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Although I’m not usually a sweetened-and-flavored-tea kind of guy, in summer I break for fruity iced teas when the source of the flavors resides at my local farmers markets where organic seasonal fruits are practically overwhelming the stalls’ tables.
Nothing synthetic or artificial enters the tea when you make your own fruit syrups. Start with the fruits in season whose perfume reaches your nose even from a distance. Aroma here equals flavor so stone fruits and melons qualify, earning a place in syrups that underline but not erase the flavors of the tea itself. Keeping in mind that anything served over ice tends to be diluted a bit, be sure that the flavor of both the tea and the syrup sing out loud and clear. I like to have a few fruit syrups on hand in the refrigerator (they last three or four days), to add at will to some plain, brewed, chilled tea. When the mood strikes, I can then decant an inch or two of the syrup into a tall glass, add the tea to within an inch or so of the top of the glass, stir, and pop in however much ice will fill the glass. With that, I’m ready to brave the heat.
The kind of fruit is up to you, but know that the sugar syrup that is being flavored should be made from equal parts sugar and water by weight.
- Bring the sugar and water to a boil so that the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Then, off the heat, add in the cut-up fruit. Let the mixture cool.
- Refrigerate it in a tightly-covered container at least overnight.
- Check the syrup’s fruitiness the next day, and if it seems right, sieve out the fruit, draining it well to maximize how much fruity flavor winds up in the syrup. (Save the drained fruit in the refrigerator to serve with a dollop of good plain yogurt spooned over it.)
As a rule of thumb, a pound of fruit should flavor a quart of simple syrup well. It’s up to you to determine how much fruity syrup to use, but in general, 8 ounces will sweeten and flavor about a quart of strongly-brewed tea (remembering that the liquid will inevitably be somewhat diluted in flavor with the addition of ice). Be aware that the fruit syrups may cloud your tea. However, in my view, what you gain in flavor more than makes up for the loss of clarity in the liquid.
- Before adding to the syrup, melons (honeydew, cantaloupe, and all of their flavorful and aromatic offshoots) should be peeled and seeded before cutting up and adding to the syrup (for a melon syrup, I like to complex its flavor by adding in some freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste).
- Peaches, too, should be peeled.
- Plums, apricots, nectarines, and their hybrid varieties need only to be pitted and cut into wedges and then added to the syrup without further preparation.
- A nice floral twist on this idea could include the addition of some dried hibiscus flowers to the hot syrup (an ounce or so should suffice) to add tartness and color to the syrup.
- I find that berries lose their fragrance when treated in this way, so instead I tend to enjoy them fresh, lightly sugared, dolloped with whipped cream, and with a crunch of roughly-broken gingersnaps or buttery shortbread. Then enjoy the fruity iced tea as a refreshing counterpoint.
My seasonal mantra: Keep calm, cool and collected all summer long, and drink the fruity iced tea.