- Food and Cooking
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 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.
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 Budgeting.com
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.
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
- 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.