Iced Tea: A Year-Round Southern Tradition

Iced Tea Steeping, in Glass, and in a Pitcher
Michael Piazza / Getty Images

Southerners drink iced tea year-round and have been drinking iced tea since the 19th century when ice became generally available. If you order tea in a restaurant in the South you'll get iced tea - probably sweetened, so if you want it hot or unsweetened, you'd better say so!

The tea plant, a bushy evergreen shrub that can grow to a height of 30 feet, is thought to be indigenous to a region covering Tibet, western China, and northern India.

Tea became such a popular beverage by the sixth century in China, that merchants commissioned a book extolling the pleasures of drinking tea. Tea drinking spread to Europe in the sixteenth century, when trade with China became commonplace. Today, England is the world's number-one tea consumer. 

English and Irish colonists made tea a popular beverage in North America up until the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when settlers opposed the heavy taxes and stormed tea ships in the Boston harbor. The British continued to dominate the tea market until 1859 when Americans George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman began to buy tea directly from the ships and sold it to their customers for one-third the price charged by others. They established the "Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company", which later grew into a chain of supermarkets under the name "A&P."

By the late 19th century, Americans were enjoying "iced tea", which was popularized by Richard Blechynden at the 1904 St.

Louis World's Fair.

Many people still start with bulk tea or bags, but today you can get tasty iced tea in cans or bottles, from liquid concentrates, and from powder. Some of the newer varieties can be brewed in cold water.

Tea contains a number of substances, including caffeine, essential oils, enzymes, tannins and phenolic compounds.

It also contains potassium and magnesium. Tea (with no cream or sugar) has 2 or 3 calories per 6 ounces.

Keep bulk tea for up to 18 months in an airtight container, preferably metallic. Chinese teas keep for up to 3 years.

A vintage how-to from "Southern Cooking" by S.R. Dull (1928): The only recipe for making tea is, use a good grade of tea, use freshly boiled water,​ make the tea quickly, and never leave it standing on the leaves. Mrs. Dull goes on to add that the water used might make a difference and advises using earthenware or glass for brewing.

How to Make Southern Iced Tea

  1. Bring 1 quart of fresh water — preferably filtered or good quality bottled water — to a boil.  Remove the pot from the heat and add 6 tea bags. Steep the tea bags in the water for 9 minutes. Remove the tea bags, squeezing them gently. 
  2. Fill a large pitcher with ice and add the cooled tea.
  3. For sweet tea, add 1/2 cup or more of sugar, or to taste.
  4. Add lemon wedges or fresh mint, if desired.

You Might Also Like