Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sweet Tea

I stumbled upon this southern style sweet tea recipe this morning and it caught me up short. "Like, huh? Someone would need a recipe for sweet tea?" It's so much a part of our family culture, it just never occured to me that there would be a need to write down instructions for it.

When the boys come home from their school year in Omaha, they down gallons of iced tea. They can't get enough of it. I fear they miss the sweet tea more than they miss their mother.

"So, what," I ask, "do you drink in Omaha?" Those of us at home are truly mystified. "Water," they say, "and milk."
Well, yeah, but what do you drink?

They shrug, at a loss for words, wince at the memory of their deprivation, and pour themselves some more sweet tea.

I love, love, love coffee, but I take iced tea for granted. Not having it in the fridge would feel to me like not having a doorknob on the front door. If it's not there, something is obviously wrong. Someone had better get on the ball.

The children take pride in trying out new combinations of tea bags when it's their turn to brew a pitcher. The Celestial Seasonings fruit teas mix well with the black teas (as I mentioned in passing the other day), and everyone likes mint, of course. Chamomile, however, just doesn't taste right iced, and most of us don't care for the cinnamon teas iced, either.
Since we have so many Littles who don't need the caffeine, we brew our tea with decaf tea bags -- generally the cheapest ones, since we go through so many, but I think Luzianne is actually the best tasting of the cheaper American brands. We use three family-size tea bags per gallon, or five to six small bags. We boil in the kettle and steep in the pitcher (filling to about 1/4 - 1/3 of the gallon), then add the sugar in at the same time as the teabags, so it dissolves well. Of course, it wouldn't be sweet tea without an appropriate amount of sugar: I use a cup per gallon -- the kids generally add more, as you might guess. We let it steep in the covered pitcher for about ten minutes, then remove the teabags, stir the sugar and add cold water to fill. The above linked recipe suggests using lemon extract, and I'm sure that's probably good, but why not use real lemon? And a handful of mint from the garden thrown in to steep is good, too.

And, there you go. Ready for the day, come summer or winter, hail or high water. Gotta have our sweet tea.

I'm curious, though. Is the sweet tea custom really just a Southern phenomenon? I grew up in the southeast, and inherited it from my southern family, but how about everyone else? Do Pacific coast and midwestern neighbors cool off with it? How about folks in the northeast? Do they ever serve iced tea in Australia or England, friends across the Atlantic?


Charlotte (Matilda) said...

It's definitely a Texas thing. Up here in DFW, you can find sweet tea anywhere. My granny says it has to be brewed and the sugar added when it's still hot or it doesn't count. My favorite is Bill Miller's sweet tea that use to come in giant sized vats for $1!

Diana said...

Hi Lisa, I grew up in Chicago where it is customary to add your own sugar to your glass. It was never pre sweetened. I actually never heard of sweet tea until we moved to southern Illinois. My daughter in law makes the best sweet tea and I love it. My husband on the other hand doesn't because he says it's too sweet for him! He would rather add his own sugar. I had some dried peppermint from my yard which I added to my regular brew and it was fabulous! My husband however didn't care for it. We always tease him and say that he is so stuck in the 70'S!!
I loved this post Lisa, very interesting!

Kim H. said...

As a born and raised midwestern girl, I wasn't introduced to sweet tea until just a few years ago.

My friend Sandi, who was born and raised in the South, and still very much a southern belle, got me on to liking sweet tea.

And I have to say, for a buck, I love Mickey D's sweet tea.

As for living in TN, I'm completelly loving the sweet tea option everywhere.we.go! YUM! :)

Rachel said...

I'm from Ohio. Most people here drink unsweetened tea (yuck!!)Those who sweeten their tea usually do it by the glass instead of the whole pitcher. Even adding their own though doesn't make the tea as sweet as sweet tea. I love sweet tea, and most of my family, friends and neighbors think I am crazy.

Erin said...


