Iced Tea

It’s been said that Dr. Pepper is the table wine of the South, but if that’s the case (and I’m not arguing against it) then iced tea would have to be the water.  Every meal is usually accompanied by a cold glass with its condensation building up and slowly dripping down to form a nice ring around the bottom.  If you’re coaster-less, a bit fidgety (like me) and find the conversation dragging, you can also use it to entertain yourself by creating interesting watery patterns on the glass or table.  There’s rarely a meal that goes by, especially when we’re out dining at a restaurant, that my companions and I won’t order a glass.  In fact, the bigger the glass the better.  I’d even be ok if you just set the pitcher down in the middle of the table so we don’t have to trouble anyone for refills.  Heck, just throw a straw in that thing.

I remember standing in Manhattan once having just ordered tea and being completely befuddled as to why someone handed me coffee.  I didn’t feel like fussing about it, but I did wonder what to do with this rather hot small cup.  It took me a long moment before my brain clicked in and said a few things: You’re north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Tea also comes in “hot”, too.  I think you forgot your overalls, Bethy Sue Bubba Jean.  I was later able to nearly duplicate this same experience by sitting in a restaurant in Greenwich Village and specifically asking for an iced tea.  Ok, it wasn’t exactly the same.  I got a look like I was trying their very soul with my request and eventually I got my iced tea. I still marveled that the refills weren’t coming.  I mean, surely there were pitchers of it lying around nearby like the restaurants at home, right?  No honey, you’re not in Texas anymore.  This was the early 90’s and that’s when I fortunately discovered Snapple and used it as my Northeastern tea substitute.  It was nothing like tea (at least the flavors weren’t back then when you were just a twinkle in your parent’s eye), but it also wasn’t like coffee, hot tea or soda; drinks I wasn’t interested in at the time.  No iced tea, but you have Snapple up here?  That’ll work.

Earlier this week a friend of mine took me to a new favorite restaurant – a nice little Cuban place that had received great reviews from the local paper.  We sat down and they handed us a menu – one menu.  The waiter apologized and explained there was only the one menu for the entire restaurant.  Since we were the only customers (clearly because we were ahead of the lunch crowd) we rolled with it.  When we opened it up we found the menu was hand-written.  No problem.  The writing was legible.  My co-worker apologized and explained that the last time he’d been to this place, they had several menus and they had in fact been printed.  We chose one of the nine items listed and that’s when our iced tea arrived.

The waiter sat down the pint glass and I literally just stared at it unable to speak for a long while.  I worked through my mental checklist: Did I order beer?  Specifically, did I order Bass? Am I still in my own city? Could I be on vacation?  When every question came back with “no”, I pulled the glass over to me to investigate the contents more closely.  The liquid was a lovely amber, there was no ice in it (thus, in my mind it couldn’t be tea) and the glass let on that the contents were room temperature.  I threw a straw in it and had a sip.  Mmmm nasty, but it definitely had its roots in tea – maybe a great grand leaf had once made a lovely tea and this was its idiot offspring, bless its heart – grand leaves these days, you just never know how they’re going to turn-out once they head down the wrong path.

My co-worker was appalled and offered to leave upon seeing my expression (sometimes I lose control of my face).  I decided we should stay, because this had the making of some sort of adventure (it turned out not to be). Plus, the food was what had earned the praise not the tea.  The food was actually fine if you had Tums and something to bludgeon the rice out of the hardened square shape (it was molded to look like the first step on a Mayan terrace – at least I’m pretending that was the artistic motivation behind that thing).  By the time we left, having still been the sole customers in the restaurant the entire hour we were there, our waiter had never come back by nor had my co-worker’s tea been refilled.  (I didn’t have that problem; it was gross. No need to refill my glass, thank you.)  We vowed never to come back and that was largely based on the bad “iced” tea experience.  You see here in the South and Texas, which is South-lite, iced tea is a fairly serious matter; it’s our water.  If you screw it up (like say, you don’t put ice in the “iced” tea or ever refill the glass) then it might kill your restaurant.  I’m not saying that’s why there were no customers, but I do have my suspicions.

9 thoughts on “Iced Tea

  1. I really enjoyed your post. Living in Scotland, especially at the moment with the biting cold wind and snow on the way the only way to drink tea is hot. I will confess I’ve never drank iced tea, but would love to know how you make it – is it just the same as making tea except you drink it cold or are there things that you add to make it a cold drink? Would love to know.

  2. Beth says:

    Thank you!

    I can only imagine how cold it must be. Here it’s about 55° F today, which is on the cold side for us. A typical day right now would be around 75ish, but it’s overcast and rainy (a very good thing since we’re in an extreme drought at the moment) During the winter, we will probably never dip much below 32° F and if it does, we’ll be able to count those days on one hand, but through it all we’ll still have iced tea on hand (or at least when dining out). Of course, below about 60, we’re breaking out the big coats and the heavy boots. It’s a fact that most Texans, myself included, would die in real cold.

