How do you take your tea?

A little tea history

Although the first tea plant arrived in this country in the late 1700s, The history of Sweet Tea in America only dates back to the 19th century, when Americans first attempted to grow tea in the United States. The areas that bore the essential tropical climate conditions for cultivating the common tea plant were found in India, China, Sri Lanka, and Wadmalaw island off the coast of South Carolina.

Founded by Dr. Charles Shepherd, the original plantation on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina was later purchased by Lipton. When Lipton sold the estate, it became known as the Charleston Tea Plantation. The tea grown there was known as American Classic Tea, and was the only tea commercially grown in North America. Operations were discontinued and the plantation was purchased by Bigelow in 2003 and is now know as the Charleston Tea Gardens. It remains the only working tea estate in the U S.

Sweet tea

Sweet Tea is the southern version of the “regular” ice tea most Americans are familiar with. It is prepared in the same way as normal iced black tea, but with lots and lots of sugar. Southerners swear by their traditional sweet ice tea and drink it by the gallons. In the south, ice tea is not just a summertime drink, it is served year round with most meals. When people order tea in a southern restaurant, chances are they will get sweet tea.

Sugar, the other main ingredient in Sweet Tea, was made widely available and affordable in 1846, thanks to Norbert Rilleus, son of a French inventor, who designed a method of refining sugar which took the labor out of the process. It was inexpensive and resulted in a wonderfully pure final product.

There is a legend telling how the two ingredients, tea and sugar, first came together. During the summer of 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, so the legend goes. an Indian tea merchant found himself unable to move his product due to the sweltering summer heat. As a desperate measure, he cooled his customers by adding ice and sugar to his tea. A more accurate story may be that in the relatively poor south, most folks found it difficult to afford expensive leaf tea, so they extended the amount of tea by adding sugar, which was easily affordable.

Sweet Tea quickly became part of the culture in the South and remains a lasting legacy often called the”house wine” of the South. A forerunner of Sweet Tea was Tea Punch, the oldest recipe found in an 1839 cookbook entitled The Kentucky Housewife by Lettice Bryanon. See recipe below.

Tea Kettles

Antique brass kettle
Antique brass kettle
Black cast iron tea kettle
Black cast iron tea kettle
Blue enameled tea kettle
Blue enameled tea kettle
Old copper tea kettle
Old copper tea kettle
Flowered enameled tea kettle
Flowered enameled tea kettle
Hammered pewter tea kettle
Hammered pewter tea kettle
Raspberry tea punch
Raspberry tea punch
Lemon tea punch
Lemon tea punch
Mint tea punch
Mint tea punch
Green ice tea
Green ice tea
Peach ice tea
Peach ice tea

Sweet iced Tea Recipes

The oldest sweet tea recipe (ice tea) in print comes from a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree, published in 1879:

After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea. If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast. At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea strainer into a pitcher. Let it stand till tea time and pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.

Modern day recipe for sweet tea, by Michelle Jones, editor of Better


8-10 tea bags, any kind you like (although I highly recommend Luzianne or Lipton Iced Tea Brew)

Small pot of water, with a lid that fits well

1 cup of sugar (We use Splenda for sugar-free tea, it's delicious!)

1 gallon-sized pitcher (or a big pickle jar)


Add sugar to water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

It doesn't matter how much water you boil; just make sure it gets really hot and bubbly. If you remembered to put the sugar in already, you're doing great. Now get your tea bags ready so that when the water comes to a boil you can just toss them in.

As soon as you get the tea bags in, the water may act like it's about to boil over. I usually just add the tea bags in with one hand, and then take the pot off the stove with the other. That way the hot bubbles have a chance to stir the tea up a bit, getting them off to a good brewing start.

Cover the pot and let the tea steep for as long as possible. It will be good in 20 minutes, but even better in an hour or two. Then pour the tea syrup (that's what it's actually called when made this way) into your gallon-sized pitcher and fill with water, making sure to gently squeeze the tea bags to get as much tea as possible into the water.

Well that's it, your Southern Sweet Tea is ready! Just pour into a glass filled with ice and serve. Some people will keep this in the fridge for several days, but unlike unsweetened tea, it's really only good for about 2 days.

