The most frequently asked question at our Cooking School for the last 22 years has been “What is this tea?” And now the same question is being asked in the Market Cafe. It is Tropicana Tea and it has been making friends for us for a long time. We serve Tropicana iced tea (or “ice tea” if you are from the South:-) at every class and it is a beverage choice on our Market Cafe menu. The surprising thing for us – as we think it will be for you – was finding out that Tropicana is blended in a country that is passionate about tea but we’re not taking about China, Japan or England.
In the country that invented the Kaffeeklatsch (known here in the States as a Coffee Klatsch) you’ll find that when you are up north around Hamburg and Bremen in Germany most folks will prefer a Teeklatsch. Germany has a thriving import/export tea business.
Our Tropicana Tea is blended in Germany. It is a blend of black tea, cornflower petals, calendula petals (aka “pot marigold”) and rose petals with mango and passion fruit flavors. In the photo of the tea here you can see the blue of the cornflower petals – native to Europe, one of the national symbols of Germany, and President John Kennedy’s favorite flower. The yellow-gold threads are the calendula flowers, used to add color to butter and cheese and a favorite ingredient in Germany for soups and stews whence the name “pot” marigold. The red threads are culinary grade rose petals, a kitchen staple in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey for centuries. (The International Herb Association [IHA] designated rose petals the official herb of the year for 2012.) Mango and passion fruit round out Tropicana’s flavor profile.
At Sweet Basil, Tropicana Tea is available whenever you join us for a class or select it from the Market Cafe menu. It is also for sale in the store by the ounce. (Whenever using Tropicana Tea, shake or stir it gently as the black tea leaves settle to the bottom.)
Although iced tea has been around since we learned how to keep water in its frozen state, it was the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 – Judy Garland would sing a song in a 1944 movie asking folks to meet her there – that popularized it. An English merchant named Richard Blechynden was in charge of the tea plantation owner-supported Tea Pavilion at the Fair. He ran into a problem during the long, hot St. Louis summer when fairgoers avoided his complimentary cups of hot tea like us Valley of the Sun residents avoid a steering wheel in July. Mr. Blechynden’s solution – serving the tea in ice-filled glasses – won the day. Fairgoers took the idea of iced tea back home with them and the rest is cool beverage history.
We’ll give the last word about iced tea to journalist and Southern food historian John Egerton who wrote: “Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths.”
MAKING ICE TEA
There are many ways to make iced tea. At Sweet Basil we use a dedicated coffee brewer as we make Tropicana Iced Tea in large quantities for cooking classes and the Market Cafe. See below for our “coffee brewer” recipe. (You never want to use the same brewer for coffee and tea! ) Sweet Basil carries some nifty iced tea makers that can make the process very easy. You can Google “how to make iced tea” for lots of ideas, but we suggest you keep a few “rules” in mind and make any personal adjustments to future batches:
- Since ice dilutes the strength of the tea once in the glass, make the tea stronger for iced tea than you would for a cup of tea.
- 5 minutes is pretty much the limit for steeping. Much longer and the tea will become bitter.
- Let the tea cool before you put it in the fridge. This help keep the tea clear.
- Begin with a ratio of 1 oz. loose tea or teabags to ½ gallon of water.
- Depending on your water source and your personal taste, bottled or filtered water might be necessary. The same idea applies to the ice cubes.
- In a tea pot (check for hard-water scale & descale if you see the white, crusty scaling) or stainless steel pan boil water.
- Pour water over tea leaves/bags in a glass or china container or pitcher.
- Steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags (don’t squeeze the bags) or strain the loose tea leaves through cheesecloth or strainer into a glass pitcher.
- Cover and let tea reach room temperature. Refrigerate.
BREWING TEA AT SWEET BASIL
We use 6 level tablespoons of Tropicana Tea and 64 ounces of water in our “dedicated” coffee brewer. (Remember to gently stir or shake the loose tea leaves as the black tea tends to settle to the bottom.) 1) Place the tea in a paper filter and brew 2) Allow the tea to cool 3) Cover and store in a cool place.