It’s time to kick off the iced tea season! Summer has officially arrived. But why does this ubiquitous drink have to be so predictable and often just one-note? My antidote to bland iced tea is here. It’s here where glorious summery seasonal fruits and our beloved leaf become entwined. I propose making a bunch of fruit syrups—peach, plum, nectarine, apricot (the Blenheim variety which is fleetingly and limitedly available), and melon.

Find the ripest locally-grown fruit at your farmers market. Fruits should give off a heavenly scent—no aroma, no taste. Don’t refrigerate them when you take them home, but be ready to capture their full personality in a simple-syrup-making session or two. Lay in the resulting syrups placed into sterilized glass jars with tight-fitting lids in the back of your refrigerator and luxuriate knowing you have a secret stash to flavor your favorite tea. Darjeelings are sublime with peach syrup. Black smoky teas tend to be wonderful with plum syrup. Nectarines are great with iced Assam tea. Apricots in a syrup would lift a chilled oolong. And honeydew or gold-fleshed varieties of melon in a syrup would grace a glass of iced white tea any day. 

Brew the tea any way you normally would—adding a bit of boiling water to the brewed tea if it tends to cloud when chilled. Pour a scant inch of syrup into the bottom of 2-inch-diameter, tall glasses. Carefully pour the cold tea into the glass without disturbing the syrup at the bottom and top off with a few ice cubes. Supply a tall spoon to your guests (don’t forget yourself) and stir just before imbibing. Aah. 

Here’s how to make the fruit syrups which will reflect the terroir of your locality. (We southern Californians are spoiled with untold and ever-changing varieties of all of the stone fruits with lush Charentais, Ogen, and Ambrosia melons and green- and golden-fleshed honeydews. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit you are using, the amount of sugar you use will vary. Tart fruits can take as much as 25 percent of the weight of the peeled and pitted fruit (if you don’t have a digital scale, buy one now—it will reward you with reliable, consistent results when you bake). Syrups made from sweeter fruits might contain only 10-15 percent sugar when compared to the weight of fruit. The method is simple. 

  • Cut the pitted fruit into chunks.
  • Place in a heavy saucepan and add the desired amount of sugar.
  • Cook at a simmer until the fruit starts to break down and exude its juice.
  • Continue cooking just to the boil, stirring constantly. Let cool.
  • Pour the mixture into a fine meshed sieve placed over a heatproof bowl.
  • Let stand undisturbed until liquid portion of the mixture has drained into the bowl below.
  • Taste the syrup and add lime or lemon juice to your liking.

By all means, save the fruit solids separately (refrigerated when cooled) to serve over yogurt or ice cream. Place the resulting liquids into glass jars with tight fitting lids. Store refrigerated for a week. Enjoy!

Photo “tall glass of cool tea” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Tomasz Stasiuk and is being posted unaltered (source)

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