I’m not sure there’s anything the kind folks of the South love more than enjoying a cup of sweet ice tea while rocking on one of their many wooden rocker chairs. For my Seattle and New York readers, it’s truly akin to the whole coffee shop experience.
Yet, there’s something iconic about the sweet ice tea here that sets it apart from sweetened tea you would find in the North…
For years now, I have struggled to communicate to the Starbucks costumers who come in and ask if we have “sweet ice tea” that, while our tea is just sweetened, it doesn’t have the smooth, thick, sweet taste that Southern sweet tea has. Costumers who hear that tend to fall into two categories: those who change their order completely, or those who order it anyway with added sugar.
(We’re talking 20 pumps of classic syrup, 16 packets of splenda, etc. I wish I was exaggerating).
At long last though, I’ve finally learned that there is a TOP SECRET INGREDIENT in ice tea that gives it that smooth thick sweet taste those costumers have come to expect.
That ingredient is (wait for it…)
I know, right? Even my chemist roommate scratched her head when she saw that on the ingredient list.
Honesty hour: I had to look it up online because I was perplexed as all get out. Apparently, the baking soda neutralizes the bitter “tannins” in the tea to give it that signature smooth taste.
I saw this recipe on my fabulous Music Ed advisor’s Facebook page and stole it with her permission. She doesn’t know where she got it from (she thinks it’s from Real Simple or Southern Living?), but I’ve made enough changes to the recipe I’m not too concerned about it.
I used blackberries like in the original recipe because they were in season and pretty cheap at my local farmers market, but I’m fairly confident this would be great with a large variety (or blends!) of fruits. Let me know if you try something different!
- 3 cups blackberries
- 0.5 cups of sugar
- 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- a pinch of baking soda
- 8 teabags (or 2 family sized bags)
- 4 cups boiling water
- 2.5 cups cold water
- 2 lemons worth of lemon juice
- Make the black tea with the boiling water and steep for 8-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the blackberries, sugar, mint, and baking soda in a large bowl. Mash the blackberries as much as possible.
- Pour the hot tea over the berry mixture and let it blend at room temperature (about 1 hour).
- Pour the tea and berry mixture thru a strainer into your pitcher.You may need to use a spoon to push the extra liquid through the strainer.
- Stir in the lemon juice and cold water.
- Add ice and serve.
You can probably make do with even less sugar. I left it sweet because I’m making this in the South!
A lemon has about 2-3 tbsp of lemon juice, if you don’t have any lemons on hand. I recommend cutting the lemon in half lengthwise and squeezing it over the strainer so it can catch any stray seeds.
Possible garnishes: lemon slices, mint sprigs, blackberries
Poco a poco
Combine the baking soda, mint, blackberries, and sugar.
Smash it all!
Pour in the hot tea and let sit for an hour. Then strain it into a pitcher and add cold water and the juice of two lemons!
Chelsea and I accidentally discovered this band, Humming House, as they played in a school-sponsored pop-up performance outside of the student center at MTSU. We were walking past them as they started and ended up staying for their incredible live performance–eventually purchasing one of their albums from them at the end of their show. This wasn’t one of the songs that we heard, but I thought this was a fitting one for the recipe.