Can’t stand the heat? Get into the kitchen — but only long enough to make iced tea.

I’m working in my underpants. Sorry if that’s way too vivid an image for you. But it’s in the mid-90s, my apartment has tall south- and west-facing windows, and I have no air conditioning.

Those of you who aren’t screaming and pouring Clorox directly into your eyes should read on for tips on staying cool.

Unless your office observes really casual Friday, you can’t go to work in your underpants the way I can. Most of the time it’s great to be a freelancer/at-home worker because:

  • The commute is a cinch.
  • You can take breaks any time you want. You can even go to a movie in the middle of the day. (Then again, when traditional wage slaves are breaking out of their stanchions at 6 p.m.. you’ll be trying to catch up on what you should have been doing.)
  • No one cares what you’ve got on, even if it’s only dollar-store underwear. I’m pretty sure I still own pantyhose, but I’m not sure where it is.

On the other hand, an office would probably be air-conditioned. Things even out.

So I crank the blinds inside out to reflect the sun, set up the pedestal fan ($4, rummage sale), and make a big pitcher of iced tea. I move slowly. I wear light clothing or none at all until I have to go out. My lunch today was a smoothie made with frozen blackberries, a banana, some milk and a little sugar.

(OK, so that’s almost a milkshake. “Smoothie” sounds healthier. Permit me a little self-delusion. It’s hot in here.)

The good old days were…sweaty

Any of you tempted to say, “Our grandparents didn’t have air conditioning and they did just fine”? No, they didn’t. They merely endured. And those with health problems may have expired a little sooner than necessary, especially in crowded cities where buildings were constructed for maximum use of space rather than with attention to site placement, cross-ventilation, awnings, shade trees, etc.

Come to think of it, a lot of buildings are still being designed that way. Here in Seattle I see condos and townhomes jammed cheek-by-jowl with few windows and no green space. Which explains why the ass-ends of so many air conditioners mar the facades of those buildings.

My apartment has tall, horizontal-sliding windows, so that pretty much precludes an air conditioner. Besides, Seattle doesn’t get hot enough often enough to bother. So for a few days a year I put a wet washcloth on the back of my neck and drink a lot of iced tea.

Three times costlier than gasoline

Homemade tea, of course, is the only way to go. Ever read the unit-price label on your favorite bottled tea? Even the cheapest stuff runs as high as $5-plus per gallon, and the flavored or “all natural” bottled teas cost between $8 and $13-plus a gallon.

If gasoline cost $13 a gallon, people would riot.

Just a few aisles over from the bottled tea are boxes of tea bags. At a supermarket near me, the 100-count box of the Shoppers Value brand costs $1.39. When it goes on sale for a buck I buy eight or nine boxes. Each nets me 25 two-quart batches of tea, which works out to 8 cents per gallon.

Those of you who can taste a difference between generic and brand-name products can always watch for loss leader/coupon combo deals. I’ve paid as little as $1.39 a box for Lipton tea, the brand my mom always used.

Some folks prefer loose tea, saying it has better-quality leaves and more flavor. That’s probably true. But mine is a proletarian palate. I’m OK with Shoppers Value.

Even after adding sweetener and lemon, I’m paying practically nothing for my beverage. Besides, I have a couple of frugal hacks for those two products. I trade spent ink cartridges in at Staples and use the resulting scrip to get Sweet ‘n Low for free. Instead of using real lemons, I add a splash of Wyler’s Light lemonade, which I get at Walgreens for about 33 cents per two-quart pitcher.

Like I said: Proletarian palate.

If you can boil water, you can make tea

Don’t like artificial sweeteners? Use sugar, but add it to the hot water as the tea steeps so it dissolves completely. Unless, of course, you’re one of those heathens who drinks unsweetened tea.

Everyone has a favorite tea recipe. Here’s what works for me: To a cup of not-quite-boiling water I add four tea bags and let the brew steep for 14 minutes. Yes, that’s strong enough to stand a spoon in, but afterward I add it to enough cold water to fill a two-quart pitcher.

When the pitcher is half empty, I steep another four bags, then remove them and put the cup in the fridge. Although it looks cloudy after a day, don’t worry: The taste is not affected, and adding water turns it that perfect pale amber. Having a cup of tea elixir on hand at all times ensures that you never run out of tea, an important consideration on hot days.

