Saturday, May 14, 2011

Easier than you thought: Iced tea and iced coffee

Summer isn't quite here yet, but that doesn't mean you can't indulge in some iced drinks. I think summer can be defined in many places by a tall glass of iced tea and the sound of tinkling ice cubes. Iced coffee is now enjoying some popularity also and can be found in staggering variety everywhere from Starbucks to McDonald's. :P

These are two drinks that are so ridiculously easy to make, with countless variations, why do we run out and plunk down good money for over-processed and over-sweetened glasses of the stuff when we could make it better at home?
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Well, laziness probably, but I hope the following will convince you to at least try making it at home!

Iced Coffee:
I like my coffee like I like my men... pale and bitter. Wait, no... in a plastic cup? I mean, ground up and in the freezer! ;) Sorry, couldn't resist. How you like your coffee will determine which iced coffee method is better. Personally, I like mine strong but smooth (yes, I'm talking about the coffee) so I generally use the cold-brew method. Keep in mind, cold-brewed anything is not a quick fix; it will require steeping for 8-10 hours, so if you're going to go that route, put it together before going to bed or before leaving for work in the morning so when you wake up/get home, you're ready to go!

A 1 liter canning jar is great for this, though you can use a pitcher or other container with a tight-fitting lid. I would warn against plastic if you want to avoid staining it. You will need roughly 3 heaping tablespoons of coffee grounds per cup of water, or 10-12 tablespoons of grounds per liter of water. This isn't carved in stone, you can adjust to your tastes. Basically, all you do is put your grounds in the jar, fill it with water, seal it tightly and give it a good shake. In the fridge it goes overnight and in the morning you have perfectly cold-brewed iced coffee. You will need to strain out the grounds before using, and can do so using a regular drip coffee filter or simply put it in a french press (if you have one), press the plunger down and pour.

Homemade cold-brewed coffee is rich and flavorful, but without being bitter, which is why I prefer this method. And you can dress it up any way you like with sweeteners, milks/creams, flavors, etc. One small drawback is that regular sugar will not readily dissolve in cold coffee, so I keep a bottle of simple syrup in the cupboard to sweeten mine with. Any liquid sweetener would work as well, as would flavored syrups such as hazelnut or almond. If you like your coffee with both cream and sugar, you can keep a can of sweetened condensed milk on hand and simply stir a bit in (this would give you Vietnamese iced coffee).

Another way to brew iced coffee is to start with hot brewed coffee. Either using a coffee machine or a french press, brew a cup of double-strength coffee. However much you usually use for your morning cuppa, double it. Don't be shy. If you sweeten your coffee using granulated sugar, make sure to mix it directly into the hot coffee to dissolve before proceeding. Then fill a glass with ice cubes (and I mean fill it... right to the top) and pour the hot coffee over the ice. Stir gently and the hot coffee will melt the cubes, both cooling and diluting the coffee. You can then doctor with any additions. And best of all, using either method, you can make a big batch to keep in the fridge and treat yourself whenever you like... no long lines or snooty baristas required!

Iced Tea:
The method for making iced tea is much like the above... you can cold-brew or hot-brew. Again, I tend to go the cold-brew route as it requires no fuss and the results are more mellow and from a strictly aesthetic point of view, I get prettier iced tea in the fridge than with the tea kettle. When I ice hot brewed tea it always goes cloudy on me, which is apparently due to the oils found in tea that turn cloudy if plunked into the fridge while still hot. Not sure about the science behind that one (I wonder what Alton Brown would have to say about it?), but it doesn't affect the taste of the tea, only the look.

So, to cold-brew tea you use one tea bag or 1 tablespoon of loose tea per 4 cups of water. Put this into a jar or pitcher and leave in the fridge for 8-10 hours. Remove tea bags or strain out loose tea and drink over ice. Again if you like yours sweetened, use a syrup with the cold-brewed method, but be sure to taste it first... cold-brewing results in a much smoother drink so you may not need as much (or any) sugar.

Exactly as with the hot-brewed coffee method, you can do tea the same way by brewing a double-strength cup (or pot) and pouring it over ice to cool and dilute.

You can use any tea (or combination of tea) for iced tea. Black, green, white, herbal... anything you like. You can add fruit (lemon and black tea is a classic) or fruit juice, even herbs. You can do coffee-like iced teas by using chai, rooibos or matcha and adding milk or soy milk to make an iced latte. Needless to say, I will be digging into my David's Tea stash this summer to try some of them iced... I will be sure to post the results!

Whether you use up the bottom of that bag of coffee grounds, or a special tea blend you've been saving, try making iced coffee or tea tonight. You will not only have a tasty drink, you'll also know exactly what ingredients went into it and the satisfaction of having made it yourself :) Enjoy!

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