DIY BYOB: Cold Summer Beverages

Ahh, summer: The season of frittering away my paycheck on iced beverages. The season of recycling many, many plastic drink cups and the accompanying “I shouldn’t be using so much plastic” guilt. The season of wondering exactly how much sugar is in all those iced beverages.

No more! A few weeks ago, I decided to liberate myself from the iced-beverage monopoly.* I’ve been making my own iced coffee and iced tea and hauling it all to work. I’m saving money and gaining arm strength carting all these beverages around. For both, I cold-brew, meaning I use cold water, and in the case of the iced tea, the fridge. Something about the process of cooling down hot coffee or tea for iced coffee makes both go a bit bitter. That’s not a problem with cold-brewed. The taste is fresh and clean. Just what you want when it’s a zillion degrees out.

I’ve been making my own cold-brewed iced coffee using this recipe from the New York Times intermittently for a few years, but with student loans to pay off and a relative paucity of convenient Dunkins on my commute (what do I gotta do to get a convenient Dunkin on my commute, New England?!), I’ve been drinking it nearly every day.

The coffee takes less than five minutes to prepare the night before and about as much time to pour and mix the next morning. I don’t water down the coffee concentrate as much as they recommend—I just throw in a splash of water and about three ice cubes—so I get about one and a half drinks per batch. I store the leftover coffee in a glass covered in foil in the fridge, and it seems to do just fine in there for a day or two. I like my iced coffee with two-percent milk and a dash of simple syrup (more on that below), but I’m sure it would hold up to the preparation of your choice.

Cold-brewed iced tea is a different animal. It’s not as strong as its coffee counterpart or the kind you brew hot and then cool down. I view this as a good thing, but if you don’t, you might want to read Vrylena’s instructions for iced tea. Or just use more tea bags than I’ve been using, I guess. I like four tea bags per two quarts of cold water—it’s strong enough to taste but still light—but you could start with two for an agua fresca feel and adjust upwards from there for your liking. Flexibility! It’s a beautiful thing. So far I’ve had good luck with every variety of tea I’ve tried, and that includes two kinds of vanilla-flavored black tea, Moroccan mint green tea, a hibiscus tea, and a raspberry matcha tea. Leave the tea in the fridge to steep at least eight hours or overnight. Black tea seems to benefit from closer to 24 hours of steeping, but it will be fine after 12.** I like my tea straight up with ice or with a teensy bit of simple syrup to brighten the flavor. Jay likes his with quite a bit more simple syrup. Again, your preference.

What’s simple syrup, you ask? It’s the liquid sugar stuff they use to sweeten iced beverages at Starbucks. You can buy it at Whole Foods and many other stores (a common brand is Monin), but it’s so easy to make at home that there’s absolutely no reason to spend money on it.

Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Pour the water into a small saucepan over medium-high heat.

Stir in the sugar and continue to stir until it dissolves. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and boil for about a minute. Reduce the heat and simmer for about another three minutes.

Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool. It will thicken as it cools.

When cool, store the syrup in a jar in the fridge. It keeps well, and this recipe is easily multiplied to fit your needs.

*This is a reference that I’m sure no one will get but me. There used to be these weird little text ads at the bottom of the front page of the New York Times in the 90s that said “so-and-so building has been liberated from the cable monopoly!” They sounded oddly like an incitement to revolution.

**EDIT: Added instructions about steeping time for tea.

4 Responses to “DIY BYOB: Cold Summer Beverages”
  1. Kristen says:

    KTA! I am brewing some cold vanilla black tea straight from london as we speak! however, I do not have any glass jars, so I don’t know if i can store a simple syrup (i refuse to purchase anything new at this point until i move…) Maybe i will have to stop at WF. Also, how long does the tea stay good for?

    • Katy says:

      KP! You can store the simple syrup in a regular drinking glass in the fridge. Just cover it with foil or plastic wrap, and it should be fine for a week or so. The jar I use is actually a very large glass with a plastic lid: Neither the tea nor the syrup lasts long enough in our house for me to know its real life span. I would imagine you’d want to drink it within a week, but I don’t think it will last that long. I take a big Nalgene bottle of tea to work every day, sometimes two, and I can go through a pitcher in under two days just on my own. Sometimes Jay and I will go through a whole pitcher together in a day.

      • Kristen says:

        sweet. il’l give that a try then. the reason i ask about length is that i made it last night but i’ll be out of town for the weekend and i didn’t make syrup yet- so all of those things combined mean that i may not try it till monday… 🙂 but i only made 1 quart to start, so I should be able to finish that up within a week! thanks!

  2. Katy says:

    I think you’ll be OK, but you could also bring some of the tea with you in a water bottle! Making the syrup takes less than five minutes of active time. Most of the process is letting the syrup cool.

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