How to Make Perfect Iced Tea

Robert M. Peacock/Here's a summer homework assignment, in honor of National Iced Tea Month. (Don't panic, there's no sentence diagramming necessary.) Brew some iced tea, and carry it outside. Plop yourself down--preferably in a hammock--put your feet up, and slowly sip. Repeat all summer long. Iced tea begs one thing: that we slow down--waaaay down--and enjoy sweet, simple summer pleasures. Yahoo! Shine spoke to Denise Gee, author of Southern Cocktails, Porch Parties, and the forthcoming Sweet on Texas to learn the secrets of brewing a perfect glass of iced tea and having a perfectly sweet summer.

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There's a saying below the Mason-Dixon line: "Sweet tea is the house wine of the South," says Gee. Expect unsweetened ice tea and prepare to be disappointed: "It's like you're a vegan at a barbecue restaurant," quips Gee. Despite regional traditions, dyed-in-the-wool Southerners and Yankee tea-drinkers alike are increasingly aware of their health and the consequences of downing several glasses of sugary drinks. One solution: going halfsies. In the South, diner waitresses walk among patrons carrying pitchers of both sweetened and unsweetened tea, pouring glasses that are "half and half." To please everyone at home, consider making your tea unsweetened and serving with superfine sugar or simple syrup. Each tea-drinker can then sweeten to her liking.

For some, not just any old tea will do. "You've got people who believe sweet tea should only be made with orange pekoe. It's a form of black tea but it's a little bit milder," explains Gee. "I'm a devotee of just black tea. It tends to not get bitter when it steeps." As for instant, if it's real deal iced tea you're after, don't even go there. "It's like instant grits. Just don't do it," she warns.

Most iced tea recipes will advise making an extra-strong tea concentrate, adding tea bags to a relatively small amount of water, then after its steeped and cooled, adding additional cold water. Why the two-step method? It's really just one of practicality: a smaller batch of liquid is easier to handle and pour than a gallon of boiling water.

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When it comes to steeping, many tea-makers tend to think more is more. "A lot of people think the longer they steep the tea the better the flavor [but] the biggest reason tea gets bitter is because you've over-steeped it," explains Gee. Fifteen to twenty minutes is all you need according to Gee, and some recipes lean even more cautiously toward the ten minute mark.

"After you let it steep, that's when you squeeze the living daylights out of those bags," says Gee. Squeezing the tea bags ekes out every drop of flavor. Helpful hint: If you're not using the large family-sized tea bags, always tie the tea bags together. It makes it much easier to fish them out and squeeze them all at once.

"The ultimate insult is to go into any restaurant and be served a cloudy glass of bitter tea," says Gee. "That's just wrong." To prevent cloudy tea at home, let your tea concentrate cool before adding additional cold water. If you're still ending up with cloudy tea, there's a chance you could have mineral-rich hard water. Serious tea makers might consider investing in a water softener or making their tea with distilled water to avoid the cloudiness.

Once your tea has cooled, refrigerate it in a glass container, preferably with an airtight lid. Plastic can impart a "chew toy" flavor detectable to super tasters ("I can always tell if tea has been kept in plastic," says Gee), and a lid will keep the tea from absorbing other flavors from your fridge. "You don't want your tea to taste like leftover chicken enchiladas," she warns.

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You can always spot an old-school Southerner in a crowd of iced tea drinkers. says Gee. Just look for slices of lemon, still perched on the glass rim. "A lot of Southerners don't like lemon in their tea because they think it's too acidic and too bitter," explains Gee. Lemon can add a tart zip to iced tea, but you may prefer a mint garnish. Experiment with both and see which finishing touch pleases your taste buds most.

This recipe for sweet tea is sweet but "not so sweet that you think your teeth are gonna fall out," Gee says. To make it unsweetened, simply skip the sugar.

from Sweet on Texas
Makes 2 1/2 quarts

10 cups water
2 family-size or 8 regular black tea bags
3/4 cup sugar

Garnish: Fresh mint leaves (optional)

Boil 3 cups of water, then add the tea bags; continue boiling for 1 minute. Cover and set aside to steep for about 15 minutes.

Remove and discard the tea bags. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

Pour the tea mixture into a 1-gallon container, then add the remaining 7 cups water. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve garnished with a mint leaf. Store in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

"I love to add flavored syrups to tea," says Gee. For a special touch, these are some of her favorites.

developed exclusively for Yahoo! Shine
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon fresh lemon, orange or lime juice
Pinch of baking soda (see Note)

In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, combine raspberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 cup water. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups cold water, desired citrus juice and baking soda. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat to lowest setting. Let simmer for 15 minutes, skimming off any foam that forms on top.

Pour syrup through through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter; set aside pan. Use a spoon to crush fruit pieces to further release their juice.

Add strained raspberry mixture and 1 1/2 cups sugar to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar completely dissolves. Bring liquid to a boil and cook for 2 minutes until syrup is slightly thickened. Remove syrup from heat and let completely cool. Pour syrup into an airtight container and refrigerate it for up 2 to 3 weeks.

Note: Just a hint of baking soda will help preserve the fruit's vibrant color.

from Porch Parties
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a medium sauce-pan. Heat to a boil while stirring. Reduce the heat and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Add 12 to 14 fresh mint sprigs, set aside, and let cool. Pour the syrup through the fine-mesh strainer fitted into a funnel into a clean container and store in the refrigerator indefinitely.

from Porch Parties
Makes about 1 1/4 cups

Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water with 1/4 cup peeled and chopped ginger in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil while stirring. Reduce the heat and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until the syrup has reduced by one-fourth. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the syrup through a small fine-mesh strainer fitted into a funnel into a clean container and store in the refrigerator for several months.