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The History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

The History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

We love iced tea, and really enjoy finding recipes when the summer approaches. We've noticed a wide variety of sweetness levels with the teas; recipes that source from different cultures and countries, which often cite their history. But wasn't iced tea invented at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904? Nope, it wasn't! The Fair popularized iced tea, bringing it to the masses.

The real origin of iced tea may surprise you!

Around the World

With a history of over 5000 years, tea is a well established world wide beverage, where various tea leaves are steeped in hot water, and then enjoyed in a wide variety of ways! Many countries has a tradition of brewing herbal, green or black teas, and then allowing the tea to cool before enjoying. Iced tea is a much more recent discovery, and it runs parralel with the development of easily obtainable preserved ice. The essence of a crisp, cold iced tea is chipped ice.

American Tea Origins

Tea is not a large commercial crop in the United States, with South Carolina being the first state to grow tea, and the only state to produce tea commercially. The first tea plant was brought ot the Americas by French explorer and botanist Andre Michaux (1746-1802), who planted it near Charleston at Middleton Barony in 1795. These gardens are now known as Middleton Place Gardens.

Black tea was not known in these early days, and recipes referring to tea at that time used green tea. Recipe books from the early 1800s show that teas served cold were green tea punches heavily spiked with liquor. By the mid-1800s tea punches would start carrying names that harkened to where they originated, often with patriotic flair.

Sweet Tea

Some examples of southern recipes for tea punch call for hot, strong tea to be poured over a large amount of sugar, adding sweetened cream and stirring in claret or "champagne". They would be served hot or cold.

The oldest printed sweet tea recipe is in a community cookbook call Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree, published in 1879:
“Ice Tea. – 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.”

The earliest found recipe using black tea was published by the director of the Boston Cooking School, D.A. (Mary) Lincoln, in Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking:
“Ice Tea or Russian Tea – Make the tea by the first receipt, strain it from the grounds, and keep it cool. When ready to serve, put two cubes of block sugar in a glass, half fill with broken ice, add a slice of lemon, and fill the glass with cold tea.” This is the iced tea that you can expect to be served if you ask for tea in the southern States, and this is also the basis of our modern, pre-sweetened, powered instant tea!

The World's Fair & Iced Tea

Back to the Fair and it's role in popularizing ice tea! Englishman Richard Blechnyden was promoting Indian Black tea at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, right in the middle of a summer heat wave. Blechnyden realized that drinking hot tea would be the last thing on people's minds, and chose to switch to serving cold tea, purchasing blocks of ice and chipping them into the tea. The crowds loved it!

Come explore our glass pitchers and tumblers at the store, and get making up your own sweet iced to enjoy these hot summer days! Want to explore flavours with us? Check out Fuse & Sip, which we carry in-store!