Summer is in full swing…and that means tea time! (Unless you’re a golfer, then I guess it’s tee time.) Here, we’re talking about freshly brewed, cool, refreshing beverages that are the best of both worlds–just a bit of sweet, subtle flavor and a nice little boost of caffeine that is a great alternative to that second (or third) cup of coffee. 

But this isn’t your basic sun tea, or bottled tea–though there’s nothing wrong with either of these. What makes this tea special is an extra touch of flavor in the form of homemade syrups and fresh flavor infusions. If this sounds appealing to you, then join me in getting onboard the tea train.

The beauty of creative concoctions like these summer brews is that you can use what you have on hand (extra herbs, fruit that’s a bit past its prime, already squeezed citrus rinds, etc.) or you can use a recipe–but I suggest you follow your instincts and get creative.

Let’s start with the sweet stuff.

As a (former) bartender, I am very familiar with basic simple syrup, which is generally just a chosen ratio of sugar to water (generally near boiling or very hot, as you want the sugar to dissolve). Now, the ratio is debatable–some say 1:1–which works but can be tooth-achingly sweet. The beauty of making your own syrup is you can choose how sweet you want it to be. But since I have been on a not so simple (get it?) quest to try and avoid refined sugar as much as possible, my recipe does not involve refined sugar. Instead, I use one of its less-refined cousins: honey. This way, you’re also getting some good-for-you antioxidants in addition to sweetness. Win-Win!

What takes this not-so-simple syrup to the next level is how you choose to infuse it. This is where creativity is key. Mint, basil, and thyme are all top picks here, but rosemary would also work.

How much honey you choose is up to you. Just keep in mind that the texture will be more syrupy if you use more honey, and of course, the taste will be sweeter. A 1:1 1/2 ratio is a good place to start (1 part honey to 1 1/2 parts water), as it will give you a consistency that is easy to mix into iced tea (or cocktails, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Photo by John Newcomer

Simple Simple Syrup

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • Handful of fresh herbs such as thyme, mint, basil, or rosemary

Directions 

  1. Add honey and water to a small pot on the stovetop. Turn heat to medium-high to start, while giving it a periodic stir or two. As the water heats up, the honey will begin to dissolve.
  2. Once the honey is mostly dissolved, add the herbs.
  3. When water comes to a rolling boil (and honey is completely dissolved), remove the pot from the heat, and let sit for at least 15-30 minutes.
  4. When the mixture is completely cool, pour through a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter into a sealed container such as a mason jar or plastic squeezy bottle.

Now you have your delish simple syrup, all ready to go for those batches of summer tea! Generally, the simple syrup will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but trust me, it won’t last that long once you start brewing.

Now it’s time for the best part–making the tea. But first, a little about technique.

I’ve been brewing iced tea for the past month or so as an alternative beverage to plain water and have developed a pretty good method for getting the job done. Sure, you can chuck tea bags into a pitcher and put it into the fridge overnight–if you don’t mind watered down, weak tea. For a fuller-flavored tea, you need to involve boiling water in some capacity. I know it’s a million degrees and you don’t feel like boiling water. I get it–my kitchen has NO WINDOWS. But the small amount of boiling water that’s needed will boil in a jiff, and your tea will benefit from your extra effort.

For this recipe, I use a six-cup pitcher because that’s what I have on hand. But you can choose a pitcher, any pitcher—just be sure you have a rough idea of its size so you can decide how much tea you want/need. And feel free to add more (or less!) tea bags depending on how strong you like your tea. The beauty of homemade tea is that you can get creative!

Also, feel free to mix up your teabag selection: basic black tea is a classic, but add-ins with a hint of fruit also definitely work. Again, the choice is yours!

Photo by John Newcomer

Iced, Iced Baby

Ingredients 

  • 5-6 standard size tea bags (feel free to mix and match)
  • ½ pitcher cold water
  • ½ pitcher boiling water
  • Simple syrup (see above recipe)

Directions 

  1. Add tea bags to your chosen pitcher, then top with cold water.
  2. Bring additional water to a boil, then add to the pitcher.
  3. Stir, and let steep for at least 20-30 minutes. Feel free to keep a large spoon in the pitcher to ensure the bags stay submerged.
  4. Stir in simple syrup at any time (if there are those in your household who prefer unsweetened, feel free to add to individual servings).
  5. Remove tea bags and refrigerate.

Note: If you want to get the tea chilling fast, let it steep for at least 5 minutes on the counter then throw the whole shebang (tea bags and all) in the fridge.

Now if you want to up the ante a bit, nothing goes better with iced tea than lemon. Like peanut butter and jelly; cream cheese and bagels; and baseball and summer; lemon and iced tea are a winning duo that adds contrast and brightness to your new fave summer beverage.

Simply garnish your refreshing new brew with a slice of lemon upon serving, or add a bit more citrus earlier in the process to zhuzh up the flavor profile. This can easily be done by using up a lemon that has been juiced or zested beyond all recognition—just toss it in the tea while it’s brewing. Or you can add some freshly squeezed (or bottled, if you must), lemon juice when you stir in the simple syrup. Again, this recipe will only benefit from your creativity and iced tea ingenuity.

Your iced tea journey is now complete: so give yourself a pat on the back as you have now created a fun, refreshing, and customizable summer beverage that is a healthier alternative to bottled iced teas. Take a tall glass, fill it with ice, and pour your brew. Garnish with lemon, and sip through a reusable straw; stick in some fresh mint and a swizzle stick; or simply chug it cold right out of the fridge to enjoy your own taste of summer.

Lisa is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and (very) amateur photographer. In her spare time she likes to read, write, bake, cook, watch U.K. dramas/police procedurals and panel shows, and have her heart broken by the Philadelphia Phillies (during baseball season, of course). Though she generally avoids social media, you can sometimes find her on Twitter and Instagram @dolphy_jane.

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