Tea Punch

Old recipe The 1839 cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, by Mrs. Lettice Bryanon, was typical of the American tea punch recipes:

Tea Punch - Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling (hot) on one pound and a quarter of loaf sugar. (That's 2 1/2 cups white sugar) Add half a pint of rich sweet cream, and then stir in gradually a bottle of claret or of champaign (sic). You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups.

Modern Day recipe

Prep Time: 3 hoursCook Time: 5 minutesServing Description: Yields 1 gallonIngredients - 8 tea bags - 7 cups water, more if needed - 1 12 ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate - 1 12 ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate - 2 cups sugar - 1 lemon, thinly slice

  • Place 8 teabags in 7 cups boiling water. Remove tea bags.
  • Add remaining ingredients. Pour into 1 gallon pitcher.
  • Add cold water to fill pitcher, andd then add sliced lemons. Refrigerate a minimum of 2 hours.

Mint Tea Punch

  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 12 sprigs fresh mint
  • 4 tea bags
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 5 cups cold water
  • 3 orange slices for garnish (optional)
  • 3 lemon slices for garnish (optional)

Place the tea bags and mint sprigs into a large pitcher. Pour boiling water over them, and allow to steep for about 8 minutes. Remove and discard the tea bags and mint leaves, squeezing out excess liquid. Stir in sugar until dissolved, then stir in the orange juice and lemon juice. Pour in the cold water. Serve over ice cubes, garnished with orange or lemon slices.

Peach Iced Tea

  • 3 orange pekoe tea bags
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 5 (5-ounce) cans peach nectar (about 3 1/3 cups), chilled
  • 1/4 cup chilled simple syrup or to taste

Simple syrup

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Peach slices for garnish

Place tea bags in a quart-size glass measure or heatproof bowl.

In a saucepan bring water just to a boil and pour over tea bags. Steep tea 5 minutes and strain through a sieve into a heatproof pitcher. Cool tea and chill, covered, until cold, about 1 hour.Stir in nectar and syrup. Serve tea over ice in tall glasses and garnish with peach slices and basil sprigs.

To make simple syrup: In a saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring, and boil until sugar is completely dissolved. Let syrup cool and chill, covered. Syrup may be made 2 weeks ahead and chilled, covered.

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Comments 32 comments

annvans 7 years ago

Thanks for the recipes, great hub!

Hugh Chism profile image

Hugh Chism 7 years ago

Nice hub, the Kentucky tea punch sounds like a nice idea. I'll have to give them a try.

Horrya profile image

Horrya 7 years ago

Thank you very much !

Betsy Baywatch profile image

Betsy Baywatch 7 years ago

Thanks fo sharing this 'refreshing' hub! ...makes me want to put the kettle on:).

One of my favorites is masala 'chai', the latter being the name for tea in most of asia.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

annvans: You're very welcome

Hugh: Let me know how it turns out

Horrya: Thanks for stopping by

Betsy: Thanks for the nice comments. The word chai (for tea)is also used here. Does marsala chai have marsala sherry in it?

dennisematt 7 years ago

mmmmm. this is a good hub. I like to make "sun tea" every summer. and I know its not really tea, but I like herbal teas for iced tea too. thanks for the history!!

oh, and I love the pictures of tea pots.

do you make tea frequently for your B&B? I bet its a big hit!!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the comments. I love sun tea and herbal teas both, but the tea punch is to die for. Yes, we make lots of tea at the Inn.

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

Very refreshing hub. Lifts a simple pleasure above the ordinary.

No1beautytips profile image

No1beautytips 7 years ago

thanks for the recipe, looks very tasty

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

RF: Thanks for the comment. Planning on trying one of the "above the orinary" recipes?

No1BT: You're welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

We Brits generally can't move in the mornings until we have had our first cuppa tea, any crisis we encounter is usually made a little better by a cup of tea, in fact a cup of tea is the answer to many things in England, make a new friend invite them round for a cup of tea, some one is upset make them a cup of tea, had a tiring day at work make a nice cup of tea. Oh how we love our cups of tea. Excellent hub well done

bala99 profile image

bala99 7 years ago from Hyderabad, Telangana, India.