I've never had iced tea or sweet tea in my life. Here in Australia hot tea is popular, crazy when you think about the heat. Mind you I don't drink tea myself (like your boys away at school I drink water;)

MightyMom said...

girl, you need Lipton-decaff and SUNLIGHT.

how do you not make suntea???

tastes sooo much better!

take your clear (or mostly clear) glass gallon jar..complete with a spigot on the bottom...we're talking a tea KEG here okay?? fill with water...stick your bags in, leaving the strings over the lip of the jar...screw on the top and and sit that puppy in the sun in the early the afternoon your tea is perfect!

I spose you could add sugar...but I don't care as much for sweet tea as regular sun tea.

Now, when I drink indoor-made tea I have a QUART sized mug I drink from. 1 quart = 1 family sized tea bag!! :-) So I fill my cup with ice. brew me up some tea on the stovetop...once it's boiling I time that puppy for 7 minutes. boiling with bag. Then I take the bag out and pour it over the ice in the mug. Add 2 tablespoons Splenda and stir well. OH YEAH!!

I don't care for all the frou frou teas...just plain old Lipton for ME.


MightyMom said...

I should note that I'm the only tea drinker in the house (cuz I don't let the kids drink it...they would if I did) so I making a gallon of tea is ridiculous...just a quart at a time does me good...when I'm not drinking DrPeppers (like Lent) I'll drink about a quart and a half a day.

I should also say that I would have 2 suntea jugs. one made in the fridge and one sitting on the porch....if I had anyone to share it with ;-)

Lisa said...

Oh, I gotta tell ya, MM -- You've hit on a recent pet peeve of mine -- We do and have made suntea, and you're right, It's particularly smooth and good (though harder to make into sweet tea, because you ahve to make the sugar into a syrup before stirring it in). But, a suntea pitcher is frought with dangers here where we live. Too many kids, too many dogs -- makes too many knocked over gallons of tea outdoors. And, the last two pitchers I bought, the spigot had a faulty seal and leaked. Unquestionably because they were $3 pitchers... But, still, one begins to feel one is jinxed.

Charlotte (Matilda) said...

We gave up on those leaky pitchers and sun tea too especially after I read that the bacteria content is a lot higher for sun tea and it shouldn't be kept for very long. My kids don't drink sweet tea and I really shouldn't polish off a gallon in less than 24 hours.

SQUELLY said...

I am ashamed to say that while we love our hot tea is England we don't really have such a strong iced tea tradition here. We do have it but I am pretty sure its not that common in most houses even on a hot day. Shame really - I am rather fond I have to say :-)

Aussie Therese said...

I haven't ever tasted a iced tea. I think I have a bit of an aversion to it because I always thought a cup of tea should be hot.

Maybe I will have a try now that I have read this.

Bia said...

I make iced tea exactly as you do . . . down to the cup of sugar per gallon.

My husband is from Pennsyvania. The first summer after our marriage we did a grand tour of that area, and I can still remember my first experience with northern iced tea: it. was. horrible. Not sweet, all lemon, and two floating ice cubes. Ick, Ack, Patooey.

No one does iced tea like the south.

Linda Higgins said...

this was a fun and funny comment section! LOL I have never heard of so many tea lovers comments! You better believe that the tea lovers are sure fired up about how to brew a perfect tea! FUNNY girls! I never had sweet tea until we were in Wal-Mart in NC and at the McDonalds there it was....just like any other drink to is a stapel in the EAST!. LOVED this one Lisa, you really hit a nerve with a few LOLOLOLhehehehe

Cheryle said...

We drink tea here too, Lisa.
I did find a wonderful tea (thanks to one of the ladies here at church) that brews a wonderful cup of hot and an amazing glass of cold. No need to add anything as it is sweet enough on it's own. It's Good Earth (ceffeine free) Sweet & Spicy. Yum yum!
BTW, I usually prefer unsweet tea, especially when I order it from fast food. Most places sweet tea is just too sweet!

Laura said...

Just don't ever leave the sisterhood of the java bean.