Sweet tea could be easily called the house wine of the South. Almost every home has iced tea at the ready whenever you stop by for a visit. At church suppers, family meals, reunions, or any kind of get together you can be sure there will be some form of sweet tea served. The ease of preparation and the ability to make in mass quantities without breaking the bank have made it a staple for many households. An important element to making the perfect iced tea begins with the tea bags and allowing for a bit of steep time. Any southerner will argue that there is a certain brand that makes the best iced tea. I am not so much a brand snob when it comes to tea, but I do agree certain brands are better than others for iced tea. What makes a good tea for one person may be completely different for someone else. Experiment until you find the right tea brand that suites you.
Have you ever ventured up to the Northern United States and tried to find sweet tea? It can be quite tricky to even find a place that even knows what you are asking for. The further north you go, the less likely you will find any form of sweet tea. Recently while on vacation in Pennsylvania, a friend of mine had a hankering for sweet tea and could not find it anywhere around that served anything close to what resembled her beloved tea. She drove many miles to a big chain fast food restaurant in hopes to quench her thirst only to find that it was more on the unsweet side. Needless to say, she couldn’t wait to get back home and grab a glass of her own sweet tea.
It is easy to understand why iced tea came about in the South. In the Deep South warmer weather lingers around most of the year. Ice boxes and refrigeration made it easy to keep the tea cold during those warmer months. During World War II, rationing of sugar encouraged thrifty and creative cooks to add sugar to the tea while it was hot. When using sugar in the tea when warm, less was used to sweeten it. Did you know that South Carolina was the first place in the United States where tea was grown and the only place where it was ever produced commercially? The oldest sweet tea recipe in print can be traced to a community cookbook published in 1879 titled Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree.
Tea is considered a superfood as it is rich in the antioxidants, polyphenols and catechins. These antioxidants detoxify cell-damaging free radicals in the body and help boost the body’s defense against diseases. Some studies have shown that tea may also lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and may help to protect against cancer.
There are multiple methods to making the perfect iced tea: hot brew, cold brew, and sun tea. Hot brew is made by steeping tea bags in a pan of water on the stove. Cold brew consists of placing tea bags within a pitcher and placing it in the fridge overnight to steep and lastly sun tea that is most popular during the warm summer months. Making sun tea is easy and fun by placing a glass pitcher filled with water and tea bags in direct sunlight and let the tea steep in the sun warmed water. One common complaint among some people when it comes to making iced tea is the bitterness. Bitterness in tea is caused by overcooking and burning the tea leaves. Tea should never been boiled in the pan. You want the water to warm just before a simmer and then let the tea steep in the warm water. To counter the bitterness, add a pinch of baking soda, about 1/8 of a teaspoon into the hot, steeped tea after you remove the bags. It will not affect the taste of your tea and will provide insurance against the bitterness.
Facts show that drinking tea can be a stress reliever and can keep you relaxed. Serve your iced tea with lemon wedges and sprigs of mint. One sip and I bet you will be instantly transported to a time with your grandma on the front porch swing laughing and having the time of your life. One thing is for certain, making the perfect iced tea comes down to your own preference. Many generations in my family have passed down the love of iced tea. We may not technically make the perfect iced tea by steeping versus boiling and such, but we do make it to the liking of our family. If you put your heart and love into something, it is felt by all those that enjoy it and that to me is perfection.