Confessions of a Tea-Drinking Southern Belle

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,, for more information.

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5 thoughts on “Confessions of a Tea-Drinking Southern Belle

  1. Carolyn Rock

    Born and raised in the crossroads of the West, Northern Utah, I came into trouble from all sides about the beverages. Since my dad was an only child, it was the much older beloved great-aunts and great-uncles, only one step removed from Denmark and Sweden, with their rich coffee traditions, whose homes along with my Grandpa’s, always welcomed us with the lovely aromas of coffee. We children were not allowed to sample, as I will explain later. Mom’s mother had a quite a bit of Irish, so from her my mother inherited the insistence that lightly sweetened warm green tea was the cure for every ill, with a slice of dry lightly toasted white bread. Later, in California, I learned the Scots and English teas and ways of preparing, and actually learned to put cream in tea! I learned Chinese delicate teas with no sweeteners. In France, the heavy strong coffees captivated me, and I liked it black. Now all this would be fine, except for one thing—I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and we do not drink tea or coffee. Given my liking for both by the time I reached my late teens, along with a strong desire to live my religion, I definitely had a dilemma. Not to fear, I discovered 100% herbal teas. I like these both warm and as ice tea, sometimes sweetened, sometimes not. I even have a lovely ‘recipe’ for Southern Sweet Tea, courtesy of the daughter. I also found barley drinks that can be served warm, and have an interesting flavor, and the brown color. So I am okay on both counts now. When I want a cuppa, I have choices that are within my religion and my tastes.

  2. I was raised in Southern California, which isn’t very … er, Southern. I grew up with both hot and iceD tea. But I didn’t have my first sweet tea until a Southern-style restaurant opened up in town about seven years ago!

    I may be late to the party, but I know a good thing when I taste it.

    (I also tried peanuts in my Coke around that time and I really liked it … but boy, what a way to pack on the pounds!)

  3. Maxie Simmons

    I was raised in the North, and married a man from Oklahoma and spent the next 25 years living in that state or in Texas. I quickly imbraced Ice Tea, but having never drank hot tea with sugar in it, I preferred the iced unsweetened, too. When I visited Hubby’s family and new friends, they offered tea, I would ask if it was sweetened and they would reply, “Only a little,” probably meaning they didn’t put the full cup of sugar in it. That is like saying someone is only a little pregnant. My in-laws loved me, however, and they soon began making both sweetened and unsweetened tea at family gatherings and I was never forced to drink tea with sugar in it. I drink my tea mostly hot these days, and still without sugar.

  4. Until I was in my 20’s, I’d just ask for “tea” (not ice, iced, or cold) in restaurants, and they would bring me a large glass of tea over ice, usually with tons of sugar. In my 20’s I ventured “up north” and ordered “tea” in a restaurant, only to have the waitress look at me strangely and ask “hot or cold?” I’m sure I looked back at her with an equally strange look and replied “cold”. I’d never been asked to make that choice before.
    Years have passed, now I drink both hot and cold tea. And I now know to specify “sweet” or “unsweet”, too!

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