How to Make Proper Iced Tea, According to My Mother-in-Law

By Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at EverydayCheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at Tips.EverydayCheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021 Creators.com
July 30, 2021 Updated: July 30, 2021

The only thing more comforting than a tall glass of iced tea on a hot summer day is knowing how to make that perfect iced tea yourself with confidence—for just pennies per serving.

My mother-in-law, a proud Canadian, taught me the difference between proper iced tea and the “swill” most restaurants pour, which in her opinion was, at best, a very poor facsimile. Trust me, she knew her stuff—including the six rules for proper iced tea:

Rule No. 1: Use Plenty of Tea

The flavor of tea served cold is not as intense as when served hot. That means it must be brewed stronger, so use more tea bags. Her ratio: Use two regular-size tea bags for every three cups of water.

Rule No. 2: Don’t Over-Steep

Allowing the tea to over-steep releases the tannins in the tea, which can make it bitter. If you want it weaker, reduce the steeping time, not the number of tea bags.

Rule No. 3: Cool First

Once you remove the tea bags, allow the tea to cool before you pour it over ice, but don’t put it in the refrigerator. Doing so will make your tea cloudy.

Rule No. 4: Don’t Add Sugar to Ice-Cold Tea

If you prefer your tea sweet, add the sugar to the hot water so it dissolves first before introducing ice. If your guests prefer to sweeten after the ice is added, provide simple syrup rather than granulated sugar.

Simple syrup: To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup boiling water in a large measuring cup. Whisk until clear and the sugar is dissolved. Yield: 1 1/2 cups simple syrup.

Rule No. 5: Keep It Real

Only use real, fresh-squeezed lemon juice from fresh lemons for the best outcome.

Rule No. 6: Make It Fresh

Iced tea tastes best when it is freshly made. Make only what you will drink in two or three days, and keep it covered in the refrigerator.

A Recipe for Proper Iced Tea

You’ll need:

  • Pan or kettle to boil the water
  • Pitcher, teapot, or another vessel with a lid in which to brew the tea
  • Cold water (3 cups for every 2 regular sized tea bags)
  • Tea bags

Boil cold water in a kettle or pan according to how much tea you intend to make. As soon as it comes to a boil, turn off the burner. In the meantime, place the tea bags in the pitcher or teapot. Carefully pour the correct amount of boiling water over the tea bags. Cover. Allow to steep for 3 to 5 minutes maximum. Remove tea bags. Add sugar to taste, optional (see above). Cool on the counter. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate.

To drink: Fill a glass, mug, or jar with fresh ice. Pour cold prepared tea over the ice. Add simple syrup, slices of fresh lemon, and a sprig of mint, if desired. Enjoy!

A Note on Sun Tea

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the matter of making tea using the strong rays of the sun to carry out the steeping and brewing process. It’s clever for sure, but it’s quite risky.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sun tea (tea brewed by setting it outdoors to steep in sunlight) can quickly promote the growth of bacteria. Here’s the problem: Tea steeped in a glass jar on the porch won’t get any hotter than 130 degrees F, which isn’t hot enough to kill bacteria lurking in the water or on the tea leaves themselves. Water needs to be heated to 195 degrees F for three to five minutes for that to happen. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your love for sun tea; just make sure you follow these rules for safe brewing.

No. 1: Use a container that has been washed well in soap and water and then rinsed or dipped into a bleach solution of 1 1/2 teaspoons liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. If your sun tea container has a spigot, take it apart and clean it well with the bleach solution. If you can’t get it apart to clean, find another vessel for your sun tea.

No. 2: Don’t leave the tea to brew in the sun for longer than four hours. Prepare only the amount of tea you plan to use in one day.

No. 3: Refrigerate the tea as soon as you bring it into the house, and keep it refrigerated.

No. 4: If the tea appears to be thick or you see “ropey” strands, that’s bacteria. Discard it immediately.

No. 5: If your love for sun tea is waning about now, consider “refrigerator tea.” To make it, fill a pitcher with a quart of cold water, add four to six tea bags, and refrigerate it for at least six hours or overnight. Enjoy!

Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at EverydayCheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at Tips.EverydayCheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021 Creators.com

Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at EverydayCheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at Tips.EverydayCheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021 Creators.com