Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

Why and How I Make Ice Tea at Home

Years ago I read that, at mid-game during a soccer match, electric plants in England (or maybe that was Wales) had to be ready for the enormous power surge required for millions of kettles plugged in all at the same time to make tea at mid-game. It made me think how such a small gesture (plugging an electric kettle in)  multiplied by millions had a huge impact. Mountain top removal, new electric high-tension power lines slashing through the countryside, fracking… those are all – in part at least – driven by seemingly small energy decisions that each of us make.

In a Virginia summer though, we don’t want hot tea, we drink ice-tea. Ice-tea needs not be made with boiling water. Ice-tea needs not be store-bought in a bottle either. Verily, it is very easy to make ice-tea, and pour some into a bottle you can take with you. And so inexpensive.

I still remember The Tightwad Gazette published in the early 90’s by Amy Dacyczyn. Her newsletters & books (borrowed from the library) really helped me focus on how small economies in every day life – so small that on a daily basis you may not notice them – really add up. And they can add up to a lot over the course of a year or two… or ten.

For example, both Keith & I brown-bagged when we lived and worked in the city. And we ate well since our meals were all cooked at home and then packaged for lunch. Those meals probably saved us $5/day each, so $10/day together. Do this for 200 days a year, and it’s a saving of $2,000/year. That was more than the cost of a monthly mortgage payment. Or it was the cost of an annual vacation. Do this over 15 years, and that adds up to $30,000. Invest the money at 5% a year, and after 15 years, you’ve got $35,426 — enough for a down payment on a house. Yes, it required discipline, but once we got into the groove of it, it was not difficult, it just became part of the routine. In a sense, it was like “found” money, not something we had to go out and earn more of, since we already had earned it.

It did not mean deprivation as a way of life – it meant living more richly with what we had.

Small routine savings add up significantly over time. It’s one (but not the only) reason why we cook from scratch, grow a food garden, heat with wood, can & preserve food, dry laundry on the line etc. So buying ice-tea is just anathema from a financial prospective (I won’t even mention taste!) as well as from an environmental prospective (the energy necessary to produce all those bottles, transport them,  refrigerate them in some cases is mind-boggling!)

While I often think about how small savings add up before making decisions, I don’t write often on the economics of doing things for one self (although I did write about The Economics of Canning Peaches). But considering costs is part of cooking. And I do that routinely as a caterer/personal chef.

To go back to ice-tea. If a bottle of ice-tea costs $2 (which is fairly low), then buying a bottle a day for 365 days cost $730 per year (365 x $2); if every other day, then the cost still is $365.

Making ice-tea from tea bags cost pennies per serving, even if using good quality tea! Making 1/2 gallon of iced-tea (using the sun or cold-brewing it) requires 4 tea bags of black tea. At $0.20 a bag, that’s a cost of  $0.80 for 1/2 gallon ( i.e 64 fl oz or the equivalent of 4 pint-bottles) or $0.20 per bottle. Savings per bottle? $1.80! Time to pour water into jar, add tea bags, put jar outside, remove inside when ready, wash jar, fill up 4 pint-bottles, wash pint bottles: 10 minutes , i.e. 2.5 minutes per bottle. As Amy would say: it’s as if  you earn $1.80 for 2.5 minutes of work – or $36 an hour, i.e. $72,000 a year (and that number would be higher if I were to figure out payroll and income taxes)!!!! Not too bad.

Another way to look at it: The cost of making ice-tea from tea bags (to drink a pint a day) is $73 per year, for 10 more minutes of work every 4 days, and saves $693/year.

I make sun ice-tea at home.

Using loose tea would be cheaper still, but use a little more time.

Making ice-tea from herbs you grow in your garden? Virtually free!

Of course, cost is not the only reason to make ice-tea – albeit it is not a negligible one. As every dish you make at home, you can make it according to your tastes; you can use a great variety of teas; you choose how much sweeteners and what kind to use (if at all!); you decide if you want caffeine or not; you can make herbal tea only or mix herbal & black. Or use green tea.  It’s pretty fresh, and has not been sitting on the shelf for months. It does not contain flavorings or preservatives. You don’t have to remember to add it to your shopping list, and you don’t have to lug the full bottles to the house, and then to the recycling facility when empty (I live in the country, I have to take my trash and recycling to the refuse center – no curb pick-up here).

So whether you want to take a small step toward conserving energy, saving money, or improving your health, make sun tea or cold brew your tea!

That was pretty preachy, wasn’t it?

But, really, how hard is it to make ice-tea?

One 1/2 gallon jar filled with water, 4 bags of tea of your choosing. You can mix (for example, 2 bags mint and 2 bags black tea). Sit outside in the sun for the day, then refrigerate. Or cold-brew in the fridge for 24 hours. Remove bags. Enjoy. If it’s too strong or not strong enough, use more or less tea next time.

Or: 1/2 gallon jar filled with water. Add whatever herbs you enjoy in tea. Brew. Strain. Drink. At the moment, for me in May in Virginia, fresh herbs include multiflora roses, all kinds of mints, lemon balm, lemon verbena, raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves, calendula, strawberry leaves, violet flowers & leaves. A few strawberries… nobody said you can’t use  berries, lemon slices , or other fruit slices in your tea! Later is the season, it might be linden flowers, thyme blossom, rosemary, bee balm, anise hyssop… Anything that you enjoy in hot tea is worth trying in an ice-tea.

You can also use dry herbs, although they may need to steep longer. Making ice-tea with herbs require more herbs than black tea – for my taste. It’s fun to experiment. And you have nothing to loose..

PS- when making herbal tea and black-tea at the same, I either label the jars or use very different looking jars. Some people in my household don’t really care for ice herbal tea!


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