Sunday, July 10, 2011

Iced tea and baking soda

My apologies for my recent absence. Life gets in the way sometimes. And I totally missed National Iced Tea Month!

The May issue of Southern Living magazine presaged that lengthy June holiday with a feature headlined "Sweet & Simple: 28 New Ways to Enjoy Tea From Pitcher to Platter" (for some reason, the same feature online lists only 19) loaded with some great drink and food recipes, including a wonderful looking sweet tea-brined chicken and a sweet tea tiramisu. (This is southern living, mind you, so we're talking sweet tea and only sweet tea.)

This one I've tried, for blackberry sweet tea — all hail those buckets of berries at the farmers market this summer! — and is worth noting for a particular ingredient:

3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, thawed
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Pinch of baking soda
4 cups boiling water
2 family-size tea bags
2-1/2 cups cold water
Garnish: fresh blackberries

1. Combine blackberries and sugar in a large container, and crush with a wooden spoon; stir in mint and baking soda.
2. Pour 4 cups boiling water over tea bags; cover and steep 5 minutes. Discard tea bags.
3. Pour tea over blackberry mixture; let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Pour tea through a wire-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, discarding solids. Add 2 1/2 cups cold water, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cover and chill 1 hour. Garnish, if desired.

"Er, baking soda?" a friend asked.

Depending on the variety you're making, or the astringency of your particular kind of tea, the soda blunts the tannins that, in this case, double from the tea and the berries. As Fred Thompson writes in his book Iced Tea:

There are as many ways to brew iced tea as there are Southern grandmothers. I grew up on iced tea made by bringing a small amount of water to a slow boil and then pouring it over the tea bags to form a concentrate. More water was added to finish the process. I guess I'm biased toward this method, but it definitely does make good tea. The baking soda might seem strange, but it softens the natural tannins that cause an acid or bitter taste.

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