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June is Iced Tea Month. After checking several references, I couldn’t find out who made this declaration or how long it’s been around. But does it matter, especially here the South where iced tea is frequently the beverage of choice? We don’t really need a special month to celebrate this popular beverage.
Statistics show Americans now drink more tea than the British and approximately 85 percent of that is iced tea.
As with many foods and beverages, there are many stories of how iced tea got started.
According to one legend, in 1904 a vender was trying to sell hot tea at the World’s Fair in St. Louis and because there was a heat wave, no one wanted any, so he added some ice and iced tea became popular.
Other people say instructions for making iced tea were found in cookbooks long before the 20th century. Many of these recipes were in the form of sweet tea punches with a little libation added to them. Whatever the origin, we love our iced tea.
Tea is a refreshing beverage that contains no sodium, fat, carbonation nor sugar. It is virtually calorie-free. But, if you add sugar, you’re adding calories, of course. There are 280 calories in a large (32 ounce) McDonald’ Sweet Tea. This is all from the added sugar.
While tea does have some natural caffeine, it is a relatively small amount. One 16-ounce glass of iced tea has 10-50 milligrams of caffeine, compared to the same amount of Starbuck’s Pike Place coffee that has about 330 mg. of caffeine.
Tea contains flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds that are believed to have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, which scientists believe, over time, damage elements in the body, such as genetic material and lipids, and contribute to chronic disease. In addition, tea helps maintain proper fluid balance, helps to re-hydrate on hot days and may contribute to overall good health.
This brings me to the subject of sun tea. Using the natural rays of the sun to make tea is fun and popular in the summer; however, using this method to make tea is highly discouraged by food safety experts.
Sun tea is the perfect medium for bacteria to grow. While most people don’t think about it, brewed tea is capable of supporting bacterial growth. Tea leaves can become contaminated with bacteria during the growing, harvesting and drying process. Sun tea is at risk of bacterial growth because the tea is brewed at low temperatures.
If the sun tea has a thick or syrupy appearance, it may be due to the presence of ropy bacteria called Alcaligenes viscolactis. Ropy bacteria are commonly found in soil and water.
Several years ago in Ohio and Washington, several people became ill after drinking tainted iced tea. In Washington, it was determined that the tea had been made with tap water only heated to 130 degrees and left to sit at room temperature for more than 24 hours. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Tea Association recommend the following when making iced tea:
•Brew tea bags or loose tea leaves with boiling or very hot (195 degrees) water for three to five minutes.
•Brew only enough tea that can be consumed within a few hours. After brewing, it is best to refrigerate until served.
•Never maintain brewed tea for more than eight hours at room temperature. Discard any unused tea after eight hours.
•Avoid consuming cloudy tea with an off odor.
•Wash and rinse tea-making equipment regularly. Restaurants should wash, rinse and sanitize the tea urn daily, including the spigot.
•Instead of making sun tea, brew tea overnight in the refrigerator as you would in the sun.
•Store tea bags in a dark, cool, and dry place away from strong odors and moisture. Do not store tea bags or loose tea in the refrigerator.
Many recipes for making home-brewed iced tea suggest brewing the tea double-strength and then diluting with ice cubes to cool. Tea experts do not recommend this method, saying rapidly cooling hot tea may become cloudy due to the tannins that are released from the tea during steeping. To avoid the cloudiness, brew tea to the desired flavor and then allow to cool naturally (see note above about leaving it out for more than eight hours). When it is cool, refrigerate and serve over ice.
In addition, when brewing, tea leaves (bags or loose) should not be exposed to the hot water for longer than five minutes (some folks say three minutes for green tea and five minutes for black tea). This is one of those times that “more is not better.” Allowing tea leaves to brew longer will result in a bitter flavor, not stronger tea.
Enjoy Iced Tea Month!
Sources: The Tea Association of USA, McDonald’s Nutrition Facts, Starbucks, Colorado Cooperative Extension.