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Iced-Tea-2016

Here we go again! We’re back in the summer months and that means warmer weather and colder tea. Roughly 80 percent of Americans take their tea iced and sweetened. Surprisingly, the British still take their tea hot! This is possibly due to tradition and the weather difference. American summer is much more hot and humid than British summers can be.

One of the most popular types of iced tea in the US is sweet tea, which is more predominant in the Southern states but has become more popular in Western and Northern states like California and Oregon. And I myself being raised in an American family, they all take their tea iced and sweet. Other people take their iced tea flavored with a bit of lemon, peach, or raspberries for a nice hint of fruit flavor.

In the coming weeks, I will show you how to take your iced tea to the next level. This means more ways than just having your tea iced the plain old way! You’ll learn how to brew the tea differently and even enjoy your iced tea in a different form. A whole new form? That’s right! You can cool off in more ways than one with tea this summer. This June is going to be the best for iced tea! Stay tuned!

And don’t forget National Iced Tea Day on June 10th! Be sure to celebrate with a refreshing glass of iced tea, however you like it.

For more information on iced tea, visit my post from June 2015: https://blog.englishteastore.com/2015/06/10/national-iced-tea-day/

-CD

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sweet-tea-150x150I’ll admit it right up front. I’m not much of a fan of sweet tea. But that’s okay. The many fans of this syrupy variation on black tea don’t really need my approval. What I didn’t realize until recently is that there’s apparently something of a controversy brewing about this concoction that’s said to have got its start somewhere in the American South.

Which is what is the tricky part – determining exactly where sweet tea did originate. As the Charleston City Paper recently noted, “the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce officially launched the Sweet Tea Trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.” This matters to the world at large because Summerville has taken to claiming itself as The Birthplace of Sweet Tea, has trademarked this catchy phrase and even begun advertising itself as such.

What the article goes on to note, citing a few earlier articles that are part and parcel of said controversy, is that this claim is apparently not true. Tea was actually grown in Summerville between 1888 and 1915 (and is grown in the Charleston area to this day) but the claim that tea was first iced there in 1890 at a reunion of Confederate veterans there doesn’t work for everyone.

After addressing the alleged deficiencies of the claims for Summerville, the author of the article goes on to speculate on where sweet tea might have actually originated. He cites a 2008 book called Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, whose authors found accounts of something resembling sweet tea as far back as 1868 – and in the North, if you can imagine such a thing.

After that this notion apparently started to take hold and, as the article notes, “iced tea recipes are rife in cookbooks from the 1880s and 1890s,” many of which recipes advocated adding sugar to the mix. However, those who are fond of picking nits might note that sweetened iced tea is not quite the same as sweet tea, the latter of which is prepared in a very specific manner.

All of which goes on at a little more length and in a little more detail than yours truly cares to know about, especially given that this is a drink I find mildly appalling. But if you’re interested in all of the nitty-gritty details I’d encourage you to take a look at the article.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Having lived in the Southeastern part of the U.S. for several years, I never quite managed to understand the phenomenon known as “sweet tea.” Now, after moving away, I think I finally get it. In short, it’s sort of a brown Kool-Aid, especially when made with the teas that have fruit flavors added to them.

Awhile back, southern gal and author CurtissAnn Matlock showed us her secrets to proper sweetened “ice tea.” (Image from CurtissAnn Matlock, used with permission)

Awhile back, southern gal and author CurtissAnn Matlock showed us her secrets to proper sweetened “ice tea.” (Image from CurtissAnn Matlock, used with permission)

A typical “sweet tea” recipe:

  • Steep up a double strength batch of your black or green tea of choice (usually about half a gallon).
  • Add a cup of sugar to the hot tea and stir well to dissolve.
  • Fill a pitcher of sufficient size (a gallon or more) with ice cubes.
  • Pour the hot tea into the pitcher over the ice cubes.

Some “sweet teas” I have tried when we first moved here tasted more like a five-pound bag of sugar was added in. That plus the fruit taste (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, etc.) makes for that “brown Kool-Aid” experience.

