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The Teas of Summer

Subtly Sweet, Slightly Tart, Anything but Typical

July 25, 2001|MARTHA ROSE SHULMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I was a tea drinker long before I met my Irish husband, but after I met him a morning pot of strong tea became an established ritual in our home. Darjeeling is my brew of choice, and I always make a big, full pot of it, even if we have only enough time for one cup before we're out the door. I know I'll finish it off before the day is out.

This is especially true in summer, when I use what's left of my morning tea for iced tea. I can't say I developed my taste for iced tea in Texas, where I lived for 12 years and where ultra-sweet iced tea is part of the culture. "Texas tea" is brewed outside in summer; you just stick a few ordinary tea bags in a big jar of water and leave it in the sun for an hour or two. Then add lots of sugar and ice.

No, a sip of subtly sweetened, citrusy iced tea left an imprint on my palate one sultry afternoon, more than 30 years ago, when I paid a visit to a friend's mother in Washington, D.C. The house was a beautiful brownstone in Georgetown, and it had a fine garden in the back where Mrs. Bohlen received me. She asked her cook, Francisco, to bring us tea.

Francisco had worked for the family since Mrs. Bohlen's late husband, Charles, had been the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines in the early 1960s. So good was his cooking that the Bohlens had brought him with them to Paris when they were reassigned to France (there Francisco had fought like crazy with the three-star French chef who ran the kitchen; he was happy to reclaim his sovereignty when the family moved back to Georgetown).

Francisco brought out a large glass pitcher of iced tea. It was lightly sweetened and full of fresh orange slices that perfumed the tea in the most delightful way. I've never made a pitcher of tea that was quite like Francisco's, but in trying to evoke those subtle flavors, that delicate balance of tannin and orange, I've come up with some awfully good summer iced teas. These are not the kind of "flavored teas" that you can get in a can. The starting point for my iced tea is a good pot of brewed black tea. The tea is then enhanced, with citrus and mint, or with a syrup.

My simplest afternoon iced tea consists of tea poured over ice, with the fresh juice of half an orange added, plus a sprig of mint. Even better (and, come to think of it, simpler, once you have the syrup on hand) are iced teas that I sweeten with a spoonful or two of North African-inspired citrus syrups. I make one with the Meyer lemons that grow in my backyard, and another with a combination of orange and lemon. Inspired again by North Africa, I make a syrup infused with mint, with a touch of orange zest, and another infused with rose geranium.

These syrups keep for weeks in sterilized jars in the refrigerator and are not only terrific as an enhancement for tea but can be mixed with sparkling water to make a delicate soft drink or lemon-or orangeade.

The syrups can also be tossed with berries or other fruit (try the rose geranium syrup with berries and vanilla ice cream). In addition to the Darjeeling that I always use, simply because I have it left over from breakfast, smoky brews such as lapsang souchong lend themselves very nicely to this type of syrup-enhanced iced tea.

In fact, as I sip the one I just made (lapsang souchong, poured over two slices of orange and a sprig of mint while still hot, then iced and sweetened with two teaspoons of the orange and lemon syrup), I'm transported back to Mrs. Bohlen's garden. I think I've finally nailed Francisco's unbeatable iced tea!

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Shulman is author of 'Mediterranean Light' (William Morrow).

Canning jars from Sur La Table stores.

Orange And Lemon Syrup

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus 2 hours cooling

This syrup goes especially well with smoky teas.

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3 oranges or enough for 1 1/2 cups juice

1 large or 2 small lemons or Meyer lemons

3/4 cup sugar

Wash the oranges and lemons carefully with warm water. Zest them, then cut them in half and squeeze all the juice. Mix together the juice, zest and sugar in a nonmetallic saucepan. Bring to a boil. Just when the mixture reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool. Stir occasionally.

When completely cool, about 2 hours, strain the syrup into clean, sterilized jars. Store in the refrigerator. Add by the teaspoon, to taste, to iced tea.

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About 1 1/2 cups.

Mint and Orange Syrup

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus 2 hours standing

The mint tea that I love to drink in North Africa inspired this syrup, which when mixed with iced tea, adds a sweet, minty flavor with a touch of orange. But it doesn't have the cloying sweetness of the North African version.

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1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups water

2 sprigs peppermint or spearmint

2 wide strips orange zest

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