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Chilling Out With Iced Tea

Iced teas are perched at the top of America's hit parade. Invented at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, iced tea is strictly an American institution. It was born here and we're drinking it like never before. In this health conscious, carbcounting age, drinking iced tea makes perfect sense. Medical studies indicate that tea contains antioxidants that may significantly lower the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Tea is also lower in caffeine than coffee, something a growing number of Americans consider important.

An 8-ounce cup of tea contains approximately 60% less caffeine than a typical cup of coffee. Most herbal teas don't contain caffeine.

If you're already on board the iced tea bandwagon, here are some insights to help you prosper in this boom market.

There are four main types of tea on the world market.

  • GREEN TEA—also known as China tea—is not fermented before it's dried. This allows the leaves to retain more of their natural taste, color and aroma. Green tea is typically not blended with other teas and served as a single variety.
  • BLACK TEA leaves are allowed to ferment in their own moisture for several hours before being lightly roasted and dried. The most popular type of tea in the Western world, black teas are rich in tannins and several varieties are frequently mixed together to create now famous blends. For example, English Breakfast tea is a blend of Sri Lanka and Assam (Indian) teas, while Irish Breakfast tea is a combination of various Indian teas.
  • OOLONG TEA, which is also referred to as red tea, is allowed to partially ferment prior to roasting and drying. Its color falls between green and black tea. Most oolong teas have delicate, fruity flavors and floral bouquets. It is occasionally blended with black tea for a more pronounced character.
  • HERBAL TEA, also known as infusions or tisanes, consist of the dried flowers and leaves of plants other than Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas can also be made using fresh flowers, herbs, seeds, roots and bark. Some herbal teas are flavored with fruit, or essential oils and various spices.

There are three methods of preparing great iced tea. The first entails brewing tea as usual, with the exception that it is prepared using twice as much loose tea or twice as many teabags. After the brewed tea has cooled, it can be served in a tall glass filled with ice. Depending on the type of tea used, the brew may turn cloudy when poured over ice. Although this won't affect its taste, some people don't care for the appearance. To clarify the tea, stir in a small amount of boiling water.

The second is the cold-water method, which involves using 11/2 times to twice the number of teabags as would usually be used for the volume of water. The tea is allowed to slowly steep in the cold water for six to eight hours. Once it has attained the desired strength, the teabags are removed and the tea is ready to drink.

The sun-tea method uses the same tea-to-water ratio as the cold-water method. Water and tea are placed in a loosely sealed glass jar and set out in the direct sunlight for up to four hours. The sunlight slowly brews the tea. Once brewed, teabags are removed.

Iced teas are often sweetened. Popular options include honey and brown sugar, as well as granulated sugar. A few healthy splashes of a flavored syrup adds a delightful twist to iced tea. While embellishing the drink with a lemon wedge or sprig of mint are quite appropriate, other creative options include oranges, nectarines, limes, apples, kiwis and peaches.

Robert Plotkin is the past president of the National Bar & Restaurant Association and author of numerous books including the 4th edition of The Bartender's Companion: The Original Guide to American Cocktails and Drinks. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].