The ABCs of Cheap and Tasty Iced Tea

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Summer is right around the corner, and the perfect way to cool down is with iced tea. Here's how to make the perfect pitcher.

In the third week of March, temperatures in the Midwest shot up into the 80s. Wonder how hot it will get this summer?

Here in Seattle, “hot” usually means the 80s, although we’ve hit 100 degrees twice in the past six years. Either temperature is pretty toasty for me, because my apartment has south- and west-facing windows that won’t accept an air conditioner.

Not that I’d buy one for just a few days’ use a year. Instead, I crank the blinds inside out to reflect the sun, set up the pedestal fan ($4 at a rummage sale), and make a big pitcher of iced tea.

Homemade tea, of course, is the only way to go. Ever read the unit-price label on your favorite bottled tea? Even the cheapest stuff runs as high as $5-plus per gallon, and the flavored or “all natural” bottled teas cost between $8 and $13-plus a gallon.

If gasoline cost $13 a gallon, people would riot.

Just a few aisles over from the bottled tea are boxes of tea bags. At a supermarket near me, the 100-count box of the Shoppers Value brand costs about $2. The “Nice” brand of tea bags at Walgreens are pretty cheap too.

A box of either brand nets me 25 two-quart batches of tea, which works out to 16 cents per gallon.

Simple tastes

Those of you who can taste a difference between generic and brand-name products can always watch for loss leader/coupon combos. I’ve paid as little as $1.39 a box for Lipton tea, the brand my mom always used.

Some folks prefer loose tea, saying it has better-quality leaves and more flavor. That’s probably true. But mine is a proletarian palate. I’m OK with Shoppers Value.

Even after adding sweetener and lemon, I’m paying practically nothing for my beverage. Besides, I have a couple of frugal hacks for those two products. I trade spent ink cartridges in at Staples and use the resulting scrip to get Sweet’N Low for free. Instead of using real lemons, I add a splash of Wyler’s Light Lemonade, which I get at Walgreens for about 33 cents per two-quart pitcher.

Like I said: proletarian palate.

If you can boil water, you can make tea

Don’t like artificial sweeteners? Use sugar, but add it to the hot water at the beginning so it dissolves completely. Unless, of course, you’re one of those heathens who drink unsweetened tea.

Everyone does it a little differently. Here’s what works for me: To a cup of not-quite-boiling water, I add four tea bags and let the brew steep for 14 minutes. That’s strong enough to stand a spoon in, but afterward, I add it to enough cold water to fill a two-quart pitcher.

When the pitcher is half empty (or half full, depending on how you look at things), I start another batch. After the bags have steeped, I remove them and put the cup in the fridge. It’ll start to look cloudy after a couple of hours, but the taste isn’t affected – and adding water turns it that perfect pale amber.

Having a cup of this elixir on hand at all times ensures that you never run out of tea – an important consideration on hot days.

According to the Mayo Clinic, tea (especially green tea) appears to have cancer-fighting and other health-promoting properties. Black and green teas are both linked to a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack. Green tea may help cholesterol and triglycerides, and wipes out cavity-causing bacteria as well as helping to prevent the formation of plaque.

It also tastes good, is very cooling, and is extremely cheap. That is, unless you’re determined to pay $13 a gallon for the stuff.

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Stacy Johnson

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