Summer’s here and nothing quenches like a properly prepared glass of iced tea. Taking a cue from progressive-minded bartenders at top restaurants, who are concocting artisanal cocktails featuring fresh juices, herbs, syrups, unique alcohols, and intricate garnishes, tea lovers can follow suit and be creative with cold tea-based beverage making. Here’s a rundown of what I have been brewing and tasting. Think of these beverages as iced tea evolved to a higher level.
First, the basics:
1. Start with filtered or bottled water.
2. Choose a container with a tight-fitting lid and leak-proof pouring.
3. Use whole premium leaf teas without skimping on quality. Start with 2.5 grams of tea to each 6 ounces of water. Stir the leaves into the water, cover the container, place in the refrigerator, and steep overnight.
4. The next day, decant the liquid and discard the spent leaves (or better yet, sprinkle them on your vegetable garden).
I used two different teas, courtesy of Peli Teas, as the basis for my tea-based beverage making: Ti Quan Yin oolong and Keemun black tea. As a way of complexing the flavor profile of the drink and adding a bit of requisite sweetness to round out the Keemun, I crafted a many-spiced syrup as follows:
1. Bring 3 ounces of water and 3 ounces of granulated sugar to the boil with 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 two-inch piece of fresh ginger root, 12 cardamom pods, and 1 star anise.
2. Boil until the sugar dissolves.
3. Remove from the heat and infuse for an hour or so.
4. Pour the syrup through a fine sieve and store the syrup in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Reserve in the refrigerator. It will keep for at least a week. Enough to flavor at least six tall servings of any chilled tea-based drink.
With farmer’s market produce only a few minutes drive from home, I found it hard to resist the exquisitely fragrant deep red-fleshed watermelons, which are perfect to use as the basis for an Oolong Cooler. With its components ready to go, it takes only a few seconds to go from blender to glass to patio for some hot weather relief.
1. Peel a small watermelon (Sugar Baby variety is what I used here) and cut up the flesh into ½-inch cubes. Place in a container, cover, and freeze until solid.
2. For each serving, combine 6 ounces of cold brewed tea with 3 ounces of frozen watermelon in a blender. (It pays to freeze some extra cubed watermelon; if well covered, it will keep in the freezer for at least a week without diminishing the flavor.)
3. Add ½ ounce of agave syrup, widely available at health food stores (or another sweetener of your choice, such as honey or Lyle’s golden syrup) and a generous pinch of sea salt and whirl until smooth. Blend again.
4. Pour into iced glasses. To add some textural counterpoint, you may wish to top the drink with a few cubes of frozen watermelon. Serve immediately.
Peach Blossom Freeze
With the Keemun black, which had a beguiling fruity delicacy, I concocted a Peach Blossom Freeze as follows: In a blender, whirl 3 ounces of peeled, dead-ripe fragrant fresh peach (previously frozen until hard) with 6 ounces of brewed well-chilled tea. Sweeten with 1 ounce of the many-spiced syrup and garnish the drink, if desired, with a slice of peeled peach.
Golfer’s Tee (or should it be Tea?)
1. Brew the tea using 2.5 grams of tea leaves per 6 ounces of water. Pour the tea into a wide flat container and freeze. (Depending on how shallow the container is and how well the freezer works, it may take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours for the tea to freeze).
2. Scrape the frozen tea with a fork and return the scraped tea “granita” to the freezer.
3. Mix 1.5 ounces of freshly squeezed lemon juice with 1.5 ounces of granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
4. Spoon the “granita” into chilled “low ball” glasses and pour the lemon syrup over it.
5. Add a sprig of crushed fresh rosemary or mint and serve immediately. Sit back and wait for the applause.