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Summer pleasures

Of tea and other cool things.

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It's time again for our annual tip sheet for the sunny season. Why not start with a tall, cool glass of tea?

This is not a story about sweet tea. People who love sweet tea know how to make tea sweet. Add sugar. Stir.

It is a story about tea, however. Here's an essential truth about tea: When it's hot outside and you're inside, sweatily knitting up a bunch of wool (which has to be done in summer so you'll have the sweater ready by winter) or trying to read a book without falling asleep on the couch, air conditioning alone won't keep you alert. You need iced tea.

You could brew up some Lipton — in the sun or on the stove — and, if you're lucky enough to have mint outside, smush some up and slice a lemon and stir in some sugar, or not, and voila, you have very good tea.

But tea can be sexier than that. It can make a hot afternoon more festive. It can wake you up or, as you'll see below, make you tipsy. Here's how.

 The following recipe comes from a friend who didn't do anything halfway. When our children were 3 years old and could be kept occupied by a baby pool, we'd sit in the shade in her back yard — even in July — and drink her tea all afternoon. The tea did an astonishing job of keeping us cool, even during heat so oppressive it was hard to breathe. You know the kind.

 Putter's iced tea

Brew 8 to 10 tea bags (throw in some black currant tea for good measure). Add:
1 cup orange juice (or orangina if you want a little fizz)
Whole lemon squeezed
Fresh mint and sugar to taste

 Folks who frequent the River Market will know about this tea: Wael “Wally” Abdin's rose water tea. Abdin, who owns Middle Eastern Cuisine, uses the Cortas brand of rose water from Lebanon, where he was born. It is, Abdin says, “100 percent pure.” The trick is not to use too much rose water, or you'll end up with something too perfumey. He also recommends orange blossom water, also made by Costas, for tea.

Wally Abdin's rose water tea

To 16 oz. glass of tea of choice add:
1/8 to ¼ tsp. Cortas rose water
Touch of sugar

If you don't play bridge you might not know this recipe that calls for — ye gods! — instant tea and boiling water and more boiling water. We were directed to it by a friend who, as far as we know, doesn't play bridge but does like iced tea. She actually substitutes real tea, but we thought we'd stick with this version, from Allison Crawley of Marvell, just to be contrary.

 

Bridge Day Mint Tea
1½ cups boiling water
3 heaping tsp. instant tea
6 mint sprigs
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
½ cup lemon juice

Combine 1½ cups boiling water, instant tea and mint sprigs and let steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Boil another cup of water and add the sugar and lemon juice to it. Strain the tea mixture to remove the sprigs and mix with the sugar mixture. Add a quart of cold water. Deal 'em. Makes 1½ quarts.

 When it comes to tea, the most knowledgeable person I know is Pam. She brews her own and drinks from china cups — always. Tea bags? Forget it. Mugs? Please. She's got tea from all over the planet in her cupboards and throws around words like oolong like nobody's business. She throws a bag of red zinger into her pekoe iced tea just for kicks. She even reads tea leaves. But lately, she's been using something new in the tea world: tea tied into bundles that turn into flowers when steeped in hot water. The bundles are so pretty you can leave them in the pitcher for all to see. River City Coffee and Tea carries Numi tea flowers; the black tea, Midnight Peony, is the one used here. Numi also makes green tea flowers and white tea flowers, which would make a weaker tea.

Pam's flower tea

Brew 3 Midnight Peony tea flowers in 2 quarts water. Fill a pitcher part way with ice and add slices of orange and a tea flower or two, then layer more ice, remaining tea flower and oranges. Pour in tea. Put on the kitchen table so it catches the sunlight streaming in. Save the tea flowers; they can be steeped again.

Long Island Iced Tea is every clear booze in the world plus lemon juice poured into a Coke. But we're sticking with real tea here in this recipe for Tipsy Tea. Tea maven Pam used cream of limoncello, the lemon liqueur made in Little Rock by Michael and Yuli Waters, to make these two variations, which probably shouldn't be drunk while trying to knit or reading Proust. The limoncello should be kept in the freezer.

Tipsy Tea variation 1
Brew black tea, African rooibos tea or chai.
Pour 2 jiggers Lombardi cream of limoncello over ice. Fill glass with tea. Add crushed mint.

Tipsy Tea variation 2
Brew black tea, African rooibos tea or chai. Pour 1 jigger tea over ice. Fill glass with limoncello. Add crushed mint.

And now, simple syrup. I've never bothered to make it, but the Capital Hotel Bar and Grill serves its iced tea with a sweet tiny glass jug of the stuff and it is a good idea. As Travis McConnell, the chef, points out, you don't end up with unsightly undissolved sugar in the bottom of your glass. McConnell says simple syrup is great to sweeten lemonade, as well.

Simple syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
Combine, stir. For thicker syrup, dissolve more sugar. If you've made too much, dilute with 3 more parts water and put it in your hummingbird feeder.

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