You can get much fancier, of course. An Internet search (preferably using my site’s Google widget – it’s just above the Swagbucks one) will yield recipes for spectacular sips like peach mint green tea, minted mango tea, cranberry ginseng tea, and sparkling red and green tea.

Tea contains antioxidants, and in the past I’ve read studies indicating that tea:

  • Is good for your cardiovascular system
  • May stabilize blood sugar
  • Can help guard against osteoporosis

What I know for sure is that it tastes good, it’s very cooling and it’s extremely cheap. That is, unless you’re determined to pay $13 a gallon for the stuff.


17 Comments

  1. DH just made a big pot o’tea for the fridge.

    A driving force in my life has been the ability to have temperature control. I have foregone meat in order to use a window unit air conditioner. My hierarchy of needs is something like: Air, Water, temperature control, food, sleep, shelter…

    Growing up I had one of those Scarlett O’Hara moments where I got down on my knees and swore I would never be too hot or too cold again.

  2. We don’t have A/C either. We’d only really need it for a week or two a year. Luckily, even when temps are in the 90′s during the day, it cools off nicely at night. (Rocky Mountain region). I am amazed at how many folks around here do have air conditioning though.
    I experimented with “sun tea” this summer. I fill a large wide mouth bottle (with a lid) with water and a bunch of tea bags and set it out on the picnic table in full sun on our deck. Works great! Still not sure exactly the best number of teabags to use, but it tastes great every time (I think I use more bags than I need to- still experimenting by gradually cutting down).

  3. A tea recipe! I love it!! :-)

    Here where hot is hot and men are …well, sometimes not so hot, we also make our tea by tossing a few teabags into a jar of water and letting it stand out in the sun all day. Makes a nice, mellow, sometimes very strong brew. Constant Comment, if you enjoy tea kitsch, makes especially delicious sun tea.

    One strategy people used here during the pre-air-conditioning era is to hang a clean, wet dish towel over a fan. This creates a kind of DIY swamp cooler. And set the fan to blow directly on you, not to wave around the room — moving air works to cool you only when it’s actually blowing on you.

    I keep cool during the summer and shoulder seasons by staying wet. A dip in the pool makes the 85-degree air in my marginally air-conditioned palace comfortable. It’s important to get your hair wet–the evaporation of water from your head goes a long way toward making you feel cooler. You could get the same effect by jumping in the shower once every hour or two. Wear a bathing suit or leotard into the shower and you’ll stay damp for quite a while–a folded-up towel will protect your desk chair from hour soggy derriere.

  4. How is it so hot in Washington and so cool down here in L.A.? Today will be the warmest of the week and we’re only getting up to 86.

    Of course since it’s so hot, you won’t be able to find a deal on fans (or fans for that matter…), but I highly recommend a pair of box fans in your windows to create a nice cross breeze. Mine were only $20 each and they really do the trick!

  5. Donna Freedman

    @Stella: Feel free to siphon all the heat southward. No, really. I insist.
    I could put a box fan in the horizontal slider, but the west-facing window is a vertical opener that opens only about eight inches — it’s not an egress window — and the sill isn’t wide enough to hold a fan. :-(
    Yeah, I think it’s weird, too.
    Fortunately, my $4 pedestal fan continues to prove its mettle. I love rummage sales.
    Thanks for reading.

  6. Hi Donna,

    For us Seattlites who don’t work in AC – it is miserable. I work for a not-for-profit so everyday is a bit casual…but more than underwear. We are all hot, cranky, and talking about the weather. At home, I put a big block of ice in an old dishpan behind the fan. It seems to blow cooler air that way. Also, try standing in a shallow tub of cold water. I don’t know why, but it cools me right down.

    Rest assured, however, cooler weather is on the way! Oh, and a news weatherman friend tells me we are expecting a cold, snowly winter. So, as we are trying to deal with the heat we need to start thinking of how best to prepare for the cold weather that is coming.

    Iced tea rocks, so does more concentrated iced tea pops.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Susan: I read a novel set during WWII, and the family living in a stiflingly hot Detroit flat put a block of ice in a dishpan under the table, set a towel on top and the three women rested their feet on it. Whatever works.
      I’m not worried about winter: I have a snow shovel, brought with me from Alaska (by way of Chicago), and the chance to earn a little extra cash by shoveling the walkways at the apartment building I managed until recently. Remember two winters ago at Christmas, when everything basically shut down due to the ice buildup on roads? I’m lucky enough not only to live close to stores et al., but also to have brought my YakTrax with me, too. No worries about slipping and falling.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. Oh, I almost forgot. I make the block ice by recyling milk cartons or jugs. The waxed cartons work better if you pull the paper container off and let the ice melt in the dishpan.

