Being a New Orleanian expatriate in southern California can be a real pain in the butt sometimes. Like when all I want is a real, unadulterated goddamn glass of iced tea.

L.A. has this fruit-flavored iced tea fetish (Paradise Tropical Tea being the worst of a bad lot, although I suppose that fountain syrup raspberry tea is even worse than that), and it's getting difficult to find The Right Stuff in southern California restaurants these days. The tropical tea companies seem to be pressuring restaurants to drop regular tea entirely in favor of their product. You can read all about it in my article on the subject that was published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine on Sunday, January 16, 1994 -- the day before the big Northridge earthquake (see what happens when I get pissed off!).

I am from the South. In the South, we drink iced tea. This is how it's made. It consists of black tea. Period. No excuses or variations allowed on this one, sorry. It's either this, or I dump the caffeinated fruity water into the potted plant. Do it like this, or get it away from me.

You can use 6 standard tea bags for this, but loose tea tastes MUCH better.

Place the tea leaves or tea bags (use four if you like weak tea) in the bottom of a metal or glass container -- NEVER, repeat, never in a plastic container.

Bring the water just to the boiling point, just to the point where it's bubbling fully, but but do not sustain the water at a rolling boil; over-boiling the water makes the tea taste flat.

Pour the water over the bags and allow to steep for 5-7 minutes. Pour into a 2-quart pitcher, and add the room temperature water. Don't add cold water, because that leads to cloudy tea. Allow to cool, or refrigerate. Never dilute the tea in the pitcher with ice.

To serve -- Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour the tea over it, and sweeten to taste. Serve guests with a long spoon, a bottle of sugar syrup for sweetening, as granulated sugar never quite all dissolves. That is, if you like that godawful "sweet tea" they serve in the Deep South, which is north of where we are. If you want to make Deep South-style "sweet tea", add an eye-popping amount of sugar syrup to your tea pitcher, until it's so sweet that your teeth shudder. My recommendation -- omit or otherwise go easy on the sugar and try tasting the tea.

You can make a quart of sugar syrup by dissolving 5-6 cups of sugar in 3 cups of cold water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it's dissolved and clear, cool and pour into a stoppered bottle. Use for sweetening tea, coffee and cocktails. If you're not going to use it relatively quickly, keep it in the fridge. If it starts to get cloudy or form any kind of mold or other wildlife, dump it out and make some more.

I suppose you could also offer packets of some kind of horrid artificial sweetener if you insist, and a lemon wedge on the side of each glass. Those artificial sweeteners invariably taste awful, and if your diet doesn't allow you to have sugar, drink it naked. Learn to taste the tea on its own. You'll get used to it very quickly, and I think you'll enjoy it more. That's the way I almost always drink it.

I hear that some people put fresh mint leaves in the bottom of the pitcher with the tea bags and let them steep, but this sounds like a Georgia thing to me, and ain't a New Orleans thing. I don't like mint in my tea. I just like tea in my tea, perhaps a little lemon if it's iced, a drop of milk if it's hot.


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)