I grew up in Tucson, Ariz., and summertime meant one thing: drinking sun tea. My mom constantly had a huge jar of water with teabags sitting on the hot concrete in our backyard, blinding sun beating down on the teabags. She was a purist: She brewed it so strong the tannic acid was mouth-puckering and she drank it unsweetened, without even a slice of lemon. I would drink the tea with only a few ice cubes to cut the taste, sitting alongside my mom, just treasuring our time alone together, two ladies sipping tea on a hot summer day.
Now that I’m an adult, I’ve developed my own palate for unsweetened flavored waters (which is what tea is really, right?). I love water with a hint of flavor because it refreshes without being boring. Plus as a bonus, flavored waters make me feel like I’m at a spa — for a lot less.
Try it yourself: Throw a few pieces of fruit and maybe some fresh herbs into a pitcher and add water. (By the way, if you make a lot of spa water, buy a handy pitcher with a steeping basket attached. Just load the basket with fruit and herbs, and fill the pitcher with water.)
One day I had a radical thought: What if I combined the two loves? Spa water and iced tea — spa tea. After some trial and error, I learned two things. First, the tea must be weak in order not to overpower the spa-ness of the water. Secondly, my San Diego yard doesn’t get hot enough to make sun tea reliably. So I make a single cup of tea (with a kettle) and it flavors the whole pitcher.
Here’s how to make spa tea:
1. Make one large cup of strong tea. I like herbal teas, green teas and aromatic teas best. Today I made three different tea waters. I brewed green mint tea, plain green tea and chamomile-lavender tea. A huge advantage to starting with a hot beverage is that I can dissolve in a smidge of sweetener, if I’m so inclined.
2. Pick two or three ingredients to flavor the water. Fruit and herbs work great, but don’t forget about other aromatics, such as fresh ginger-root, cinnamon sticks or scraped “used” vanilla beans.
3. In a large pitcher or jar, combine the brewed tea (cooled with an ice cube or two), the flavorings, water and ice.
4. Stir and serve — preferably in a nice footed glass (as my grandma used to say, “Life is short so use the good china”).
Here are flavor combinations I’ve made recently:
- Green Mint Tea + Watermelon + Mint Leaves
- Green Tea + Scraped Vanilla Bean Half + Ginger Slices + Drizzle of Maple Syrup
- Chamomile Lavender Tea + Blueberries + Sprig of Rosemary
And to show you the cool steeping pitcher, I made spa water:
- Strawberries + Pineapple + Basil Leaves
Thank you to fan Ron Pratt, who asked about new ideas for flavored water on my Facebook page. Your question led to my trip down memory lane, this post and to my fridge being stocked with spa tea.
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