Kool-Aid was something we drank a lot of when I was one of those little “rug rats” (or “crumb crunchers” is another term) running around outside and then rushing inside to get a cool beverage. The fruit flavor suited my kiddie tastebuds, and the sugar would hit my bloodstream and recharge me for more running around in the yard.

In my adult years, I lost my taste for so much sweetness and changed to drinking my cold tea both without ice and without sugar. It refreshes much better that way and avoids that Kool-Aid impression. I also don’t get an excess of sugar in my system, not having that childhood, high-gear metabolism.

“Sweet tea” is most definitely a style of tea enjoyment where swigging is encouraged and expected, just as I swigged that Kool-Aid. And now that that has been explained, start swigging. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When we moved from the New York City area to semi-rural South Carolina a few years ago, it was an adjustment to say the least. I had to get used to “y’all” instead of “you guys.” Instead of Italian restaurants and all-night diners on every corner there was something called a “meat-and-three,” which is just what it sounds like, and where macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable. While most folks were friendly, others called me a “blue-coat Yankee” and acted like the War Between the States was not only still going on but that I personally had started it. (While I may be from the North, my family didn’t arrive in America until well into the twentieth century.) And don’t even get me started on discerning the nuances of “Bless your heart!”

How Northerners think of tea

How Northerners think of tea

Another thing that has a very different meaning here in the Southlands is tea. In most Northern restaurants – and homes for that matter – if you want tea you get a generic teabag in a cup of hot water. In these parts, when you ask simply for “tea” you’re served a big honking glass of pre-sweetened iced tea, otherwise known as sweet tea, otherwise known as Southern table wine. I’ve learned that if you want anything else you have to ask for either “unsweet tea” or “unsweet hot tea.” And you have to speak up quickly.

How Southerners think of tea

How Southerners think of tea

Once or twice folks have asked me if I know how to fix good tea. I told them sure, and that I particularly like teapots with built-in filters. Needless to say, that comment garnered some rather odd looks. It took me a while to realize that while I was talking about a potful of loose-leaf tea, everyone else’s frame of reference was sweet tea made with teabags.

Of course, I view tea rather differently from most people I know anyway, whether Northern or Southern: I prefer oolongs and Darjeelings and gyokuros, fresh and properly steeped. With the exception, however, of a short-lived British tea room in the next town, nobody around here seems to know that you can actually drink hot tea. Or why you’d want to. Or that dry-leaf tea is available to the public outside of a teabag. And what the heck would you do with it anyway?

Now that I’ve more or less made my peace with sweet tea (although I still don’t drink it except occasionally to be polite), one thing I’ve discovered is that sweet tea is like chocolate chip cookies: Everybody’s mama makes the best there is, you just can’t compare! Some recipes are closely guarded secrets, while other folks spend hours debating the best brand of tea (usually Luzianne), how long to let it steep, what kind of sugar to use (Dixie Crystals of course) and if you should put it in before or after you take out the teabags, and whether it’s better to fix tea in a pitcher or a big glass jar.

I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut during these discussions. I don’t want to embarrass myself. Anyway, every Southerner already knows that Northerners don’t know anything about good tea.

How I think of tea

How I think of tea

[Disclaimer: I love living here in the Southlands, even if it is a constant learning experience …]

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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!

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Drinking my chilled (iced) tea unsweetened is truly bucking a Southern tradition. In the Southeast U.S., “sweet tea” is not only a true tradition but almost a right of passage.

First, what is this “sweet tea” everyone around here raves about? Pretty obvious, really. It’s chilled (iced) tea with lots of sugar, at least that’s the basic recipe here in the Southeast. The secret is to add the sugar to the dry tea and let it fully dissolve in the hot water while the tea is steeping. (Tip: To reduce bitterness that can form during a longer steeping time from the tannins in the green and black teas usually used, add a generously proportioned pinch of baking soda.) Sweet tea has a reputation for making hot, muggy days seem less hot and less muggy. I’m not sure why, but it could explain why sweet tea is more common here in the Southeast versus the Northern states.

