Sweetener options

Sweetener options

The debate among tea drinkers over whether tea should be served iced and sweetened or not heats up as the weather does. Some avid tea drinkers don’t go much for iced tea or chilled tea, claiming that the flavor of such delicate teas as most white teas get distorted or lose their flavor altogether when they are cold. Some, like me, agree with this and also find the version of cold tea called “Sweet Tea” to be a set-your-teeth-on-edge mouthful. Time to take a closer look at the issues.

For those of you who haven’t heard by now, a tea concoction popular in southern states of the U.S. is “sweet tea.” Basically, you steep up the tea all nice and hot, dump in a bunch of sugar, and either add ice or chill in the refrigerator. Recipes for sweet tea can be as closely guarded as that recipe for grandma’s amazing casserole or melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake. Sweet tea can seem overly sticky to folks like me who have weaned themselves off of a lot of sugary foods and beverages. Even a dozen lemon slices, several sprigs of mint, a cupful of raspberries, etc., cannot usually temper that sweetness to a tolerable level.

Nevertheless, sweet tea has a legion of dedicated drinkers, many of whom won’t even touch hot tea. Restaurants compete for customers in the Summer based on the reputation of their sweet tea, with newspapers like the Atlanta Journal Constitution publishing stories about where to get the best version. That brings up health concerns, whether you’re a woman who wonders about the effects on your pregnancy or you’re someone worried about weight gain and diabetes. Tons of sugar in a pitcher of sweet tea can make it just as potentially unhealthy as sugary colas, depending in large part on your rate of consumption.

Quite frankly, weighing in on the unsweetened side of the debate, I think it’s easy to avoid adding a ton of sugar to tea. I got used to the unsweetened version decades ago. How do you accomplish this? First, start with the right tea. One option is a tea specially blended to be served iced or chilled. They tend not to be bitter, the main reason people sweeten their tea. Teas with fruits added in are other good possibilities, since the fruits have their own natural sweetness (from the fructose, a variety of sugar). Some fruits are sweeter than others, though, so choose carefully. If you still want a bit more of that sweet “oomph” to your iced tea, try alternate items such as honey, agave nectar, and man-made stuff. Tupelo honey has a rich, buttery sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm the tea flavor, making it a popular choice.

You can always opt for teas with other flavorings added in rather than sweeteners. Spices that you might enjoy in a hot tea can sometimes also work when the tea is served cold. Herbals are another option, especially ones made with fruits.

Of course, if you are sticking to your sweet iced tea conviction, bear in mind that sweet cold things only make you feel cooler short-term. Plus, the sugar activates your digestive system and starts to actually make you feel warmer as you start digesting. Did I just win the debate?

Whatever your preference, tea is a great alternative to sodas for satisfying your thirst. Enjoy!

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