sec in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake martini well, and strain it into martini glass with a rim that has been dusted with superfine sugar, if desired. Garnish with a lime or lemon twist. Serves 1.

GREEN TEA:

1 cup water

1 tea bag of green tea

Boil water, then pour over tea bags and let steep 4 minutes. Remove tea bags. Refrigerate until cold. Makes 8 ounces.

Sparkling strawberry tea

This recipe is from “Iced Tea” by Fred Thompson (Harvard Common Press).

1 10-ounce package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed

3 family-size tea bags

cup granulated sugar

1 6-ounce can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

Fresh mint sprigs, optional

2 1-liter bottles sparkling water, chilled

Sliced fresh strawberries for garnish

In a blender or food processor, process the thawed strawberries until smooth. Set aside.

Bring 6 cups water to a gentle boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add tea bags, cover and remove from the heat. Let steep 10 minutes.

Remove tea bags without squeezing them. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Stir in the limeade concentrate and strawberry puree. Pour tea into a 2-quart container, and add mint sprigs, if desired. Let cool. Remove mint, then chill.

When ready to serve, pour the tea mixture into a punch bowl large enough to handle the tea plus the sparkling water.

Slowly add the sparkling water. Serve over ice. If desired, add sliced strawberries to the punch bowl of each glass for garnish. Makes about 1 gallon.

Makes 12 regular servings or 24 punch-cup servings.

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