One of my favorite parts of summer is sitting down after a long day with a good book and a cold glass of iced tea. Sweetened or unsweetened, iced tea is not only a refreshing drink for a hot day, but it also has a variety of health benefits and is much better for you than soda.
Tea leaves come from the Camellia sinensis plant, of which there are three varieties: China, India (or Assam), and a hybrid of the two. The more commonly known differentiations, white, green, oolong, and black, actually refer to the way the leaves are processed after they have been harvested.
Drying tea leaves. Photo by Shazari/ Courtesy Flickr
• White tea is the least processed kind of tea and thus has the lowest amounts of caffeine and the highest antioxidants. Because these leaves are not allowed to oxidize they have a very mild and subtle taste.
• Green tea is the next lowest in caffeine and is also high in antioxidants. The leaves are either steamed or pan-fried to stop the oxidation process, and often have grassy or floral tastes.
• Oolong teas generally run the spectrum between green and black teas. They are partially oxidized which gives them a slightly stronger, smooth taste.
• Black tea is the highest in caffeine, and still has some antioxidant properties, although fewer than the others. Because the tea leaves are fully oxidized they generate a very rich and robust flavor.
Many of the most popular types of tea today are actually blends of the various kinds of tea. These blends include common names Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Irish Breakfast.
There are also several kinds of tea that aren’t actually tea at all. Rooibos, sometimes called red tea, is actually made from the herb Aspalathus linearis. However, it has quickly gained popularity for its unique taste and lack of caffeine. Herbal teas such as peppermint are also not true teas but infusions. Yet they can still be similarly brewed and often have their own set of health benefits.
Brewing your own iced tea is quite easy. You should begin by making hot tea (either a cup or a pot) and adding twice the amount of tea that you would usually use. Although this will make the tea very strong, it will be diluted by the ice. Fill a glass with ice and after the tea has steeped, pour the hot tea into the glass. You can sweeten the tea with sugar or add other flavors such as a wedge of lemon or a sprig of fresh mint.
A glass of tea is refreshing. Photo by TheBittenWord/ Courtesy Flickr
You can also make sun-brewed iced tea, although it will take several hours before it is ready to drink. Begin by filling a container with 4 cups water and 6 teaspoons of tea (or 6 teabags). Cover or cap the container and place it in direct sunlight for two to four hours depending on how strong you like your tea. Strain the tea (or remove the tea bags) and serve over ice.
Don’t worry if the tea comes out looking a little cloudy (this is most common with black teas). The cloudiness if caused by tannins in the tea. If you want to reduce the cloudiness, use a tea with fewer tannins in it.
There are lots of companies which sell organic and fair trade teas. Some of the most common brands include Choice organic teas, Numi organic teas, Stash organic teas, Republic of Tea organics and Teavana. While you can make iced tea with almost any tea, some kinds lend themselves much better to it than others. My favorites for a cool summer treat include Choice’s green Moroccan Mint tea and Mango Ceylon, and Teavana’s South African Rooibos. If you are looking for something a little less sweet and a whole lot spicier, Teavana’s White Ayurvedic Chai hits the spot. Although this tea unfortunately isn’t organic, it is a part of Teavana’s EquaTrade program which donates money to help the communities where the tea is grown.
Buying organic tea isn’t the only way you can green up your kitchen. Tea leaves make great compost material. For even less waste, buy loose leaves rather than tea bags. This not only eliminates packaging waste, but loose leaves also have a better taste and quality. Place the loose leaves in a reusable tea ball, tea strainer, tea basket, or tea infuser.
By putting your iced tea in a reusable thermos you can take it with you and have a cold drink at work or on the road. Not only is this easier on your wallet than a run to Starbucks, but it also eliminates the waste of a plastic cup.
So, when I get home from work today, the first thing I’m going to do is put the kettle on and then settle back with my latest summer read, a nice cold glass in my hand. Bottoms up!