Iced tea, or should I say, southern sweet tea, is as southern as magnolia trees, pecan pie and catching lightning bugs at dusk. It’s part of our southern lifestyle. Southern belles refer to sweet tea as the “house wine of the South.” Here are some tips on how to drink and make real sweet tea.
I love sweet tea. I love sweet tea as much as I love the South. For me, it is the most refreshing, thirst-quenching drink during the dog days of southern summers when the concrete around tennis courts or the pool could easily scramble an egg.
Lately, some have suggested we Southerners abandon our patent – their monolith – unyoke our burden -on sweet iced tea so those in other regions may feel more comfortable. Or as one writer suggested, our fascination with sweet tea as an “archetype.”
Bulls**t. Hogwash for those of you who don’t curse.
When my children attempt to order “sweet tea” in the Midwest most servers’ offer a perplexed expression before saying “unsweet” is all they offer and pointing to the sugar or artificial sweetener’s as an alternative to “sweet.” But adding these small packets to iced tea is no different than putting lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t make it taste like good southern sweet tea.
I tried drinking unsweet iced tea. I drank it that way for years. It wasn’t the same and could hardly qualify as real iced tea. Favored water with a small caffeine boost is the best description I can muster.
As an American blessed with a southern heritage, I, like many of my brethren, probably consume too much sugar. It’s true; our processed sugar intake is too high as a plethora of nutrition writers on Pinterest remind us each day. And choosing between blackberry cobbler, a white-bread tomato (covered with salt & pepper) and mayonnaise sandwich is hard. Therefore, I’ve elected to enjoy these southern delicacies on occasion and save the majority of my sugar intake for bourdon, red wine, and…sweet tea.
Writing for Atlanta Magazine, Rachael Maddux, a fellow Tennessean, suggested there is no official origin for sweet tea. Maybe there are no formal historical records, but you can’t prove to me that sweet iced tea is anything but Southern and for that, we should proudly embrace its heritage as our own. After all, Southerners had hot weather, tea, sugar, and ice.
And as Ms. Maddux recommends, I will try it with lemon and bourdon this evening. A wonderful idea.
If you are a Southern – a true Southerner – I encourage you to lay any guilt aside and if you enjoy sweet iced tea, then embrace it with gusto. Like most of life’s pleasure, consume each in moderation, but splurge a bit in these hot summer months and remind yourself once more why you love the South and all it has to offer. Let’s introduce our fellow countrymen from other regions to a glass of sweet iced tea.
After all, sweet iced tea is “Southern,” and it’s how we “do things down here.”
Here is the Sweet Tea recipe I make on a daily basis:
3 cups water
2 family-size tea bags (Lipton is best)
1 Plantation Mint tea bag
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
7 cups cold water
*add a pinch of baking soda to reduce bitterness and keep the tea clear
*I add a few sprigs of fresh spearmint
- Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a saucepan; add tea bags. Boil 1 minute; remove from heat. Cover and steep 10 minutes.
- Remove and discard tea bags. Add the desired amount of sugar, stirring until dissolved. Pour into a 1-gallon container and add 7 cups cold water. Add a pinch of baking soda. Serve over ice. Add lemon and fresh spearmint if available.