Cherry Vanilla Iced Tea

OK, let me start off by admitting that I'm not a huge fan of cherry-flavored things. Whether it's Cherry Coke, Cherry Jolly Ranchers or cherry liqueur, I can't help but think about the cherry-flavored cough syrup I had to take when I was sick as a kid. That fake cherry flavoring simply isn't my thing.

I realize it's probably not the best to begin a blog post by explaining why I don't like the flavors I'm using, but this drink is nothing like that childhood medicine. There are no artificial flavorings happening here and it makes all the difference! Real cherries. Real vanilla. Really good. 

Cherry Vanilla Iced Tea
Yields about 8 cups

8 cups water
8 tea bags (I use a basic black tea)
Cherry Vanilla Simple Syrup (see recipe below)

In a medium pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Once the water boils, add the tea bags and remove from heat. Let the tea steep for 4 minutes. Remove tea bags and let the brewed tea cool.

When the tea is cooled, add the Cherry Vanilla Simple Syrup to taste. Mix thoroughly. Transfer to a serving pitcher and add ice.

Cherry Vanilla Simple Syrup
Yields about 3/4 cup of syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
12-14 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 of a vanilla pod*

Split the vanilla pod the long way and scrape out the beans. Add sugar, water, cherries, vanilla beans and the scraped pod to a small saucepan. Turn heat to low and stir until sugar dissolves.

Simmer an additional 4-5 minutes to reduce the mixture, stirring and smashing the cherries as it cooks. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove the vanilla bean pod. If you prefer a smoother drink, strain out the cherry pieces.

*You can use a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract as an alternative to the vanilla pod.