The Best Summer Beverage

Friday, June 22, 2012

Think your kids need Kool Aid for summer refreshment? Think again. This wild berry iced tea is perfect, and kid approved. Cheaper than juice and soda, too.

I’m not talking about tasty summer cocktails today, although I have a few on my mind, I won’t lie. Strawberry bourbon lemonade is likely my libation of choice this evening given the veritable horde of strawberries I bought at yesterday’s farmers’ market. And of course there’s always a blackberry margatini(Yeah, I just said that. Deal with it.) Or you could always go for a refreshing pomegranate martini, but why given so many fabulous fruits and berries are currently in season? On that note, I’ll certainly be mixing up something new and tasty to share with you very soon; check out my summer cocktails blog post for more ideas.

In the meantime, it’s not happy hour yet, and it’s a crazy hot day here in Boston. In fact, our bodies are quite good are regulating hydration—meaning, drink when you’re thirsty—but we should always keep an eye out towards maintaining adequate water intake on super-hot days. Thus, what I am talking about today is my favorite summer go-to beverage, which is —wait for it—sun-brewed herbal iced tea.

(No, don’t stop reading! Please? It’s awesome! Really!)

Nothing Says Summer Like Sun Tea

Sun tea was a regular fixture in my house while I was growing up. During the summer months, my mother regularly brewed tea outside on the patio. After a few hours, tea bags were removed, into the fridge it went, and, voilà: sun tea. To this day, my mother continues to brew her sun tea, and so do I.

My post today is not to discuss in depth the health properties of tea, decaf versus not, herbal infusions, and so forth. Suffice to say that coffee and tea are both delightful and healthy beverages, with tons of beneficial phytonutrients (plant-based chemicals). Even caffeine itself has some benefits, in moderation. The problems with coffee and tea are the extra calories people add to them, whether as sugar or milk, so that’s the big issue that can counteract their positive health effects, especially if weight is of concern. That’s the short version.

My point, rather, is to encourage you to think about iced-cold herbal tea as a healthful option when wondering what to drink.  Whether you have a patio—lucky you!—or simply a windowsill—not so lucky me!—perhaps it’s time to give sun tea a try. Given the current heat wave, my husband and I have been quaffing this down faster than I can make it. Literally. And guess what? You don’t really need to brew it in the sun. It’s just, you know, summer-y. But the tea will brew just fine making it the old-fashioned way, which, truth be told, I often do in the winter as well. And, honestly, you don’t even necessarily need hot water, in a pinch.

My favorite sun teas are made from herbal teas, aka, herbal infusions, as they’re known in the UK. This is both to avoid excess caffeine and, quite simply, because I love it. My favorite is a berry-flavored infusion. Isn’t it pretty? I’d tell you “It tastes just like fruit punch!” but you’d laugh, find me ridiculous, and stop reading immediately. So, no, it doesn’t taste like fruit punch exactly, but it does have a light, delicious berry flavor that brings some whimsy to plain old H20. Kind of like the cucumber-mint water I posted a few weeks ago. I’ll try making that once cucumbers are in season here in Boston, but—let’s be honest— that recipe is far more work than brewing tea and it’s not something I’d make everyday.

Unlike sun tea.

It really is the most refreshing calorie-free beverage out there, in my book. It will cost you pennies per serving, too. I also like orange-flavored infusions during the summer; there are so many out there from which to choose. I sometimes go with traditional white or green teas or decaffeinated black teas, too. Sometimes I get crazy and mix it up, say, green tea-wild berry, or black tea-orange. Yup, there’s even room for creativity in making sun tea, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Whether you dress it up with lemon or mint, berries or basil, or even add a touch of sweetener (if necessary), give this drink a try in the flavor and tea of your choice, and let me know what you think.

No, Seriously. Will I Like This? Will My Child Drink This?

I have a nephew, now 9 years old, and he’s sampled my sun tea before and found it quite tasty. This will be the beverage I take with us on July 4th to the esplanade for the Boston Pops and Fireworks Spectacular when my brother and his kids are visiting. If you or your children are used to more sugary beverages, like soda, it might take a bit of adjustment. There’s a YouTube video of how much sugar is contained in soda here in my post on Moxie, if you’d like to see just how much sugar there is in soda. Just sayin’.

The key to remember, however, is that taste preferences can evolve with repeated exposures and kids can learn to like—love, even—things you never thought possible. And the same is true for adults. All that said, another way of weaning your kids (or yourself) off highly sweetened beverages (whether with sugar or a sugar substitute) is to combine a berry iced tea with, say, a bit of, 100% orange juice. I used to do this on occasion, just to mix things up (i.e., it’s very tasty), but I don’t generally drink juices as they pack in a lot of calories quickly, among other reasons. I will some day get around to writing a post dedicated to fruit juices, as I’ve done for vegetable juices, but I’ll simply say here that this is one strategy you might employ in transitioning to less-sweetened beverages.

By the way, in case you’re just tuning in to Cooking and Eating the P.K. Way, you may be asking right now whether I ever consume sugar. Yes, yes I do. I’m a serious foodie who loves to cook and bake, and you can poke around my blog for more about that, whether chocolately brownies or maple buttercream-filled whoopie pies. But moderation is key, and I don’t keep that stuff around my house. And I avoid it in places where it’s not needed and there are more healthful alternatives available, whether food or drink.

So here we are, full circle, back to sun tea, because it’s something you can keep in your house and drink freely without guilt or worrying about your waist line. Ice cold and refreshing, it really is the best summer beverage.

And I need another glass.

Postscript (Winter, 2013). My husband is obsessed with this iced tea and drinks it all year long. There is always a pitcher in our refrigerator.

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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