Hot water, black tea, sugar, and…. baking soda?! Not exactly what those of us in Northern Michigan think of when we whip up a batch of tea, but any Southerner worth their weight in sweet tea will tell you it is an essential ingredient in this summertime staple. Tea brewed with a bit of baking soda mixed in is less cloudy, less bitter, and many would describe it as “smoother” … But why? The answer boils down tannins.
Tannins are compounds that can be found naturally in a variety of plants and therefore in the foods and beverages made from those plants. Most people associate tannins with wine, but tannins can also be found in coffee, chocolate, and tea. The bitter and astringent flavors of these foods and beverages, and their antioxidant properties, are attributed to the amount of tannins in each. Tannins in tea differ based on how the tea is produced and how long it is steeped. No amount of sugar is going to cover up a tannin filled, bitter black tea. That’s where the baking soda comes in.
If you think back to Chem 101, you probably remember learning about alkaline vs. acid and PH levels. Tannins are lower on the PH scale and therefore acidic. Baking soda is a base, which when mixed with water (the base of any tea) achieves a PH level of around 8. The alkaline mixture combines and neutralizes the acidic tannins, resulting in a less bitter tea.
Want to test this theory yourself? Here’s how!
- 12-regular sized black tea bags
- 1/8-teaspoon baking soda
- 1-quart water
- 1-quart ice cubes (for clearer cubes make with boiled water)
- 1 ¼ -cup simple syrup (to make syrup boil equal parts water and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature)
Place tea bags and baking soda into a heat proof glass pitcher
- Bring water to a rolling boil in saucepan or kettle and immediately pour over tea bags, submerging bags
- Cover and steep for 7 minutes
- Remove bags, without squeezing
- Add ice, stirring until completely dissolved
- Stir in simple syrup
- Refrigerate and serve over ice
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