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Iced tea is tea that is served cold, classically over ice to ensure that it stays cold. Many tea and tisane-drinking cultures have some form of this beverage, especially cultures with hot climates, and there are a number of different varieties, ranging from sweet, rich Thai iced tea with coconut milk to blends that include juice.
Brewing iced tea is generally fairly easy, as all one has to do is make a pot of tea and chill it. When the tea is brewed, it is often made especially strong, so that it can be served with ice. As the ice melts down, the water dilutes the drink, so if it was of normal strength, it might turn weak and watery as a result. Making it strong keeps the cold tea flavorful.
Some variations on the process for assembling iced tea include the use of hot tea that is poured over ice to create a lukewarm beverage, or the use of sun tea, which is steeped for several hours in the sun to extract its flavor. In areas with limited energy resources, sun tea can be convenient, because the water does not have to be heated. It is also popular in many places during the summer, where adding more heat to a home by turning on the stove can seem like a waste of energy.
Iced tea may also be mixed with juices to make it especially flavorful or to create a specifically desired flavor. In some cases, pieces of fruit or vegetables may be added directly to the tea during the brewing and steeping process; in China, for example, it is often made with slivers of ginger. Iced tea can also be brewed with things like lemons, strawberries, and fresh flowers, and these items may be served with the tea as well, for more visual interest.
Some well-known variations on iced tea include sweet tea, a form served in the American South that is heavily sweetened during the brewing process, and Thai iced tea, which is made with a strong blend of black tea and coconut milk, with a hint of sugar for sweetening. Iced tisanes like hibiscus tisane are also popular, especially in the tropics. It is also possible to find more exotic iced teas, like green tea with cocoa, in some regions of the world.
I love iced tea, but it's not always easy to find in my area. Most of the time it's the powdered iced tea mix @Reminiscence mentioned. I mostly drink bottled iced tea, especially the kind made from green tea and flavored with citrus fruits. I can usually find bottles of Lipton iced tea on store shelves all year round.
The other place I can usually find good iced tea these days is Starbucks. They sell Tazo iced tea now, and some of it is sweetened naturally.
When I lived in Ohio, my family made a lot of instant iced tea using powdered tea with sweeteners and lemon flavoring. It was okay, but not something I'd want every day. When I moved down to Alabama, however, I discovered that Southerners make an entirely different kind of iced tea. They brew it from real tea leaves and then add a simple syrup made from sugar and water to sweeten it up. I couldn't drink enough of it when I started ordering it at different restaurants.
Actually, down here customers either order "sweet" or "unsweet" tea. Some of the sweetened iced tea would be almost too sweet to drink if it weren't for the ice melting in the glass. People also squeeze wedges of lemon in their iced tea, whether it's sweet or unsweet. Some people order unsweet iced tea because the artificial sweeteners dissolve better than regular granulated sugar.
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