Now that we have a house with a pool and enough room for our guests to all sit down on their own chairs, we find that people are much happier to come over and visit, which we love. And I’ve been on a kick, ever since trying the plum-thyme iced tea, of making flavored iced teas when they come over. The great thing is that I can make some very quickly out of things I keep in abundance on my shelf, and it always feels more fun and summery and hospitable to be able to offer a fun drink than just plain water, and since I make the iced tea fresh each time, it means that I didn’t already drink it up before the company came.
Here’s a few ways to make your standard iced tea a little less standard:
1. Mixed bags
My favorite coffee shop, Linnea’s, in San Luis Obispo taught me this trick: don’t feel like you have to stick to just one kind of tea bag at a time! Try vanilla and blueberry, lemon and strawberry, or mint and ginger.
2. Sweeten it up
Instead of using honey or sugar, try some good quality jam. Or use a flavored simple syrup – vanilla is always delicious, but have you ever tried cucumber syrup in iced tea? Shockingly refreshing. Or blackberry or peach syrup? Or combining a splash of vanilla and a splash of peach? I don’t know if I can think of a simple syrup flavor that wouldn’t be tasty in iced tea. Well, maybe hazelnut. But other than that…
Add mint, thyme, lavender, rosemary, basil etc. leaves while the tea steeps to add interesting flavor; be careful steeping some of the stronger herbs like lavender and rosemary for too long, or their flavors will be the only ones you taste! Or use sprigs of fresh herbs for pretty garnish.
Along with the ice, toss in some frozen fruit chunks. This adds flavor and fancy to the glasses, and cools it off without diluting flavor.
5. Juice or Puree
Another way to sweeten is to add fruit puree – this is an easy thing to freeze into cubes and toss into the warm tea to melt and cool it off, or if you happened to have any jam batches that didn’t set properly and are too runny to spread, (not that I have had any experience with this…) you can stir them in your iced tea! Then there’s the old standby of adding lemonade to make an Arnold Palmer, or cranberry or pineapple juice to make, well, something good. Passion (hibiscus) tea mixed with lemonade is delicious – even better made at home than at Starbucks.
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Don’t be afraid to mix a few of these ideas in the same batch – my latest favorite has been to use 4 Lipton tea bags, 2 apricot tea bags, with vanilla syrup, frozen plum halves and plum puree. Its really flavorful, and not as sweet as it may sound, the great thing, of course, is that you can customize it exactly to your liking. More specific recipes to come, but until then, just play around with iced tea flavors, and figure out what you like one pitcher at a time.