Let’s Talk Food: Iced tea is the refreshing confluence of summer flavors

I don’t have to remind you that it is hot, hot, hot outside! Take comfort in knowing that it is just as hot and steamy in almost every other part of the country. Be thankful for those wonderful Gulf breezes, the flowering trees, the glorious sunsets and the freedom from city pollution.

During these sweltering summer days, to seek respite we drink gallons and gallons of refreshing beverages. None are as refreshing, healthful and satisfying as iced tea. This ancient beverage ranks second only to water in national consumption and during the summer months more than

10 billion glasses of iced tea quench the thirst of the hot and wilted.

Iced tea became an American sensation at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Richard Blechynden, an Indian tea merchant, set up a tea house and tried selling hot tea to fair visitors. St. Louis isn’t exactly temperate during the summer months, and the sweltering masses stayed away in droves. In desperation, he poured the tea over ice and created an instant phenomenon. Today, nearly 85 percent of the tea consumed in the United States is served over ice and of course, enterprising gourmets have created iced teas as diverse and delicious as the most sophisticated wine.

That same year some genius in Boston came up with the tea bag and, although many tea aficionados scoff at the idea, this has made the making tea much more convenient.

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. It is a staple, found in almost 80 percent of American households and although iced coffee has become somewhat popular it cannot compete with iced tea as the drink of preference.

The study of tea is complex and fascinating. Its beginnings are truly romantic going back to 2737 B.C. when it was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung, known as the “Divine Healer.” According to legend, the emperor was traveling across his empire when his party stopped and camped for the night. Tea leaves on the surrounding bushes blew into a pot of boiling water and it became infused with a perfume-like flavor. When the emperor drank the mixture he declared that it gave one “vigor of body, contentment of mind and determination of purpose.”

The first documented reference to tea came in 350 A.D. when Chinese scholar Kuo P’o wrote about “k’ut’u”, a medicinal beverage, “made from the leaves by boiling.” By the fifth century A.D., tea became a major bartering tool for China, along with vinegar, rice, noodles, cabbage, fruits and dried meats.

It also became a popular social custom for China’s elite, with the imperial house and Buddhist priests enjoying royal blends and coveting a special “white” tea, considered the rarest and most delicate of teas.

The original site of tea cultivation has been debated for years, but it is generally agreed that the first tea garden was in the monsoon region of Southeast Asia, then unclaimed by any country, and now lying in a region that includes both China and India.

By the eighth century, commercial cultivation of tea had spread throughout the Chinese provinces and ultimately into Japan. As in China, tea was first the exclusive domain of Japan’s nobility and holy men, but during the T’ang Dynasty (620 to 907 A.D.) its popularity spread to the common people

It wasn’t until the early 17th century that Dutch traders brought tea from China and Japan to Europe. Tea was introduced to Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Russia and America by the mid-1660s and its popularity has been credited for playing a major role in opening the Orient to Western commerce.

Tea played an important role in American history when, on Dec. 16, 1773, two ships sailed into Boston Harbor and the ensuing dumping of 342 large chests of tea brought about the Revolution.

Tea has come a long way since that Boston Tea Party. There are now delicious flavored teas, and the British tradition of afternoon tea has taken hold in our own country where tea rooms are proliferating and where many hotels feature high teas that are popular.

So, when the thermometer keeps climbing and you need a refresher that is high in energy, good taste and contains not a smidgen of fat, sugar (unless you add it), cholesterol or preservatives, brew up a spot of tea and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Of course you simply can’t throw a tea bag in boiling water and except the perfect cup or glass of iced tea. If you aspire to perfection here’s how to achieve it:

■ Fill a kettle with fresh, cold water (cold water contains more oxygen, yielding a better pot of tea) and bring to a rolling boil.

■ Meanwhile, fill the teapot with hot water to warm it and encourage the leaves to open properly.

■  Measure one teaspoon of your favorite tea per 6-ounce cup into an infuser, or allow one tea bag per cup. Add one teaspoon for the pot when making six or more cups.

■ Empty the pre-warmed teapot, add tea and pour in the boiling water.

■ Brew by the clock: three to five minutes for regular teas and five to 10 minutes for herbal and green teas. Don’t judge the strength of tea by color. Some teas brew light, others dark.

■ Stir tea before pouring to make sure it’s uniformly strong.

■ Serve hot tea with milk (not cream) to let the true flavor of the tea come through. Lemon may be used instead to accentuate the tea’s flavor.

■ For iced tea, follow the same rules for brewing hot tea except use 50 percent more tea to allow for melting ice. Add an additional quart of fresh cold water to the pitcher after pouring in the tea.

■ For a delicious and refreshing orange and spiced iced tea: Grate zest from the outer peel of two large oranges. Crush zest with a spoon and combine with 4 tablespoons of orange and spice special herbal tea. Add this mixture in a teapot with four cups of boiling water, cover and brew for 5 minutes.

Strain and add 4 tablespoons candied ginger to tea. When cool, stir in 1½ cups orange juice and 6 tablespoons sugar. Pour over ice in glasses and serve.

Ask Doris

Q: My grandmother was a fabulous cook and one of her specialties was rarebit which she fixed with asparagus. I hope you have a recipe for this dish.

— Renee Larch, Naples

A: This is a simple but satisfying dish, ideal for Sunday night suppers.

Asparagus rarebit

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups (½ pound) grated Cheddar cheese

½ teaspoons dry mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¾ cup beer (milk may be substituted but lacks the taste of beer)

1 egg

2 pounds asparagus or 2 packages frozen (cooked and drained)

Buttered toast

Preparation

■ In a saucepan, cook the butter and cheese over low heat until melted. Blend in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce and the beer or milk.

■ Beat the egg in a bowl and very gradually add a little of the hot sauce, stirring constantly to prevent curdling.

■ Return to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Arrange the asparagus on the toast and pour the sauce over all. Serves 6 to 8.

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Doris Reynolds is the author of “Let’s Talk Food” and “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” For questions and comments regarding today’s column, contact Doris Reynolds at foodlvr25@aol.com.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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