For those of you who haven’t heard by now, a tea concoction popular in southern states of the U.S. is “sweet tea.” And that has sparked a debate among tea drinkers over whether tea should be served iced and sweetened or not. This debate heats up as the weather does. Some avid tea drinkers don’t go much for iced tea or chilled tea, claiming that the flavor of delicate teas (such as most white teas) gets distorted or lost altogether when they are cold. Some also find the version of cold tea called “Sweet Tea” to be a set-your-teeth-on-edge mouthful of syrupy, cloying sweetness. Time to take a closer look at the issues.
Basically, to make sweet tea you steep up the tea all nice and hot, dump in a bunch of sugar, and either add ice or chill in the refrigerator. Recipes for sweet tea can be as closely guarded as that recipe for grandma’s amazing casserole or melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake. Sweet tea can seem overly sticky to folks who have weaned themselves off of a lot of sugary foods and beverages. Even a dozen lemon slices, several sprigs of mint, a cupful of raspberries, etc., cannot usually temper that sweetness to a tolerable level.
Making sweet tea (click on each photo to see details about it):
Sweet tea has a legion of dedicated drinkers, many of whom won’t even touch hot tea. Restaurants compete for customers in the Summer based on the reputation of their sweet tea, with newspapers publishing stories about where to get the best version. That brings up health concerns, whether you’re a woman who wonders about the effects on your pregnancy or you’re someone worried about weight gain and diabetes. Tons of sugar in a pitcher of sweet tea can make it just as potentially troubling as sugary colas, depending in large part on your rate of consumption.
Quite frankly, it’s easy to avoid adding a ton of sugar to tea. Start with the right tea, such as one specially blended to be served iced or chilled. They tend not to be bitter, which is the main reason people sweeten their tea. Teas with fruits added in are also good possibilities, since the fruits have their own natural sweetness (from the fructose, a type of sugar). Some fruits are sweeter than others, though, so choose carefully.
If you still want a bit more of that sweet “oomph” to your iced tea, try alternate items such as honey, agave nectar, and the man-made stuff. Tupelo honey has a rich, buttery sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm the tea flavor, making it a popular choice.
You can always opt for teas with other flavorings added in rather than sweeteners. Spices that you might enjoy in a hot tea can sometimes also work when the tea is served cold. Herbals are another option, especially ones made with fruits.
Of course, if you are sticking to your sweet iced tea conviction, bear in mind that sweet cold things only make you feel cooler short-term. Plus, the sugar activates your digestive system and starts to actually make you feel warmer as you start digesting. Whatever your preference, tea is a great alternative to sodas for satisfying your thirst.
“Sweet Tea” aka “Brown Kool-Aid”
Some “sweet teas” taste like a five-pound bag of sugar is added in. Combined with the fruit taste (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, etc.) makes for a taste akin to “brown Kool-Aid.”
Kool-Aid was something many of you probably drank a lot of when you were one of those little “rug rats” (or “crumb crunchers”) running around outside and then rushing inside to get a cool beverage. The fruit flavor suited those kiddie tastebuds, and the sugar would hit the bloodstream and recharge for more running around in the yard.
A typical “sweet tea” recipe:
“Tea, Please…and Hold the Ice!”
Iced tea poses a problem: dilution. As ice cubes melt in your glass on a hot day, they can water down your tea, weakening it to the point where it’s barely more than water. That can cause many tea drinkers to say “Tea, please…and hold the ice!” But there are solutions.
Some people make ice cubes from tea. Clever! And one of those things that as soon as you hear or read it you say, “Of course!” It seems so obvious. And so easy to do. Just steep up the tea, fill your cube trays, and pop them in the freezer (some folks advise letting the tea cool to room temperature first – your choice here). Then, when they’re nice and frozen, steep up more of the same tea (or if you want to get a bit funky, use a different tea and mix things up a bit), and add the tea-flavored ice cubes in. They will melt and blend in with the other tea.
Many tea drinkers stick to hot tea no matter what the season (just as others stick with their iced tea even in the most frigid of weather). There is a real difference in the tea’s flavor when the temperature of the liquid changes. Even a small drop from piping hot will alter things. Actually, a slightly cooled tea is best since it will be able to sit on your tongue a little so you can more fully appreciate the various flavors. Tea is not a beverage that should be swilled, especially if you want to experience those flavors and their attendant aromas. Chugging a bottled tea that has been chilled or a tall glass of iced tea will certainly quench your thirst but have little real tea flavor in it.
Whether you stick with hot tea or go for that iced tea (with those tea-flavored cubes of ice), enjoy the flavors and have a great Summer!
Some popular flavorings for iced tea:
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