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Pretty much every time I've had an Arnold Palmer—that mix of iced tea and lemonade that's sometimes called a "half and half"—it's been disappointing. They're often tinny with the taste of instant powdered tea, or bitter from over-brewed bags, and hinting at the scent of lemon floor cleaner from whatever crystallized stuff went into the lemonade. Even made fresh, they never measure up to the Arnold Palmer in my mind.
The ideal version would have rich tea flavor: tea with a backbone (but not unpleasant astringency or bitterness). It would have bright, fresh, real lemon in there, tart and tangy and sweetened just enough to make it drinkable by the pitcher. The mix would be bold and flavor-packed, not like bad tea and bad lemonade hiding in a glass of watery ice, hoping the combination can redeem them.
And it turns out that the secrets to the Arnold Palmer of my dreams were hiding here on Serious Eats all this time.
Not-So-Secret #1: The Best Iced Tea
Iced tea should be clean-tasting and refreshing, highlighting the smooth, rich flavors of your tea without putting bitterness and astringency up front. Brewing your tea hot is not the way to get there. Chilling down hot tea leaves you with what my colleague Max described as stale, "bitter mulch water." And the Japanese iced coffee method—brewing the tea at double strength, then pouring directly over ice to dilute—gives you tea that tastes both over-extracted and watered down. Max's tests and Kenji's earlier ones suggest that the best-tasting iced tea doesn't come from chilling down hot tea, or letting your tea brew in the sun. Sun tea is romantic and all—we can all picture our grandmothers lovingly setting it out to brew—but it actually doesn't taste as good, and it's not as safe from bacteria as tea that brews in your fridge.
There's nothing complicated about cold-brewed tea: You plop four tea bags—or a fat tablespoon of loose tea—in a quart of water. (I like to use big Mason jars for this, since they seal nicely, but it actually doesn't matter whether you brew in glass, plastic, or aluminum, as long as you serve your tea from a glass.) Let the mixture chill out in the refrigerator for five hours. Strain or remove the tea bags. Drink immediately, or store in the fridge for up to three days.
Or, hold up. Don't drink it yet. Because the tea is even better when mixed with...
Not-So-Secret #2: The Most Flavorful Lemonade
You might have spotted Stella's method for the best homemade limeade a few weeks back. The key is that this stuff isn't your standard lime juice, water, and sugar mix. Instead, the sugar's dissolved into an intense syrup, made by simply stirring the juiced citrus rinds with sugar and leaving them at room temp for a while. The sugar draws the aromatic essential oils out of the rinds, adding complex flavor to the drink once it's mixed with lime juice and a little cold water.
What works for limes works for lemons, too, and, ta-da, we have our ultimate lemonade recipe. Enjoy.
Or, hold up. Before you add that water, decide if you really do want lemonade or if you're craving a little A.P. action.
The Final Touch: The Proper Mix
You can mix our cold-brewed iced tea and our finished lemonade together, and the results are fine. But the best Arnold Palmer requires slightly different proportions. Instead of adding cold water to your lemon rind syrup and fresh lemon juice mixture, you'll do the dilution with the tea that you've brewed in your fridge. A quart of cold tea is just right for contributing a backdrop of earthy, silky black tea and keeping the mix from tasting watery or bland.
Popping with complex fresh-lemon flavor, this is intense stuff—which is great, since you'll want to pour it into tall cups of ice when the weather's hot. Bring the cups and pitcher to your patio, and offer a bottle of bourbon on the side. Guests can doctor their drinks with booze or leave them nonalcoholic, depending on their preferences (and plans for the rest of the afternoon).