Raise your hand if you worked as a waitress for your summer job.
I did so for approximately 2.653 seconds until I couldn’t stand it any longer. It’s not that I don’t like customers — I do, really. And it wasn’t the uniform because mine wasn’t half bad. It was the iced tea.
I was working in a California-style pizza restaurant as an intern, meaning I worked my way from the busgirl to hostess to pizza prep over the course of the summer. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade that taught me a lot of random info, like every button on the POS system and how wonderfully chilaquiles work as a staff breakfast.
But back to that iced tea. It was dispensed from a fountain, pre-sweetened, and had some mundane tropical name. And I despised it. There were free refills and people couldn’t get enough. The worst was if you spilled even one eye dropper’s worth because everything became exceedingly sticky, like a sort of drinkable super glue. Needless to say, that experienced turned me off iced tea for some time, as in the last decade or so.
Hawaii has changed that because absolutely everyone drinks iced tea, and, wouldn’t you know, I’ve developed a thing for iced green tea. But the real treat is the local iced tea known as Plantation Tea. It’s like an Arnold Palmer made with pineapple juice instead of lemonade though, honestly, that’s underselling it. The best Plantation Tea I’ve come across is just ever so slightly sweet yet more exciting than regular iced tea; my favorite version is made with lemongrass and cinnamon for something that’s both familiar and exotic.
I’ve been back from Hawaii only a few days, but I’m already going through Plantation Tea withdrawals. The answer? To make my own version with a bit of a twist, like a not-so-sweet Southern sweet tea hybridized with Plantation Tea. The result is a mint, lime, cinnamon, lemongrass, pineapple, and black iced tea that’s refreshing yet bracing with enough caffeine to perk you up. And the best part? No stickiness to speak of.
Plantation-Style Lemongrass and Cinnamon Iced Tea Recipe
- Makes: 6 to 8 servings//8 cups tea
- Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
- Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
- 4 cups (1 quart) water
- 10 black tea bags
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- 1 (3-inch) piece cinnamon
- 2 bunches fresh mint (about 1 1/2 ounces), divided
- 1/2 cup ice cubes, plus more for serving
- 4 cups chilled 100% pineapple juice (no added sugar)
- 1/3 cup superfine sugar or honey
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4 medium limes)
Bring water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat (don’t let it boil), about 5 minutes. Add tea, cover partially, and let steep until the flavor is stronger than desired but not bitter, about 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, trim the ends off the lemongrass, and cut the stalk into 2-inch pieces. Cut each 2-inch piece in half lengthwise then bruise by lightly hitting with the back of a wooden spoon.
Once the tea has steeped, discard the tea, add lemongrass, cinnamon, and mint (minus about 6 to 8 stems you’ll want to reserve for garnish) and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Add enough ice to make 4 1/2 cups of tea, then stir in the pineapple juice, and sugar or honey. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 2 hours.
Once the tea is cold, discard the cinnamon, lemongrass, and mint and stir in the lime juice. Taste and adjust with more lime juice or sugar as desired. Serve iced tea over ice and garnish each glass with a sprig of mint.