With the approach of summer, it’s as good a time as any to tackle the subject of sweet tea, which, in the South, is synonymous with iced tea. It’s a regional favorite that’s become so popular nowadays that it’s even made its way to your neighborhood McDonald’s.
For some tea connoisseurs, the notion of “ruining” their beloved beverage by adding sugar, ranks somewhere between appalling and downright heretical. But for many tea drinkers in the southern United States, it would be hard to even conceive of drinking iced tea any other way.
Request a glass of iced tea in many southern states and there’s a good chance that you’ll end up with sweet tea. The beverage is such an institution in the South that in 2003, the Georgia House of Representatives legislated the following, “any food service establishment which serves iced tea must serve sweet tea.” Though the politicos who dreamed up this dictum allowed for unsweetened tea to be served as well, any establishment that neglects to serve sweet tea “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.” Read this sweet tea legislation in full.
While we may not be able to pinpoint the precise origins of sweet tea, in the United States it’s likely that iced tea was sweetened from the earliest days. A tea recipe that appeared in an 1839 cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, is for a syrupy concoction that combines two and half cups of sugar with a pint and a half of iced tea. If you’d like to make your own sweet tea, but find your teeth throbbing at the notion of that much sugar, try a milder recipe today.
For some additional background on sweet tea, start with this Wikipedia entry and move on to the History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea. Food writer Jeffrey Klineman offered his thoughts on sweet tea in an article at Slate and the New York Times tackled the topic here. Or read more about a Sweet Tea Festival held in Itawamba County, Mississippi, last year.