So, if sweet tea is such a relief in Summer weather, why go with unsweetened tea? Several reasons, one having to do with your health and the other with your enjoyment of true tea taste.

Starting with your health, consuming sweeteners like sugar and honey, the most common ones used in making sweet tea, can contribute to the risk of diabetes. My mother was diagnosed as diabetic a few years before she died. Since genetics can play a part in one’s susceptibility to this condition, I started cutting back on my sugar intake, starting with iced tea. Honey has additional effects. You should definitely avoid giving it to infants, and even adults can have issues from imbibing. For me, honey led to various complications that made avoiding it the only sensible option.

Artificial sweeteners in chilled tea could be an option. However, I’ve found that they can be difficult to blend in and sometimes have a chalkiness to them that comes through the taste of the tea. Weaning away from sweeteners in chilled tea seems the best option, at least for me. It can take time, especially if you’re from the Southeast and were raised on chilled tea that has a spoonful or more of sugar in it.

Sweeteners can mask other flavors, some quite subtle and delicate. They don’t let your taste buds get accustomed to the flavor of tea on its own. That’s another reason I like to go the unsweetened route. Many teas have a natural sweetness or nuttiness or fruitiness or maltiness, etc., that you don’t get to experience when you add in a bunch of sugar or honey.

Darjeelings are a prime example. They are known for their fruity flavor. Oolongs are another. Some can have a nutty flavor, while others are very planty. Roasted teas like Houjicha have a fairly unique nutty flavor with a bit of smokiness. And so on.

If you absolutely must have sweetness in your tea, try getting it from natural sources added to your tea, primarily fruits but also vanilla, which isn’t sweet but imparts the “impression” in your brain of sweetness. Some fruits add some very beneficial ingredients to the tea along with the sweetness. Black currants, for example, help stimulate digestion and improve organ functioning (liver, kidneys, spleen, and pancreas); they also may be helpful in preventing diarrhea, cardiovascular disease, allergies, dysentery, asthma, and cancer, among other things.

Of course, having a sweet treat with your tea is another alternative. A forkful of chocolate fudge cake with a gooey chocolate icing will sweeten the taste of any tea. Time to go give it a try!

You can find more great articles at Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

by William I. Lengeman III

In the opinion of novelist Henry Fielding, “love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.” But for so many of Fielding’s countrymen, black tea with milk and sugar is a right and a requirement that’s become one of the icons with which the British are closely associated.

Sugar CaneFor many other tea drinkers, however, anything other than love and scandal in their tea is nothing short of an abomination. The ancient Chinese tea master Lu Yu called flavored tea “the swill of gutters and ditches.” Another British writer, George Orwell, acknowledged that he was in the minority when he said, “how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt.”

It’s beyond the scope of such a short article to determine when sugar was first used to sweeten tea. But the practice became common in Great Britain in the eighteenth century thanks to a boom in sugar production in Caribbean colonies that resulted in significantly lower prices. Sweetened tea became so common in this part of the world that one commentator noted, “wherever the English went, whether aristocrat or commoner, tea and sugar went with them.”

In many other parts of the world, tea is rarely sweetened. The thick, strong black tea that’s a staple in Tibet is almost always made with butter and salt, but is not generally sweetened.

Written recipes for iced sweet tea, an institution in the southern United States, have been found dating back as far as 1839. Even George Orwell allowed that tea could be sweetened with sugar, if “one is drinking it in the Russian style.” Strong black Russian tea is often dispensed from a samovar and may be sweetened with jam or a sugar cube clenched between the teeth. Russian writer Alexander Pushkin said, “ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth.”

Black tea is most often sweetened, but there are a few exceptions. In Morocco and other northern African countries, green tea is served with mint and a healthy dose of sugar is also common.

Whether or not to sweeten your tea is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but if you’re drinking a premium tea you might want to sample it before reaching for sugar. High-end teas are often flavorful enough without anything added and sweetening tends to overpower the subtleties of a fine tea.

Please check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks, for more awesome writing!

ice teaWith 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 thesweet tea 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.

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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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