'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Homemade lemon tea 自製凍檸茶

I always feel a sense of unease and embarrassment when I go over to friends' for dinner or party, and they ask me what I'd like to drink. In 9 out of 10 cases, I would say 'Oh, water would do.' They would either think I'm a health freak (which I clearly am not) or a weirdo (can't judge on that...). The truth is, in all humility, I just can't stand artificial flavours... Soft drinks are basically chemicals of course, and even 'healthy' commerical drinks like juice or pre-packaged tea still taste of those un-nameable ingredients that my tongue would instantly identify as chemicals, not food. Obviously I can't really tell people this when they offer me a drink - unless I want them to think that I'm an obnoxious snob!

At home, I like to make my own drinks with the exception of milk since I can't make it myself for obvious reasons. My beverage repertoire is still rather limited, but iced lemon tea is one that I often make. It's extremely easy to put together, and I don't know anyone who doesn't like iced lemon tea! When I was growing up, I loved the iced lemon tea we had in Hong Kong. There's the kind served in fast food restaurants which is basically strong black tea sweetened with syrup, filled with ice cubes and a few slices of lemon. I loved poking through the lemon flesh with the stirring stick and as a child, the amalgamation of tangy lemon juice, slightly bitter tea and sweet syrup felt like alchemy.

And then there were the two major commercial brands for lemon tea:  and 陽光 - I'm sure you would know these two brands if you are from Hong Kong. I don't know about you, but I've always preferred . It has a much stronger taste of tea which I consider essential in a decent lemon tea. 陽光 just tasted like sweetened lemon water to me... In fact, for many years, I thought that Vita lemon tea (維他檸檬茶) with Calbee's Hot and Spicy crisps (熱浪薯片) were the best things one could possibly eat on earth. They accompanied me in countless hours of watching anime and later, Japanese drama.

The way I go about making iced lemon tea is a bit different from how it's usually made. Instead of making hot tea and adding lemon slices to it, I squeeze the lemon juice first, set it aside, and only add it when the tea is cold so that I don't kill the precious vitamin C in the lemon. On the other hand, there's a chemical compound in the rind of the lemon that requires heating for it to 'activate'. It's the compound that makes a hot lemon drink so effective for treating a cold or cough. By heating the rind and keeping the juice cool, you get the best of both worlds.

Boiling the lemon rind also imparts flavour. As any desserts maker would know, the real flavour of lemon comes from the rind, not the juice (which contributes acidity). Heating the rind releases the fragrant lemon oil from the yellow skin as well as the tanginess from the white part of the rind. I actually like to leave the lemon halves in the tea for a day so that there is plenty of time for the rind to infuse the tea. After a day, however, the bitterness (苦澀) of the rind starts to set in. If you're adverse to the slightest suggestion of bitterness, remove the rind sooner by all means.

This recipe makes a lot but I assure you it would be gone much sooner than you think!

Homemade lemon tea 自製凍檸茶

These are the proportions that taste 'just right' to me - strong in tea and lemony flavours, but not overly acidic or sweet. Experiment with the proportions to suit your own tea/lemony/sour/sweetness preferences. Don't be alarmed by the amount of sugar though - it doesn't taste that sweet because of all the lemon juice. If you want to scale down the recipe, use one tea bag for 500ml of water.

4 litres of water
8 tea bags  (I used Lipton, but any black tea would do)
1 large lemon
100g (1/2 cup) sugar (or a combination of sugar and other sweeteners like golden's syrup or honey)

1. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and set aside.

2. Bring the water to a boil with the squeezed lemon halves in a large pan.

3. When the water has reached a boil, throw in all the tea bags.

4. Turn off the heat, put the lid back on and let steep for ten minutes. If you left the tea bags in for longer it would taste too bitter.

5. Remove the tea bags. I use chopsticks.

Chopsticks rock!

6. Squeeze the tea bags hard with a spoon to extract all the liquid. Pour the 'tea juice' back to the pan.

7. Add the sugar and stir well to dissolve. Leave to cool completely before adding the lemon juice. Chill in the fridge.

8. Remove the lemons when the tea is cold or after a day, depending on how lemony you want it. Make sure you squeeze hard on the lemons to extract all their goodness!

This is from a while ago - I used more lemons that time.

Variation: Occasionally, instead of lemon, I make pineapple tea using the core of pineapple and pineapple juice instead. The tropical aromas of pineapple work beautifully in iced tea!

Could you guess what this is?


  1. I have to say that I totally feel you. Vita lemon tea + Calbee Hot and Spicy chips = bliss!

  2. The ingredients calls for 1 lemon, but there's definately more than that in the pitcher. Did you add more?

  3. Does this taste like Vita lemon tea or is it different? There is also an "ICY" version. Do you know how to make that?

    1. Kind of like Vita. If you want to replicate the icy result I would suggest adding some mint?

  4. Thanks for that! I left the tea bags in too long the first time I tried and it got bitter. This time, I put in 10 bags, two of them were Earl Grey and I only left them in 4 1/2 minutes. I also took a sharp knife, cut only the rind of the lemon off in chunks leaving out the pith and stuck the rind bits in a tea ball for the duration of the boil. I used raw cane sugar, about 2/3 of a cup. it's very close to Vita lemon tea now.

    1. Yum! I love your way of dealing with the rind, too! I'll try it sometime. Thanks!

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