Hi! I am from the tea drinking capital of India, Hyderabad, and did not know tea could made in the ways you have written in you hub. I must be getting rusty! No. Masala chai does not have marsala sherry as an ingredient. Masala means a mixture of spices. The general spices used in tea are Cardamom, Cloves, .Black Pepper or Cinnamon. This tea is three fourths milk and rest the tea brew. The spices are put in during brewing. Sinfully sweet and temptingly aromatic, it is an experience you should not miss.

Betsy Baywatch profile image

Betsy Baywatch 7 years ago

Hmm masala sherry, this could be the tea version of irish coffee.I've never used masala sherry.I usually make mine with whole spices

1 Tbsp fennel or anise seed 6 green cardamom pods 12 cloves 1 cinnamon stick 1/4" ginger root, sliced thin 1/4 tsp black pepper corns 2 bay leaves 7 Cups water

Boil in pan for 5 minutes,Add, 2 Tbsp loose tea or tea 4 teabags ...bring to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes-Finish with honey or sugar of your choice and is best served with hot milk:)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Maggs: I love your comments. Thanks so much

Bala: Thanks for setting me straight on Chai Marsala. And I definitely  will not miss the experience, because I intend to try it.

BB: Your recipe also sounds good. Thanks for stopping by and posting it.

blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 7 years ago from australia

I can't believe it I have never tried a cup of tea, I have always been a coffee drinker, this has inspired me to give it a whirl. Great hub!!! :)

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

That was a really interesting hub, thanks for the history! The recipe with cream, sugar and claret sounds er... hearlthy (-:I've never drunk cold tea, the whole idea seems slightly strange, to me. I drink 3-4 cups of tea a day, but always, always hot and no sugar.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

BP: Wow! I can't believe it either; you must be 10 years old. Thanks for stopping by.

LG: Well, if it ever gets real hot where you live, you should give it a try. It's so refreshing. Thanks for the comment

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

In India, where it gets astonishing, horribly hot, I've only ever seen hot tea (chai)

withlovearun profile image

withlovearun 7 years ago from Chennai/TamilNadu

Nice hub alekhouse.... Nice information, well presented. I'm a big fan of tea and usually drink 3 to 4 cups per day..

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Wow! that's a lot of tea. Supposed to be good for you, though. Thanks for stopping by

\Brenda Scully 7 years ago

nice hub..... like the teapots much more than the taste of tea

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Glad you like the teapots. Too bad you don't like the tea, it's supposed to be really good for you.....anti-oxidants and stuff. Thanks for the comment.

Laughing Mom profile image

Laughing Mom 7 years ago

Iced Tea is my favorite drink! But I can't drink the sweet stuff. And you're right about ordering it and getting the sweet stuff. I've learned to always say "unsweet". They most generally come back with, "You want WHAT kind of tea?" And I've discovered that alot of places around here are using alot of HONEY to sweeten their tea. To me, it's almost like drinking syrup.

I like decaffinated tea brewed in my Mr. Coffee Iced Tea Pitcher. I probably make 2-3 gallons every day.

Thanks for the recipes, they'll be great at picnics and bbqs!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

So glad you stopped buy and enjoyed the recipes. Let me know how you like the Tea punch, if you make it for a picnic

mayhmong profile image

mayhmong 7 years ago from North Carolina

I want to try out that lemon tea recipe! Wait til my mom gets back!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

It is so good. Thanks for stopping by.

Ivorwen profile image

Ivorwen 7 years ago from Hither and Yonder

I love iced tea, and these recipes look absolutely fabulous. I like to ice my tea with flavored cubes that I make.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

What a good idea; the flavored cubes. I never tried that. How do you flavor them and what with? Glad you liked the recipes. Thanks for the comments.

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Alek, I love tea and so enjoyed this hub. I love the story about the vendor at the St. Louis World's Fair. Seems like almost everything we eat or drink was invented there, or so they say. The old recipes were a great addition.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Yeah, I like both tea and coffee. This was a fun hub to do. Glad you enjoyed it.

burning bush profile image

burning bush 6 years ago

As a foodie I can't resist articles like these. You can't go wrong writing about food. :)

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Glad you enjoyed it. If you like articles about food, check out:

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