  8. Those swamp heater remedies only work if the humidity isn’t a zillion percent. :(

  9. I guess I have no taste in tea because I use Lipton’s Instant. Plus, I drink the decaffeinated kind. AND, I cannot stand sugar in my tea. Living alone, I would throw out too much tea if I brewed it. So, I learned long ago to like instant tea. I can make it by the glassful. Refrigerated tea is so obvious and tastes foul to my palate, even with the pitcher covered. Even tea-colored water suits me. Portable ACs would be for me if the window were too small. There are long, skinny fans that will fit in the narrow windows. Here in north Alabama it is 91, very cool compared to the last three weeks. Yet, I do run the ac. You really don’t want to know what I would do if necessary to get ac….lol.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Linda: Just FYI, when I was up in Alaska this summer, I did make iced tea by the glass. Just one teabag, steeped about 9 minutes in a cup of water, enough water added afterward to make a decent-sized glass.
      Definitely to each his own, though. A lot of people would say I have no taste, either, because I don’t use loose tea. Whatever works.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment. Stay cool.

  10. Sarah L

    Ahh!! a post about the virtues of iced tea…my favorite subject!

    THe best thing I ever got myself 3 years ago was an iced tea maker. Until then, I’d been boiling the water, but sometimes the tea tasted good, sometimes it didn’t, even when I did the same things, an once my little guy came along, I didn’t have the time to try and make it, even though it was my favorite drink. I paid $17 for the tea maker, and brew up a pitchur every day. I put in 6 regular tea bags (our tea is more expensicve! :( I get Kroger brand, I like the taste, that that’s $2.75 for 100) and then I add one bag of flavored, like orange pice, or blueberry, etc, and it makes almost 3 qts, and in less than 10 minutes. It’s fantastic. After that hard use, I did have to finally replace mine, it just died, but I think I got my moneys worth. There’s no other drink I love so much as iced tea!!

  11. FranticWoman

    I dont like bottled tea at all since it doesnt taste like my mother’s. :P She brewed it everyday in the summer when I was growing up.

    I make it the same way with the boiling water and teabags. I only make 2 cups worth a day or so (to keep caffeine down). I use IRISH tea bags – can’t stand Lipton because all I taste is LIPTON flavor, not “Tea”.

    I live in a high humid place with over 46 days of 90 degrees or hotter this summer. The A/C and I are close friends. I do only cool one room at a time though, whichever room I am in. I also have one of those cold-pack thingies for my neck, helps a lot outside. My friend menopause introduced me.

    I use to live in a city with only one week of hot per year or so. The freezer aisle at the Safeway would be very very crowded on those days.

    -FW

  12. Catseye

    Hey Donna! I’m in Arkansas, where I’ve lived most of my life and it’s been hellish here this summer. You’d think that living in the south, I’d be used to hot weather but I’ve always hated it. We’ve had weeks of 100 plus temps this year and my AC just can’t handle it. My bedroom’s always been the hottest room in the apartment (no pun intended) but it’s been pretty unbearable this year because it doesn’t really cool down at night in this part of the country. Today, it only reached 96 degrees and it was wonderful! Never thought I’d say something like that.
    Thanks for the tea elixer recipe. Iced tea, or sweet tea, is very popular in the south. If you like a combo of iced tea/lemonade, try using margarita mix instead. Yummy! You can even add some tequila to it. And keep some glasses in the fridge to pour the tea into. Cold tea in cold glasses is soooo refreshing.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Catseye: Cold glasses — good idea! A mug with a handle would be best; less slippery that way.
      Sorry to hear you’re boiling down there. I hope it cools off soon.
      Thanks for reading.

  13. I make ice packs using ziploc bags, I wet wash cloths and put them in the freezer, I drink water and lemonade all day long. I put my cat in a tub of cold water for 5-10 minutes per day (he doesn’t even mind or try to get out). I even put cold water in my dish pan and soak my feet while I’m sitting on the couth. I have a standing fan less than 3 feet away from me at all times!

    I’m southern Ontario, and I’m surviving but I’m the last person to ‘enjoy’ the heat!

  14. Just saw your link from Get Rich Slowly. I love my iced tea, buy it every once in a while and have been telling myself to start making my own. Will definitely start doing so. Thanks for the nudge!

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