Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sweet Tea

These days, I enjoy a cool glass of Sweet Tea whenever I can. My new interest in sweet tea has coincided with my recent interest in the South (the Southeastern US).

Charleston Tea Plantation
No region of the US is more "English" than the South. Americans in the South emigrated from England, Scotland, and Ireland, where they were farmers. They continued their farming profession in the South, growing cotton, tobacco, tea, and the like. These immigrants were used to drinking tea, but it was too hot in the South to drink hot tea. So, they cooled the tea and drink. Hence, iced tea (or sweet tea). I'm hoping to make several trips to the South this year. I got things kicked off with an impromptu trip to Charleston, South Carolina. More about the South in another blog.

For most of my life, I have been a tea lover. Only recently did I get interested in coffee (decaf only). Now, I'm back to tea. Here in LA, we are privileged to drink coffee and tea at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I'm also very swayed by logos and names of products. So, one day, a few months ago, I stopped by my local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and noticed an iced tea called "Pacific Coast." This name reminded me of my July 4th trip to Oregon, where I drove up the Oregon Coast (the most spectacular part of the Pacific Coast is in Oregon, trust me). Coffee Bean Pacific Coast tea is similar to Earl Grey, but it's less strong and has a slight roasted flavor. I can imagine no better tea to drink when watching the waves in the Pacific on an overcast day in Oregon. I drank so much Pacific Coast tea that I decided to buy a box and make Iced Tea at home.

Sweet tea is easy to make. However, there a few details that can drastically change your tea tasting experience. One pouch of Pacific Coast tea makes 64 oz of tea. First I boil the water in a large pot. When the pot boils, I add a pouch of tea. Now, how long you steep the tea is the key to the taste. More steeping leads to darker, stronger tea with more caffeine. The instructions say to steep for 5 minutes. I did this the first time I got a tea that was too strong for my taste. In my most recent pot of tea, I steeped for 2 minutes. This tea tastes good, but I think next time I'll try 2:30 of steeping.

The next step is to add your sugar. It's important to add your sugar when the tea is boiling so the sugar dissolves well. I used raw sugar and like the taste. Refined sugar could also be used to get a smoother taste (I won't judge you). I suppose honey could also be used, although I'm not sure I like the taste or smell of boiling honey. My first pot of sweet tea wasn't sweet enough, my latest batch is really close - maybe a tad bit more sugar.

The next question is what temperature to serve the tea at. I refrigerate the tea after it cools down. The next day, when I'm ready to have a glass, I cut 1-2 slices of lemon and put into a nice glass. I then pour my tea in and leave it out to warm a little. If the tea is too cold, then, like any cold drink, you won't get the full taste of the tea. When I'm ready to drink the tea, I add 2 ice cubes to cool it down. Whenever I see iced tea served, the glass has ice. So, I add ice. I've been doing some research into whether there is a difference between cooling a drink via the refrigerator or via ice. I'm not sure there's a difference. Ice will melt and dilute the drink, which may be good or bad depending on what you're looking for. Back to the lemon - I like the lemon for the citrus taste and to lighten the color of the tea. However, you forgo the lemon and get more of a tea flavor. If you're going to do that, then you need to be extra careful not to over steep the tea as the lemon won't be there to mask this taste.

So where do I go from here? I will experiment with mint and honey. Down the line, I may try peach, raspberry, and other fruit.

So the next time you visit me, there will be a nice, cool glass of sweet tea waiting for you.
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