August 14, 2017

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I come from a family of unabashed tea lovers. Some might even venture to say tea hoarders. If you open the cabinet above the kitchen sink at my parents’ house, boxes of Bigelow and canisters of loose-leaf jasmine come tumbling out. Growing up, I started every morning with a steaming mug of Red Rose (the kind of generic black tea that came with the adorable animal figurines), and I sipped iced oolong or Earl Grey all day long. Before fancy automated tea infusers existed, my dad cooled batches of hot tea, then added the liquid to 5-gallon jug with pour spout that was always in our fridge. So yeah, I drank a lot of it.

As an adult with much more “restricted” kitchen storage, I haven’t grown out of my tea-drinking habit, but I have gotten more creative with my ingredients and methods. In the summer, I always keep a quart of homemade iced tea—usually a blend of dried hibiscus, sprigs of fresh mint, and dried lemon—on hand. Instead of cooling large batches like my dad does, I start with cold water in a jar and steep it for a few hours in the fridge—or on my back porch if it’s an exceptionally nice day. It’s cold-brew, or if you’re from a different generation, it’s sun tea.

Because the delicate herbs and tea leaves never get hot, all their floral, fruity notes carry into the tea. Suddenly, all that beautiful thyme and silvery sage—usually reserved for cooking—is fair game. I like it especially for aromatic ingredients like ginger, lavender, or dried fruit, that can sometimes become too overpowering in a hot tea. Prepared in this cooler method, they don’t release their bitter tannins, and you get a smoother, more refreshing drink.

Sun Teas are my go-to when I need a non-alcoholic option (a very of the moment notion) for barbecues or chill dinner parties. A bachelorette weekend isn’t a bad idea either. For soy-glazed pork shoulder chops, I’ve brewed chamomile with sliced ginger and fresh pineapple to cut the meal’s richness. For long days sunning at the beach, thirst-quenching rooibos and thyme, sweetened with dried peach never sounds like a bad idea.

And, if you have an overflowing pantry of tea like my folks, definitely use what you have on hand. Try throwing in a few of your favorite satchels in a pitcher with cold water and sample the results. Who knew chilling out could be so, well, cool?

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