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Welcome to WFAEats — a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and interesting in the Charlotte food scene. We want to share stories, recipes and culinary escapades and hear about yours!

Iced Is Nice: National Iced Tea Month

Iced tea, lake, table
Andrij Bulba
Iced tea at the lake.

Picture a tall, cool glass of iced tea, just waiting to be guzzled on this sweltering day. Now try to wrap your poor, parched brain around this: That glass is one of 68 billion that people in the U.S. will drink this year (give or take a few). This alone is reason enough to celebrate National Iced Tea Month, now through the end of June. 

Tea has been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia, and its beginnings are "steeped" in ancient lore. According to one legend, a Chinese emperor was sipping a cup of boiled water when a gust of wind blew some aromatic leaves into the cup and imparted a pleasant flavor. In another version of the story, the emperor was tasting different herbs and berries to observe their medicinal properties. If he ingested one that turned out to be poison, he chewed on tea leaves as an antidote. 

Even if we don't stop and think about the history of the drink we pour over ice and gulp by the gallon, tea has been part of the world's economy for centuries. Just be careful what you call it: The term "tea" scientifically refers only to Camellia sinensis and its variations. Infusions of herbs, spices, plants or other ingredients are technically infusions or tisanes.

Flowering teas are small bundles of genuine tea leaves wrapped tightly around flowers such as jasmine or hibiscus. They're usually served in glass vessels so drinkers can watch them unfold in slow motion to reveal their inner beauty. These floral flavors are delicate over ice, and some flowering teas can be re-steeped up to three times. 

In a hurry? Bottled, canned, and other prepared tea drinks are booming in the U.S. Sales passed the $5 billion sales mark in 2014, according to the Tea Association of the USA, Inc. 

These days, unusual teas with layers of flavors are popular. Google most any combination and chances are good someone is selling Organic Strawberry Basil Green TeaBeet Cabbage Tea or Mojito Marmalade Tea. Experts disagree on how and when the iconic Chai Iced Tea beverage served in restaurants originated. No matter: Cookbook friend Kathy Hester shared this terrific recipe tea-lovers can make at home. 

It's guaranteed to help you keep your cool.

Kathy Hester’s Homemade Slow Cooker Chai Concentrate

6 cups (1500ml) water

5 slices fresh ginger - about a 1/2 inch knob

4 whole cinnamon sticks

10 whole cloves

10 whole peppercorns

8 whole allspice berries

6 cardamom pods

10 regular teabags (black, green, or rooibos) or 5 pitcher sized tea bags

sweetener of your choice, to taste - optional

In the morning: Put water and spices (or spice bag) in your 4 quart slow cooker. You can use a large tea ball or muslin tea bag to make straining easier or you can strain out at the end with a fine mesh strainer. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

After cooking: Add in tea bags to the slow cooker and turn to high. Let steep 5 to 10 minutes depending on how concentrated you want the flavor to be.

Remove tea bags and add sweetener if desired. Take out the cinnamon sticks. If you didn't use a spice bag, pour into a pitcher while straining out the spices through a piece of cheesecloth placed in a funnel to remove the rest of the whole spice.

Store in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks. It can be frozen as well. For stovetop and 4th burner pot versions of this recipe, visit healthyslowcooking.com.

Recipe © Kathy Hester; reprinted with permission of the author.