Sweet Tea—A Southerner’s Perspective

There’s sweet tea and then there’s Southern sweet tea.teafields

Forget the powdered stuff. Unless you enjoy watching Southerners of every race and creed gag.

About to share a regional secret with ya’ll. Pay attention. My Mama and I brew ours through a Mr. Coffee. My Aunt Grace boils her water on the stovetop and lets the tea bags steep. But the key?

The key is putting the sugar in while the liquid is still hot.

Tracing the Southern Tea Tradition

The first tea plantations in the United States originated in 1795, just a decade after the American Revolution and were located in South Carolina. A few are still available for tour. Bigelow’s is outside Charleston.

The first published sweet tea recipe is found in Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree in 1879. Green tea was the beverage of choice for iced tea until World War II cut off imports from Asia and Americans made the switch to black tea imported from India—still a British colony at the time.

Southerners take sweet tea very seriously. In 2003 as an April Fool’s joke—or not—the Georgia legislature introduced a bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for restaurants not to offer sweet tea.

And any guesses why Southerners drink iced tea versus the hot tea the rest of Americans enjoy? This is not a trick question.

In the movie, Steel Magnolias, any one remember which character declared sweet tea to be the “house wine of the South”?
Not all tea is created equal.
We have our family favorites. Some choose Luzianne because it’s made specifically for iced tea. Others prefer Tetley or Lipton. But remember, buy quality tea. Sweet tea whether you be a southern belle, hillbilly or swamp rat is serious business. In terms of bag size and quantities, it’s really a matter of personal preference.

As for loose tea? I’ve heard tell some may have tried it. Some people try a lot of things, like diet soda and chocolate-covered grasshoppers. But can’t say that I’d recommend it.
Do not—I repeat—do not boil the tea bags unless you’re filtering them through a coffeemaker. Boil the water. Turn off the stove and allow the bags to steep. Boiling tea bags results in singed, bitter tea and a big mess if the tea bags burst. Steep no longer than 15 minutes—you may have to experiment with this to get the right strength according to your personal preference. The longer they sit, the more bitter your brew will be.
The Nectar—Southern Ambrosia
Pour 1-2 cups of sugar in the bottom of your gallon pitcher. Again, this is according to preference. I’ve seen spoons standing fully upright in the stuff.
The Final Mix
Stir the tea until the sugar dissolves. Then add enough tap water to make a full gallon. Serve cold with ice.
Kick back on the porch, sip, and enjoy the firefly show.porch
Sweet Tea Recipe
Makes one gallon.
3 family-size tea bags – Luzianne or Lipton, preferably “Iced Tea Blend”, can go decaf
2 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
Bring the water to a boil, and add to a gallon pitcher containing the tea bags. Let the teabags steep about 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags (squeeze the remaining tea out of them into the pitcher), stir in sugar while tea is still hot and top off the pitcher with cold water. Stir again and refrigerate. Serve with lemon or mint.
Anyone know what Southerners call a half-tea/half lemonade beverage?
Answer: an Arnold Palmer or Swamp Water

What’s your favorite twist on sweet tea?

For behind-the-scene photos from Beneath a Navajo Moon, visit http://www.pinterest.com/lisacoxcarter/beneath-a-navajo-moon/.

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