Hi – 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?