I found them last winter, while meandering around an antique mall, pausing idly from booth to booth, fingering odds and ends. They sat among a jumble of dusty things. There were six of them with a ribbon tied around their reed-thin handles, some kind of utensil, though it took me a minute to figure out what.
Then I realized I held an elegant set of sterling silver iced tea straws, with delicate mint-leaf shaped spoons.
I decided the combination sippers-and-stirrers were Victorian because of the finely etched veins on the spoons and because only the Victorians had a utensil for just about everything. I bought them right away and stepped out into the cold, hoping for warmer days.
Today, warmth surrounds me as I pick up my son R.J. from school, the last days of fifth grade before the summer holidays. The humidity is high, the sun strong and I know exactly what I'm going to do when I get home: make some iced tea.
When R.J. was born, my husband Ron and I lived in languid New Orleans in a splendid Victorian house with a wraparound porch and gingerbread trim.
Our neighbors to the right of us always brewed their iced tea right on their back porch. Sun tea, they called it, stringy tea bags afloat in tap water in a large glass pitcher brewing ever-so-slowly throughout the morning in the hot sun. They would always offer me some on ice if I were outside.
I have less patience. For good measure, I shovel in plenty of ice. The ice splits and crackles at first, but then cools down and bobs about. I like to add fresh mint and lemon slices, or fresh basil and orange slices.
When I have company, I leave the herb leaves whole, and when alone, I crush them for a burst of flavor. The tea tastes good for several days if covered and kept refrigerated.
This is just the way I do it, the beauty of iced tea is that you can do what you like. My husband prefers his sweet, Southern-style like his roots, so he gets it heaped with sugar. My son drinks his decaf with extra ice.
Though I make a simple iced tea, iced tea can be made using any kind of tea, with added sweeteners, with carbonated water instead of still water, or with assorted dairy products. I also prefer the kind that I brew at home by steeping tealeaves, rather than a packaged mix, bottled or canned tea, but I have become more adventurous.
One of my new favorites is Bubble Tea from Taiwan, a black iced tea sweetened with sugar and condensed milk with gummy tapioca pearls floating in it. Another iced tea I tried recently was a deep pink hibiscus tea barely sweetened with syrup and frothy with seltzer. I have even lately sampled and enjoyed passion fruit tea with lemonade mixed in. I experiment and have fun.
After all, little says summer more to me than a pretty pitcher of refreshing iced tea served on my back porch. I toss Today, warmth surrounds me as I pick up my son R.J. from school, the last days of fifth grade before the summer holidays. The humidity is high, the sun strong and I know exactly what I'm going to do when I get home: make some iced tea. a vintage tablecloth on my table, invite friends and neighbors over, pour tea into chilled glasses, perhaps serve a slice of blueberry tart, and of course, give everyone their very own Victorian iced tea straw.
This story first appeared in my column Tea Talk for Inns magazine.