I heard a woman on the radio the other day speak of drinking an ice tea. I imagine many listeners out across radio-land thought that she had misspoken. She had not. Her use of the term branded her as a Southerner. It is ice tea, never mind the grammatically correct iced tea. I have had many a tussle with copywriters of my novels over this particular colloquialism. I finally changed to using the other regional term: cold tea. Problem solved.
For the first nineteen years of my life, I knew nothing but drinking cold tea. My people—North Carolinians— liked their coffee hot and their tea cold, and never the other way around. In those days, too, tea choices were simple. We went to the corner grocery store and got Lipton, or maybe A & P. We brewed leaves in a saucepan, poured the liquid through a beat up strainer into a thick fluted-glass pitcher, added sugar by the cupfuls and cubed ice from metal trays. I still have the pitcher. It seems so much smaller than it did in my childhood.
Instant tea was introduced by Lipton in the mid-1950s. As my family was always slow to warm to new things, it took until the mid-sixties for them to embrace the stuff. With the instant, glasses of tea were made individually, and sugar stirred in with, picture this, long-necked ice tea spoons from the silver service.
While everyone in my family, including my in-laws when I married, drank gallons of coffee, I simply could not stand the stuff. This left quite a hole in my life.
Thankfully, in the early seventies, my husband and I met a young couple, Jack and Karen, who were of Irish stock from Philadelphia come south courtesy of the Navy. On our first visit, Karen reached for a tea kettle, saying, “Would you take tea?”
With a bit of embarrassment now, I admit my first thought was: Where am I to take it?
However, the rest, as the saying goes, is history. We became close friends with the couple, and shortly my husband and I were drinking buckets of tea brewed thick in a pot, all the while enjoying long, deep and pleasant conversations around a kitchen table. We were still drinking the grocery store variety tea, but at last I had something with which to start the day, and to draw my husband and I together over our own kitchen table, and to meet the contingencies of life.
The years passed, and I became, in my way, an aficionado of all things connected with enjoying a good cup of tea—favored types, accessories, conversation, solitude, rituals, and the many ways that drinking tea contributes to successful living.
Today the best teas from around the world are more readily available, and tea shops can be found in large and small towns throughout the South. Yet, still, I remain the only constant hot tea drinker in all my far-flung family, and among most of my friends.
“She drinks hot tea,” it has been said of me on occasion, as if giving an apologetic explanation of an eccentric. My response is to smile, pull a Taylors of Harrogate Darjeeling teabag from my purse and say, “I’ll just take a cup of tea.”
CurtissAnn is the author of several books. Visit her homepage, CurtissAnnMatlock.com, for more information.
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