It’s that time of year again, the hottest part of summer. (Although admittedly not nearly as hot as it usually is, thank you Jesus!)
My true southern roots show through when I tell you, my absolute favorite beverage on a hot day (or anytime if I’m being honest) is hands down sweetened iced tea.
My favorite “restaurant” sweet iced tea is from McAlister’s deli. That is my go-to place when I am out and about running errands, getting in and out of my hot car, and in dire need of a refreshing beverage. But sweet iced tea is also a drink of choice, not only for myself, but my husband and sons as well, therefore, it’s a drink we have on hand on a daily basis.
So over the past decade my husband and I have been married, I have researched and experimented, through trial and error, how to make the perfect iced tea. Now my husband and 5 year-old tell me I make the best tea. Personally, I don’t think I’ve yet reached perfection, as I doesn’t taste exactly like McAlister’s, but I’m not too modest to admit I have come pretty dang close.
If you are looking to create or improve upon your own recipe, here are the best discoveries I’ve made in my own journey to the perfect iced tea:
- The secret ingredient. Black tea is naturally bitter. One key ingredient to combat the bitterness is … baking soda. Yep, you read that right. Baking soda neutralizes black tea’s bitterness. FIRST before you add anything else to your pitcher, throw in a teaspoon of baking soda.
- Water temp. Believe it or not, the temperature of your water does make a difference in taste. Ideally you want water that is not only hot, but that has just reached a full boil. And don’t let it boil too long either.
- Seep time. If you go by the directions on most boxes of tea bags, it tells you to seep for five minutes. I have found that this is far from long enough to achieve perfect strength. Double it. Obviously the longer you let the tea bags seep the stronger the flavor. I typically seep my tea bags for 8-10 minutes. Anything past 20 minutes though you may as well throw it out and start over because you’ve ruined the tea. Even a full cup of sugar will not salvage the taste.
- Jostle your bags. I know this seems silly, but it actually does make a difference. Tea bags have a tendency to float. If you simply pour in your boiling water and walk away the tea won’t seep thoroughly before you remove the bags. Halfway through seeping pull on the strings in an up and down motion a few times. Or if you have the kind of bags without strings then jostle with a long spoon. (And next time you’re at the store do yourself a favor and get the kind with strings 😉
- RESIST THE URGE TO SQUEEZE! I typed this in all caps for a reason, in my opinion it’s the most important tip of all. It blows my mind how common practice it is to squeeze all the liquid out of the bags. If you look up “how to make iced tea” on google or youtube, more often than not, the instructions will tell you to squeeze the bags upon removal. SMH. (sigh) … As stated before, black tea is naturally bitter, so unless you prefer all that bitterness in your tea, I highly recommend skipping the squeeze! Simply pull up on the strings, allow most the water to drain, then toss the bags with all their own bitterness right into the garbage. This step alone could make all the difference in your tea.
- Fresh is best. Do you drink coffee you brewed days ago? Then why drink tea that is days old? Tea tastes best if consumed within 24 hours of brewing. My husband will still drink tea if it’s older, but if it’s been 48 hours I throw it out because … yuk. Also, in case you didn’t know, tea gets sweeter with age. This may sound like a good thing at first but if you make your tea just as sweet as you like it then two days later it may taste sickly sweet. Again, yuk.
Bonus tip: This isn’t really a tip so much as a suggestion based on the fact everyone has a different preference on sweetness. As my favorite artist, Bob Ross, would say about using paint thiner, “You can always add more, but it’s a son of a gun to take it away.” The same applies to sugar. I like my tea slightly sweeter than my husband. So I make a pitcher with less sugar then add a pinch to my own glass. This way everyone is happy. You can’t fix over-sweetened tea… especially by adding water.
Hopefully these tips will help you create the perfect southern tasty drink! Enjoy!
P.S. if you grow spearmint like I do, throw some in your glass!