The beginning of America is primarily known to have started with the dumping of tea as a protest. Tea was a lucrative commodity for the British empire that ruled over the 13 colonies that would become America and taxed the colonists for tea often to pay off their debts. The colonists famously opposed this “tea tax” slogan, “No Taxation without representation.” The colonist began dumping exported, and local tea in the Boston River as protest, and such actions led to the American Revolution. The most famous drink known to man is the center of this conflict: tea. Although America began with the dumping of tea, the states have made many innovations and contributions to the tea industry. To celebrate the 4th of July, we would like to highlight the popularization of iced tea in America and how it became popular in the Southern states.
Iced tea in America
Iced tea has been a known beverage in America for years since tea was first brought to the United States in 1789 when French botanist Andre Michaux brought the plant as a popular beverage among citizens. In the 1800s, many cold tea recipes appeared in alcohol punches, such as Charleston’s St. Cecilia punch and Chatham Artillery punch during the civil war. In the 1800s, iced tea was often flavored with many ingredients such as a few squeezes of citrus, an infusion of fragrant spices, perhaps a bit of steeped mint, and most commonly, sugar. In those days, it was green tea that was often used before the more popular black in iced tea beverages. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the iced tea was presweetened by dissolving a large quantity of sugar directly into the hot tea base before diluting it with water and ice, as opposed to sweetening already brewed tea with sweetener. Soon beverage makers across the country started putting out their recipes for these “tea punches” and iced tea drinks.
In 1839 Lettice Bryan put out her cookbook The Kentucky Housewife, which has a tea punch recipe that requires pouring hot tea over sugar before mixing in cream and champagne or claret wine. In 1879 Marion Cabell Tyree published her cookbook Housekeeping in Virginia, which also popularized the iced tea recipe. Tyree’s recipe calls for green tea to be boiled and stepped throughout the day. In her book, Cabell states, “Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls of granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar.” In 1884 D.A. (Mary) Lincoln, the head of the Boston cooking school, released a recipe for iced tea that involved pouring cold black tea over ice, lemon, and two sugar cubes. In 1928, Henrietta Stanley Dull, home economics editor for the Atlanta Journal at the time, published her tea recipe in a book titled Southern Cooking. Dull’s recipe calls for boiled water poured over green or black tea leaves, the tea is removed when its strong enough to taste, pour in small amounts of sugar into the mixture, broken ice, and then finally serve with a garnish of a sliced orange, strawberry, cherry, or pineapple. Sometimes Dull’s tea was with a sprig of mint or lemon as well.
After years and several variations on the iced tea recipe, the beverage would become popularized because of tea farmer Richard Blenchynden. During the 1904 St. Louis World fair, Blenchynden offered complimentary hot tea at the East Indian pavilion; however, no one bought the tea due to the intense heat. It was rumored that Blenchynden, and his team filled several bottles of brewed Indian tea and turned them upside down so the tea could flow through iced lead pipes. It was a very welcomed treat in the intense heart at the time, and soon Blenchynden took his free iced tea idea to New York and sold it to larger crowds. After iced tea had grown in popularity, companies like Lipton started selling iced tea all over the United States and significantly down south.
Sweet Tea in the South
Sweet tea is often associated with the south, but after iced tea became popular, it took a while before the beverage became such a staple. In the 19th century, it was harder for the south to obtain ice. The harsh heat and the mild winters kept ice from being a popular commodity south. The ice obtained down south was usually transported from the North and was only for those with the luxury to afford it. Two major technological shifts allowed ice in the south: cars were accessible so ice could be transported from the North quickly, and the invention of the refrigerator in the 1920s helped people down south preserve ice and colder beverages. Another factor that played a role in iced sweet tea’s popularity was the prohibition in 1920. Without drinks such as wine, beer, or whisky, many southerners held on to iced tea as much as they could until serving alcohol was legal. Henrietta Dull’s tea recipe was especially popular in the south and became essential for southern sweet tea, save for more sugar between individual preferences. It’s also important to note that during World War II, imports from Japan were not allowed in the U.S. hence, importation from India, Africa, and South America made darker teas more economically sound commodities.
Presweetening brewed tea became a southern tradition and what often makes southern sweet tea overwhelmingly sweet to those not used to the beverage. Sweet iced tea has become such a southern staple that South Carolina (home of some of the largest tea-growing industries in the country) made sweet iced tea the state’s official hospitality beverage in 1995. Georgia passed a house bill in 2003 that requires all restaurants in the state to serve sweet tea. Although the beverage market is inundated with new sodas every year, sweet iced tea is still a special and refreshing beverage for going out and staying home with friends and family.