We're big fans of iced tea, and we think there are two good ways to make it — cold steeping overnight, or flash cooling by pouring hot tea over ice cubes, in a variation of the Japanese iced coffee method. We generally drink our tea as is, or with a little simple syrup.
Pour 1/2 gallon of cold water over 30 g (1 oz) of tea and place in the fridge for 12 hours. For a stronger brew, use a little more tea. Strain your tea into another vessel and enjoy!
Steep your tea about twice as strong as you'd drink it, and pour this concentrate over a vessel full of ice. About half the ice will melt by the time you've finished pouring, and you'll have nearly instant iced tea.
The man most often credited with the idea of icing tea is known for little else: Search for information about Richard Blechynden and you'll find that he was a British tea plantation owner hoping to gain customers at the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair (also called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), and frustrated because no one wanted hot tea in the heat of the Louisiana summer, added ice as last resort. I have been able to find little else, save that his grandfather was a prolific diarist.
It seems ironic that Blechynden’s fame should hang on his reputation as the wellspring of iced tea when it is manifestly clear that he deserves almost no credit for the beverage’s invention.
As early as 1870's American cookbooks had recipes for iced tea — recipes that really haven't changed in the intervening centuries. The Buckeye Cookbook (1876) by Estelle Woods Wilcox, suggests that:
"To have it perfect and without the least trace of bitter, put tea in cold water hours before it is to be used, the night previous if for breakfast, or twelve-o'clock dinner, and in the morning if for tea; the delicate flavor of the tea and abundant strength will be extracted and there will be not a trace of the tannic acid which renders tea so often disagreeable and undrinkable."
Earlier still is a recipe for a tea punch in the 1839 cookbook "The Kentucky Housewife", by Lettice Bryanon:
"Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling on one pound and a quarter of loaf sugar. Add half pint of rich sweet cream, and stir in gradually a bottle of claret or of champaign. You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups."
One and a quarter pounds of sugar should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 and a half cups, though it's unclear how dense loaf sugar would have been. For more about loaf sugar and old sugar cutting instruments, check out www.oldandinteresting.com/sugar-nippers.aspx.