There’s nothing like a tall, cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. And since we endure many of those hot days, the drink has particular renown in the Valley.
It’s easy to buy a pre-made bottle at the corner store, but homemade iced tea, if done right, can bring something special to the picnic table this Memorial Day weekend.
David DeCandia, tea buyer for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores, said fresh, filtered water is the first "must" in making a perfect pitcher of iced tea.
"A cup of tea is 97 percent water, so if you use bad water, you’re going to have bad iced tea," DeCandia said.
The percentage of water to tea is equally important — 1 level teaspoon of tea for every 8 ounces of water is the preferred ratio, but if you find that’s too strong for your taste, it can always be diluted with more water after steeping.
Tea bags, which typically contain about 1 teaspoon of product, can be used, as can loose tea held in a tea infuser that has enough room for leaves to expand (prolific iced tea makers can look for a plastic pitcher, sold at some Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations, which has a reservoir inside to store the leaves).
Though it’s tempting to take advantage of our near-constant sun and brew iced tea outside, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Tea Association discourage the practice because it provides a breeding ground for bacteria. The safer method, which DeCandia prefers, is to make hot tea the traditional way — steeping it for about five minutes in water that’s heated to at least 170 degrees — and then letting it cool to room temperature before pouring over a pitcher full of ice. Never use re-boiled water because "you strip it of the minerals, and that’s essential in a good cup of tea," said DeCandia, who also recommends the ice be made from filtered water.
In terms of what flavor of tea to use when making iced tea, most all teas — except those that are very delicate, like white tea — will work. DeCandia, a selfdescribed "tea purist," likes to use black teas from China and oolong teas.
"I prefer the nonflavored teas. What they bring to the cup offers a lot more than flavored teas," DeCandia said.
But for the more adventurous iced tea drinker, the sky’s the limit. Steve Smith, founder of Tazo tea company, said to think outside the box when making iced tea at home.
"You’d be surprised how tasty teas that you might not think about icing (can) be," Smith said. "Like a chamomile, which is very light — it’s really quite an interesting experience."
Smith also experiments with the drink by combining varied tea bags in the brew and adding fruit juices and spices. His latest concoction is a mix of green tea, ginger, avocado, chopped serrano chilies and ice, thrown into a blender.
"It really is quite amazing," he said.