    Iced tea is made exactly like you would make hot tea, although you’d typically only use something like orange pekoe tea. You’d usually steep about two bags (depending on taste) then you’d pour that into a gallon jar of cold water. Serve over a glass full of ice. I typically like a weaker tea since I’m not an overly huge fan of that bitter taste tea can sometimes have. You’d also squeeze in some lemon – one or two wedges and leave those wedges floating in your glass. I have seen some places offer up a hibiscus tea, which isn’t bitter at all and can be very refreshing (if you aren’t in desperate need of caffeine in that moment). Some people also use mint and I believe you just throw a sprig or two in to add flavor. A lot of southerners love sweet tea and if you’re ever in the states I’d use a little caution. It can be really good, but it may make your eyes cross – some people love to just dump cup after cup of sugar into the brew – enough that it leaves your teeth feeling like they’re wearing little fuzzy sweaters. If I’m in control of my own drink, I typically go for straight tea and then throw in a dash of their sweet tea – that seems to be the right sweet mix for me. When it’s warmer or when you can escape on holiday to a more temperate climate, you’ll have to give it a try and let me know what you think.

    Do you have any recommendations for a good hot tea?

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to fill me in on all of this. I’ll give it a go.

      For some reason coffee seems to be all the rage but I’m a loyal tea drinker. I have to say my favourite is Earl Grey (not Lady Grey – which is terrible). It’s quite perfumed but I love the fact that it tastes the way it smells ( quite often, especially with fruit tea they smell wonderful and then taste like hot water). I like Earl Grey with a little milk, but you could add sugar. But it must always be made in a teapot – it just tastes better.

      There is also another version of this which our family calls ‘Servants Tea’. It’s called this because it isn’t pure Earl Grey – you add one Earl Grey t bag and one ordinary t bag (hence as it’s not all made up of the good stuff it’s called servants tea – don’t know where this came, must ask my mum).

      I have to say my mother in law, on a cold day swears by a nip of brandy in her tea. She must know a thing or two she’s 94.

      Thanks for iced tea information – it’s very kind of you to take the time.

  3. Beth says:

    More iced tea info: There’s also sun tea where you fill your gallon jar with water and put your tea bags in then you set the jar in the sun until the tea turns to a lovely light brown. (More tea info than you ever wanted, I’m certain. 🙂 )

  4. Beth says:

    You’re very welcome and thank you for the information on hot tea as well. I’ll have to give the Earl Grey a try. Thankfully, I do have a tea pot. It’s this chubby piece of Denby pottery that sits on the stove never living up to its hot tea potential. Now I’ll have an excuse.

    Complete aside, because of one of your delightful posts I’ve decided that I’m going to make myself an actual Happy Box. I may try to enlist a couple of friends to do it as well. I think it’s such a wonderful idea.

  5. Aw how lovely thank you. Maybe you will do a post letting us peek into your happy box?

  6. wagnerowicz says:

    Up here you have to specifically order fresh brewed ice tea. If your server looks confused do not order it! Otherwise, god knows what you’ll end up with, probably Lipton or Snapple – yuck! We like it unsweetened. But being a NYer, I prefer my tea bitter and angry – like my personality i suppose. When i went to VA to see my aunt for her wedding, at her little shin-dig the night before they had only two beverage options aside from beer which was obviously for the menfolk: Sweet Tea or regular and you could tell the reg was made half-assed just for us yankees. My uncle-in-law does truly believe the south will rise again. My husband and I were the only ones who partook of the regular.

    Iced tea is only for summer and that’s when you want to be a rebel and switch it up from ice coffee. Hot tea is mostly for foreigners & tourists, people not from NY, medicinally and you then you have to be on your death bed or if for some horrific reason you ran out of coffee at home.

    • Beth says:

      I wish I were a coffee drinker. I love the smell, but the only way you can make it that I’ll drink it (unless it’s iced) is to load it up with so much other stuff that it looks more like milk with coffee flavoring. I did put a coffee machine on my wishlist for Christmas in an attempt to try it more and got an email the other day from my husband that basically read, “Did you know there’s a coffee machine on your wishlist? Who are you?” (well, that was the in between the lines rendition, but I’m thinking he won’t be getting me a coffee machine this year – I’m hoping one of the other relatives who don’t know me as well will be fooled so I can give it a whirl)

      True sweet tea makes me feel like my teeth are about to rot out. I’m pretty sure there’s some Dentist’s union down here that’s secretly behind promoting it in order to keep a healthy business going.

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