1 family-size tea bag (Luzianne, if you can get it)
1 quart fresh, cool water
1/2 cup sugar (or more, to taste)
1 additional quart fresh, cool water
Bring 1 quart of water to boil and pour over tea bag in a 2-quart Pyrex measuring bowl (these things are great: they’re a heat-tempered glass “mixing bowl” with a handle and a pouring spout).
Steep tea for 3-5 minutes.
Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
Add additional 1 quart of water and stir.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve over ice, with fresh lemon wedges (and in the summer, sprigs of mint).
Other brands of tea can be used, but Luzianne (made in New Orleans) is the best. Some great tea makers insist on using loose-leaf orange pekoe tea, rather than the more convenient tea bags. This is surely the best way to go, just as surely as fresh-ground coffee beans make better coffee. Convenience, though, is sometimes worth a slight trade-off in flavor.
For variety, Constant Comment, a delightfully spiced tea by Bigelow that is usually drunk hot, also makes excellent iced tea. You’ll have to experiment with how many tea bags to use to get the strength of flavor that you prefer.
Starting with fresh, clean water is essential to good tea. Don’t re-boil the water that’s been sitting at the bottom of that aluminum tea kettle on the stove for several days. Use fresh tap water, at the very least, and for even better results, use bottled spring water from the grocery store.
There’s really no need to steep tea longer than 3-5 minutes; it just gets bitter. If you want stronger tea, use more tea bags.
On the amount of sugar, tastes vary. Most Southerners like their tea pretty sweet. About 1/2 cup of sugar is a starting point, but feel free to use more if you like. Put it right in there and stir it up as soon as the tea has steeped, while the tea is still very hot and before adding the second quart of water.
Fresh lemon juice can be added, if desired, before the tea is chilled.
Learn to avoid tea that is (1) stale and cloudy, (2) too weak, or (3) bitter.
Make tea long enough before meal time so that it has time to cool down at least to room temperature. It’s even better to chill it in the refrigerator before pouring it over the ice in your glasses. Nobody wants to have hot tea poured over his ice cubes, which melt immediately, water down the tea, and leave little ice remnants floating at the top of a glass of still-warm tea. Iced tea should be drunk out of glasses full of good, healthy ice cubes that have a decent life expectancy.
The man who knows more about tea than any other person of my acquaintance is Ed Brand. A frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, the land of tea plantations, Ed is one serious kind of a tea guy. Drives his wife, Pat, crazy!
Food-writer John Egerton says that tea “was strictly a hot drink in the United States until sometime after 1850, when an unsung hero discovered how good it tasted with ice.”
Iced tea tastes best out of Mason jars. It really does. On the odd occasion when that’s not possible, at least use glasses that have some heft to them. Leave the dainty stuff in the china cabinet. Don’t ever serve or attempt to drink iced tea out of a glass that has one of those spindly little stems on the bottom of it.
It is a wonderful fact that really good tea can now be bought ready-to-drink. I really like a brand called Milo’s that is available in grocery stores throughout the Deep South (they started in Birmingham, Alabama). And if you live near a McAlister’s Deli, you are lucky — they sell their amazing tea in gallon jugs “to go”!
Is it “iced tea” or “ice tea”? Technically, “ice water” is water that is the run-off from melting ice, so “ice tea” might be a tea somehow made from ice. I don’t know. The fact that Southerners enjoy debating such things is probably an indication that, unemployed as we are, we have too much time on our hands.