I ordered--okay, at this point, we can call this a tea habit--a lot of tea. I even ordered those UV containers for my tea. Short version; I have a lot of tea. It has its own shelf that is overflowing.
Current teas number at roughly forty-five types, both in sample amounts and in larger amounts. Current larger amounts of awesome are cherry, apricot, orange, irish breakfast, and yunnan jig. There is sizable rooibos population growing, with one representative of green tea.
Highly Recommended: cherry tea.
Highly Recommended Mix: two parts cherry to one part chocolate or chocolate chip tea. (There are chocolate pieces in the tea.)
This sounds like a dark hell of darkness; it is not. It's really good. Water should be just pre-boil or at boil for no more than a few seconds to avoid deoxygenation. Seep for no longer than four minutes (ideally, three and a half). Tea purists do not dilute their tea; I am not a tea purist, I'm just a tea drinker. If you go for the full four minutes, six parts tea to one part cold water, or five parts tea to one part cold water for this specific mix. I don't know why this works on this mix, but for me, it's ideal.
This one will require you to test by flavor; it took a few tries to get the balance just right. For some reason, the combination of cherry and chocolate brings out, for me, a super bitter undertaste and I like sugar, but not that much. The chocolate is also--weird. I really dislike the chocolate tea on its own, and it seeps strong, which is part of the reason for the dilution. But mixed with cherry, yeah, good. Next up will be a raspberry chocolate mix.
Somewhat Recommended Mix: one part chocolate chip tea to one part vanilla tea.
This is still being studied; I can tell eventually it will be good, but there's something about the chocolate teas that make them work against the black tea in a very nauseating way in the underflavor, even if the first taste is really good. Have tried one part milk to five parts tea and that didn't help at all, but added a new and really unsettling taste to it that seriously didn't work. Will advise when I get this one working.
Highly Recommended: orange tea
Highly Recommended: Central Market lychee tea. Do this one to boiling point, seep time three to five minutes.
Highly Recommended: Three parts Irish Breakfast to one part milk.
I don't like milk in my tea. However, this one seriously does it for me.
Highly Recommended: Three parts Darjeeling to one part milk.
Highly Recommended: rooibos ice tea.
Okay, the Rooibos ice tea is possibly my one big surprise. Very few teas on their own transfer to ice tea well. I'm a Southerner and ice tea is an art. I'm also a Texan, so ice tea is always an experiment.
Okay, here's the thing.
First of, you have to understand this. When you are south of the Mason-Dixon, the meaning of tea is different. For the purposes of this entry, I will refer to ice tea as 'ice tea', but in reality, when you say tea down here, the default assumption would be 'ice tea'. If you don't want it in a glass over ice, you'd better say "hot tea".
Ice tea is not like hot tea; there is an entirely different aesthetic involved that affects preparation, storage, and consumption. That's why you never see me order ice tea north of the Mason-Dixon. It's apples to oranges; while it can be good both places, the meaning of the tea is entirely different. There, it is a drink, one of many. Here, it is so much more.
Here, it is tea.
Ice tea is an all year staple that spans all the seasons, though the nadir is reached during the Barbecue Cook-Off Season, Chili Cook-Off Season, and Early Football Season (these seasons can overlap each other)(note: these all overlap with Fajita Season, which never ends; Tamale Season is more complicated and beyond the range of this entry). It's only equal is 'Beer' (domestic); however, there is a sizable purist minority who insist that beer created anywhere outside the Texas border is not domestic (exception: any beer made in Mexico is considered domestic). Those people refer to their beer by brand (example: :"Bring me a Shiner" for "Bring me a Beer"). Distant third is the 'Wine Cooler' (women between the ages of twenty-four and forty-five before graduating to 'Beer'). Fourth is 'Coke' (any dark carbonated beverage) or 'Sprite' (any light carbonated beverage). The latter two are exclusively consumed by a.) children under age sixteen and b.) weird people.
[Note: There are people who drink wine with their meals. I don't judge! I have a friend who is into that sort of thing! What I'm saying is, if you ever ordered wine and you noticed an older couple, one of whom may or may not have been wearing overalls, looking at you oddly and you felt judged; yeah, you were. They went home and told everyone they knew. We all laughed.]
Ice tea is for constant casual consumption but more specifically it is prepared and created for drinking during meals, preferably in some outdoor location with some sort of animal being prepared above a bed of charcoal with a side of potato salad. You're making a drink that has to have the flexibility to blend with a.) beef, b.) chicken, c.) pork, d.) barbecue sauce, and e.) pasta and/or potato salads and beans (note: in Central Texas, it must also compliment no less than three types of coleslaw, any variation of Polish sausage, and anything cooked by any Czech/Polish/Mexican grandmother. When in doubt, look at the name of the town you are in.) (second note: from twenty miles north of Austin to the Mexican border, it's expected to at minimum work with any kind of Tex-Mex food item. The Fajita Test is considered the gold standard). It is palate cleanser, fighter of dehydration, and social enabler. Ice tea is all things to all people. Ice tea contains multitudes.
To drive the point home; gallons of tea are sold in the grocery store on a daily basis. Right by the milk. And there is always a shortage.
Classic southern ice tea has many, many recipes, so we'll go over a few of the more staple varieties as practiced by ice tea makers.
1.) bring water to boil, adding sugar before adding tea. Seal into container* and place in refrigerator.
2.) bring water to boil, add tea before adding sugar. Seal into container* and place in refrigerator.
* Some people add ice before placing in refrigerator. Others prefer a more individualized single glass approach.
Types of tea: bag form is preferable.
A regional variation, though not universally accepted, is to add some sort of fruit-flavored tea at one part to two parts plain black tea. This is more likely to occur during a.) Thanksgiving, b.) Christmas, c.) wedding/baby showers, or d.) summer lunches.
There. Now you're ready for the rest.
Recently, my mother has become caffeine sensitive. This is a problem (please read all of the above before asking why). After much soul-searching, I decided to do the unthinkable; to attempt ice tea with non-black tea non-bags.
I bought several types of rooibos from Central Market. One of these was Rishi Organic Scarlet Loose; with it in hand, I began my journey.
Using the stove, I heated up the required amount of water and waited until it was about a minute from boiling before turning off, added the loose tea, and warily decided that I'd hold on the sugar until I had an idea of what I was dealing with. Added to pitcher and stared, as it is very red.
It's also, to my surprise, naturally somewhat sweet. I added a very little sugar, sealed, and refrigerated, then got my mother a glass and proceeded to see what she'd make of it.
So far, this is very, very good. It's not exactly like the taste of black tea, but I'll be honest, that's not a minus. To me at least, this one was much better iced than hot; it's remarkably smooth, with a lightly sweet finish even without sugar, and it's goddamn sublime with ice. Nine out of ten drinkers of ice tea will not be disappointed.
(If you want to try this tea and can't find it, next time I go to Central Market I can grab some samples if it's one they carry regularly; I can't remember if this one was one of the special blends or not.)
One day, I hope to have time to explain why the Fajita* is considered the perfect food, as well as Why When Someone Says They Are Making Tamales, Do You Want Some, you say "God, yes, thank you."
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