Summer’s here, which presents some tantalizing options for tea drinkers in general and iced tea lovers in particular. It’s a fun time to throw caution to the wind and mix up some fresh ideas in the glass. As each crop of stone fruit, berries, and melons appears on my farmers’ market shelves, I am drawn to creating fruity syrups as the base for some terrific iced beverages. It’s also time to think deeply about sourcing some new teas that might not be regulars in your tea cupboard and pairing them with the flavors of summer fruit. Keemun and cantaloupe are great partners as are peaches and Darjeeling. Malty Assams marry particularly well with dark purple-fleshed plums.
For the best results, cold-brewed tea should be the starting point, so plan at least a day in advance and mix up a batch of leaves and good-quality water. Depending on the tea and your taste, plan on using about one-half ounce of tea leaves for each quart of water. After you taste the resulting brew, you can always adjust the amounts the next time. Set the leaves-water mixture in the refrigerator, well covered, for at least 24 hours and then decant. Now make a few syrups from whatever fresh farmers’ market fruit looks and smells great. Be sure to taste before you buy. Looks can be deceiving. Your nose will tell you more. The syrups keep well refrigerated and covered. I like to store mine in Mason jars.
Yields approximately 1-1/2 c. syrup
1 lb. pitted fruit, such as apricots (Robada and Blenheim are names to look for); peaches (the white-fleshed donut peach variety is particularly fragrant and delicious); plums (Santa Rosa or a deep purple-fleshed variety would be tops); nectarines (white or deep yellow-fleshed varieties can be delicious – the new Mango Nectarine with its deep orange-yellow flesh is a variety to seek out, with www.melissas.com being a good source for these now); or melons (such as Charentais or orange honeydew)
1 c. (about 7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 c. (8 ounces) water
Fresh lemon juice, as needed (optional)
Vanilla extract, as needed if desired (optional)
Bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring a few times at the beginning of the process, being sure that all of the sugar has fully dissolved. Add the fruit and simmer until the fruit is tender. Remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 minutes. Now carefully ladle the mixture into a fine-meshed sieve set over a bowl and allow the liquid to drain into the bowl. Add lemon juice to taste, if you wish, and / or pure vanilla extract. The liquid is what you will be using as the syrup for the tea-based drinks. Reserve the fruit for a compote, a great topping over ice cream, sorbet, or your morning yogurt, or as an accompaniment to grilled poultry or pork.
Depending on how sweet you like your iced tea, use more or less of the syrup to flavor it. And if you’re really ready to party, why not make a fruity tea-based sangria by placing some of the cooked fruits in the bottom of a tall glass and then pour in the chilled, cold-brewed tea and your favorite light red or even rosé wine. Add the fruit syrup to taste, top with a bit of sparkling water to dilute, stir, and enjoy!