Skip to comments.Nostalgia on ice: Cold, sugary tea is a sweet Southern tradition
Posted on 06/15/2007 9:47:49 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
More than 140 years after the Civil War ended, a Mason-Dixon line of sorts still persists when it comes to iced tea.
Order an iced tea at a restaurant in the Deep South or Texas, and the frosty beverage set before you likely will be a world away from what youd be served in New York or Chicago.
Sweet tea, as Southerners call their iced tea, is named for its two key ingredients tea and lots of sugar. Theres no such thing as an unsweetened sweet tea. And unlike its summer-loving Northern counterpart, sweet tea is consumed year-round.
About 85 percent of tea consumed in the U.S. is iced. And no one in the world except for us drinks sweet tea, and no one in the U.S. sweetens their tea as much as they do in Southeast, says Peter Goggi, president of Liptons Royal Estates Tea Co.
Sweet tea is something people either love or hate. And often that relationship is determined by geography.
Its just very, very sweet. Most people who try it in the North dont like it, says Linda Stradley, food historian and founder of food history Web site www.whatscookingamerica.net. The first time I tried it, I didnt like it. But then I got addicted to it.
Why the emphasis on sweet in the South? Stradley speculates sweet tea may have started as a sugar-and-tea punch.
Another theory is that sweet tea may have just been a cheap and convenient stand-in for wine and other alcoholic beverages, which historically were less available and frowned upon in the South.
Sweet tea has always been a substitute beverage for what wine was doing in other regions, says Scott Jones, executive food editor at Southern Living magazine.
The tannins from the tea cleanse your palate, theres sweetness from the sugar and then the acidity from the lemon, he says. It goes well with a lot of food.
Nonetheless, there is nothing delicate or ethereal about sweet tea.
In addition to the loads of sugar, sweet tea is characterized by an extremely strong tea taste. Sweet tea usually is brewed hot, with tea bags squeezed to get every last bit of flavor.
Sugar then is mixed in while the tea is hot to maximize the amount that dissolves. Water then is added to dilute some of the potency and increase the volume, then the tea is refrigerated to chill.
Everything they tell you not to do with tea today is pretty much how sweet tea is made, says Jones, referring to the lower water temperature and more nuanced approach most hot tea drinkers use. My mom would boil the tea bags in the water, and then squeeze the living daylights out of them.
It turns out, though, that sweet teas role in Southern cuisine is evolving. Twenty years ago, it was hard to walk into a restaurant in the Southeast and find anything but sweet tea.
But increased health consciousness as well as the growth of chain restaurants that cater to a national audience means unsweetened tea is becoming increasingly popular.
A lot of these old-school men and women who were weaned on sweet tea you now see them drinking unsweetened iced tea with a lot of pink and blue packets, Jones says. Theres been an explosion of diabetes in the South, and the doctors are saying you have to cut the sweet tea out.
But, its hard to undo generations of loyal drinkers. Sweet tea tends to be more about memories than health trends or precise recipes. No one, it seems, can quite make sweet tea as well as your mom or grandmother did.
I make it how my mother made it, with regular tea bags, sugar and boiling water. Theres no new-age tea making kit or anything like that, says Whitney Sloane Sauls, 27, of Ocean Isle Beach. Its just so refreshing and it brings back good memories of childhood and of growing up.
Sweet tea recipes
While many iced teas are made by steeping tea leaves in cool or sun-warmed water, the authentic sweet teas of the South are made by brewing black tea in boiling water. The recipe for blackberry iced tea uses pinch of baking soda to preserve the vibrant colors of the berries in the tea.
Southern sweet tea
Makes 1 gallon
12 bags black tea
6 cups boiling water, plus additional cold water
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
Lemon wedges or fresh mint sprigs (optional)
Place the tea bags in a large heat-proof 1-gallon pitcher. Add the boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. Spoon out the tea bags and squeeze them into the tea, then discard the tea bags. Stir in 1 cup sugar. Add enough cold water to fill the pitcher. Taste and adjust with remaining sugar as desired.
To serve, pour into ice-filled glasses, then garnish with lemon wedges or fresh mint.
Recipe adapted from Southern Living magazine
3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries (if frozen, thaw before using), plus additional fresh as garnish
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, plus additional sprigs as garnish
Pinch of baking soda
6 bags black tea
4 cups boiling water
2 1/2 cups cold water
In a large pitcher, combine the blackberries and sugar. Use a wooden spoon to crush the berries and mix them with the sugar. Add the chopped mint and baking soda. Set aside.
Place the tea in a large heat-proof measuring cup. Add the boiling water and steep for 3 minutes. Spoon out the tea bags and squeeze them into the tea, then discard the tea bags.
Pour the tea into the blackberry mixture. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Pour the tea through a mesh strainer and discard solids. Return the tea to the pitcher.
Add cold water and stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
To serve, pour into glasses filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint and fresh blackberries on short wooden skewers. Makes about 7 1/2 cups.
Recipe adapted from Southern Living magazine.
Best Served with BBQ
To a Yankee, the offered beverage often sounds like “sway tay”.
No matter, it sure is tasty!
Unsweet iced tea is consumed year-round in the Northwest.
...with fried chicken, mashed taters w/brown gravy, blackeye peas or butter beans, corn on the cobb, yeast rolls, and pie of your choosing.
Time for lunch.
Slow news day today? ;)
In my house in Mississippi we don’t use sugar. It makes you fat and rots your teeth. Looking at a lot of my neighbors, they don’t live by this rule.
Time for dinner!
Being a southerner living in the north, I love my mother’s tea that she boils in a pot with about 10 teabags, places in the pitcher afterwards, adds lots of sugar then refrigerate. Wow! It tastes better than any carbonated beverage.
Sugar in tea - GOOD
Sugar in cornbread - BAD
Sugar in oatmeal - GOOD
Sugar in grits - BAD
Rules to live by
I don't know about the rest of the South, but in Texas if you order iced tea at a chain restaurant, you'll usually get unsweetened tea. This has been true for the 30 years I've lived here. In fact, I didn't even know about the Southern concept of sweet tea until about 10 years ago.
Forget all about that brown gravy - make it white gravy instead.
Oh, and change those yeast rolls to biscuits too.
No tea BAGS..... boooooo hisssssss
Tea leaves brewed and steeped
I drink about a pitcher of it a day and I think its much better when served with deserts then the sweet version.
Sweet tea, a.k.a. instant diabetes mix.
The ‘sweet tea only’ thing was true 20 years ago, but more recently, in both Carolinas, I have been asked if I wanted my tea sweetened or unsweetened.
I make a sweet cornbread I bet would change your mind.
Take 2 boxes on Jiffy mix but add 1/2 cup of sugar and tablespoon of vanilla and a smidgen of extra milk. Cook in cast iron skillet as dirtected with butter wedges on top.
My kids eat it like a cake. I am required to make it at least once week and at all family get-togethers. :)
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