Iced Tea – Some History and Fun Facts

Photo WG2 smallHi – Winnie Griggs here.  This post, like so many I’ve done here in the past, started with a little bit of research I was doing for a story.  I needed to find out how long that southern staple, sweet tea, has been around.

The earliest written reference to sweet tea, as we know it today (more or less), can be found in the 1879 cookbook Housekeeping In Old Virginia by Mabel C. Tyree.  Ms. Tyree’s recipe is as follows:

After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea. If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast. At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea strainer into a pitcher. Let it stand till tea time and pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.

So there was the answer to my question – sweet tea was indeed around by 1892.


But of course my reading didn’t stop there – I couldn’t resist digging a little deeper.  And here is some of what I found:

  • The Boston Tea Party, where colonists protested the extravagant tea taxes, was a catalysts to the colonists fight for independence.  After the Revolutionary War, enterprising Americans set their own stakes in the tea trade with China, severing one more tie with England.
  • In 1795 the colony of South Carolina was the first place in America where tea plants were grown, and it is the only state to have produced the plants commercially.
  • Early appearances of iced versions of tea appeared as punches which were generously spiked with alcohol and were quite popular for special occasions.  Recipes for these show up as early as 1811.
  • By the early 1900s it was common to find recipes for iced tea in cookbooks.
  • In 1908, a tea producer decided to ship samples to New York restaurants in individual bags.  It had been his intent that the restaurateurs remove the tea samples from the bags and brew it normally.  But the restaurateurs bypassed that step and left it in the bag while brewing.  This was the birth of the tea bag we use today.
  • By 1915, iced tea had become so commonplace that special tall glasses (which became known as iced tea glasses), long spoons and lemon forks had become household items.
  • The popularity of iced tea got a big boost during prohibition as people looked for alternatives to alcoholic beverages.


I also discovered there are some superstitions associated with tea

  • In some areas of Europe, folks believe that scattering tea leaves in front of their house will ward off evil spirits
  • If the lid of a teapot falls off during brewing, then a stranger will come calling.
  • If one pours the boiling water before adding the tea to the pot, then bad luck will befall you.
  • Making tea that is overly weak indicates you will lose a close friendship
  • On the other hand, making an overly strong tea means you will gain a new friend.
  • Some believe that bubbles floating in your tea indicate that you will incur riches.
  • If you stir the tea in the pot before you pour it, you are stirring up strife,
  • Then of course there are those who believe the whole read your fortune/future in the tea leaves


So there you have some ‘sweet facts’ as they relate to the history of tea in America.  Are you a tea drinker?  Do you prefer yours hot or iced?  And do you have a favorite ‘specialty’ flavor?

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

27 thoughts on “Iced Tea – Some History and Fun Facts”

  1. I like both hot and cold tea. For hot, I usually like a spicy flavor. For cold, I usually don’t like a specialty flavor. To be honest, I don’t even like sugar in my tea.

  2. I love iced tea, but up straight, no lemon or sugar. I do like hot tea, but only if I’m chilled. Raspberry Zinger is about the only flavored tea I drink.

  3. I am not an iced tea drinker – but my mother lives on it, and it cannot be sweetened! I might do hot tea (from a bag), but prefer good ole lattes and cappuccinos. 🙂 Great info!

  4. HI Winnie, loved your post on tea! I’ve been steeped in tea lore because of my new book, so your timing was perfect. I do enjoy a good cup of tea especially on a cool day. I’ve been drinking Raspberry Razzle (don’t ask me why). Isn’t it amazing what we go through in the name of research? I ordered some gunpowder tea bags not knowing that the box contained 500. Who buys 500 teabags at a time? They’re free to a good home.

  5. Hi Winnie! I always enjoy the history you share and I love the history of tea and these fun facts. I especially enjoyed reading the superstitions. As a Texas girl, I enjoy a glass of sweet tea over ice.

  6. Great post, Winnie! Sweet tea over ice is hard to beat and a staple in many a Texas home. Thank you for what you do.

  7. Winnie, what interesting stuff! Who knew the actual tea bags evolved so early. I was thinking maybe 1920’s or 30’s. I’ve long been an iced tea drinker but never acquired a taste for hot tea until the last few years. Now, I have to have a cup of hot tea many times during the day especially in the winter. And one before bedtime has become a nightly ritual. Sure helps me sleep well. Thanks for such an interesting post.

  8. I love hot tea. It is almost the ONLY thing I love about cold weather coming.
    And I especially love “Tetley’s Earl Grey Tea in the Draw String Bag”. Yes the draw string bag matters.
    Every time I pull the little strings on that bag I marvel at the ingenuity. Someone has improved the tea bag.

    Build a better tea bag and the world will beat a path to your door. That is so much better of a saying that that dreadful MOUSE TRAP saying. No saying with the word MOUSE in it should ever be famous.

    I just finished my very FIRST cup of Tetley’s Earl Grey Tea in the Draw String Bag of the year. I have to order it online. I can always find Earl Gray and will drink any brand. Twining is a particular favorite and they usually have that at Walmart or any large grocery store. It’s excellent. Lipton is fine too for heavens’s sake. I also like Lady Grey and English Breakfast and honestly most any kind of tea, including flavored, it’s not that I dislike it, I just happend to LOVE this one type.
    But it’s impossible to find. I googled shops that carry it.
    None in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota….

    So I have a winter’s supply now.
    And have my first cup.
    All is well. Bliss!

  9. At night I like to drink Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time. Very soothing. Chamomille is excellent, too. Anything decaf is fine.
    No sweetener. I’m not big on strong flavors but they aren’t a deal breaker.
    I’m a little bit afraid of 500 bags of gunpowder tea, though Margaret. Maybe you should just leave them on a park bench and run.

  10. Hi Janine! Spicy teas are good, as or chais. I usually don’t sugar my iced tea and use honey in my hot tea

    Jane, I actually love hot tea year round and try to have at least one cup a day.

  11. Hi Susan, thanks for stopping by. Unsweetened iced tea – she must not be from the south! 🙂

    Hi Margaret. Hmmm, raspberry razzle – I haven’t tried that one yet, but it sounds yummy! Must find me some! And 500 bags – wow! That would last me several years

  12. Hi Britney – thanks for those kind words! And yes, there’s nothing like a nice cold glass of sweet tea on a hot afternoon!

    Melanie – you’re quite welcome and thanks so much for stopping by

  13. Hi Linda – I know! isn’t it fun the unexpected things you learn when you start digging into a subject.

    Hi Mary – I’ve never heard of tea in a draw string bag. Now you’ve got me curious – I’ll have to check this out! And I like the sleepytime vanilla as well – herbals are great evening teas. I like the cinnamon apple one especially.

  14. I love tea! I will drink hot or cold, chai tea is my favorite hot one, & peach iced tea is my favorite cold. Drinking it relaxes me, & if we add a book to the mix, it’s a real treat!

  15. Hi anon1001 – never? Wow, how did you ever miss even tasting them?

    Maria – ah, another tea lover. I love chais as well! And peach iced tea is yummy, but for iced I’m more of a purist 🙂

  16. Thank you, Winnie. I love tea. For a coffee drinker to say that I have to hide. However, years of drinking coffee, I find that 2 cups in the morning is all I can handle any more. Then it is tea the rest of the day. Especially at night. After dinner until bedtime, I drink tea. Hot tea. Either green or black. I also find that if my stomach is a bit queezy for whatever reason, black tea is the way to go to stop the queeze.
    I can remember as a small child that whenever I had a stomach ache, my mother gave me hot tea with condensed milk. Not evaporated, but condensed. Delicious.
    Now, I have a variety of teas in my kitchen. From green to various spicy and exotic flavors to black. Depends of my mood what I have. Then there is iced tea. We make a lot of sun tea. But the best iced variety is just plain old black. And as far as Margaret’s gunpowder tea bags—I’m just not sure.

  17. Love this article. Being a Bama girl, I live off of tea. One of my favorite treats growing up was a glass of sweet tea and buttered Texas toast (had to be fixed by Pick, a grandmotherly lady who kept my sister and myself after school). Now that I’m older, my husand, Noah, and myself have gotten into drinking hot tea. We usually drink Twining’s Earl Grey, but I also love Oolong Dragon Tea. We still, however, also keep a pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge at all times!

  18. I do like tea. I drink it year round but in the summer I prefer iced tea and in the winter hot tea. My favorite flavored tea is the Raspberry Tea.

  19. I drink 2-3 cups of hot tea daily – no sugar, milk, or lemon, and almost always black. I did discover a delicious white tea by Numi that is flavored with rose petals. Numi also has a genuinely fermented tea called pu-erh, which has a scent reminiscent of my parents’ dairy farm; however, after about four cups it’s beginning to grow on me, and eating chocolate along with it makes it quite palatable. But then, chocolate tends to have that effect on most anything.

  20. Hi Mary – you’re quite welcome. I never did acquire a taste for coffee, although I love the way it smells. Both of my parents were heavy coffee drinkers so it always smells like coming home to me. And mmmmmmm, I think condensed milk would taste absolutely decadent in a cup of hot tea!

  21. Laynah – I had a favorite uncle we called Pick – must be a southern thing 🙂 And there’s nothing that says you can’t have your tea both ways.

    JackieW – oh yum, you’re the second one to mention raspberry tea, I’m definitely going to have to find me some!

  22. Rachael K – Hi! I haven’t tried white tea yet – another thing to add to my tea shopping list. And you’re right, just about anything goes better with chocolate! 🙂

  23. Great post Winnie. I love tea. When I was growing up for supper we only had two choices sweet tea in the summer and milk in the winter. No Cokes, and I guess if we’d wanted water we could have had it. I drink decaf flavored teas before I go to bed to help me sleep. Since I am prone to kidney stones I have to stay away from sweet tea, but being a good ol’ southern gal, every now and again, I fix me a pitcher of sweet tea and drink to my hearts desire. All of my grands love sweet tea…wonder where they got that from! Thanks again, Winnie, for an interesting post. Hugs, P

  24. Winnie, Thanks so much for such an interesting post. Tea has always been a favorite in our family. We like both hot and iced tea. Constant Comment orange spice was my first favorite. Now, I like Earl Grey and Irish & English Breakfast teas. I like to make my own iced sweet tea. Most that you get are just too sweet and are sweetened with corn syrup.

    I only drank tea before our son was born. After that, I needed coffee to make it through the days and nights. I drink and enjoy both.

    I am digging out my copy of ONCE UPON A THANKSGIVING to reread for the season.

    Have a great week.

  25. Hi Phyliss. We actually only had tea for holidays or special occasions – sweet tea of course. At our regular meals it was always milk. I wasn’t introduced to hot tea until much later in life when I was out and on my own.

  26. Hi Patricia! So glad you enjoyed the post – I’m a fan of orange spice as well but I don’t think I’ve had the Constant Comment brand – I’ll have to look for it. And thanks soooooo much for the kind words about my Thanksgiving book!

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