Sweet Tea …The wine of the South

Published 9:46 am Monday, June 4, 2012

There are only two traditional ice teas in the South. The only thing that sets them apart is sugar.

When Southerners order tea in restaurant, they don’t have to ask for sweet tea. It is commonly assumed the person wants it sweet; if they wanted it unsweetened they would have ordered it that way.

Most Southerners swear by sweet tea and most drink it by the gallons. In the South sweet tea is not just a summer drink, oh no… it’s served year round.  It is served with all meals, some even drink it for breakfast. Most Southerners don’t even know there is another way to have tea. In the South it’s iced and sweet.

Our friends down in South Carolina were the first and only place in the United States to grow and produce tea commercially. I guess here’s another drink we can claim “born in the Carolinas.”

Historians agree that the tea plant first came to the United States in the 1700’s. A French botanist by the name of Andre Michaux imported and planted tea near Charleston, SC at Middleton Place Gardens.

Different variations of the delightful drink started to flourish in the 1800’s. It was served as punches that was heavily spiked with booze with such names as Regent’s Punch, named after George IV, the English Prince Regent between 1811 – 1820, and King from 1820-1830.

In the mid nineteenth century, a version of the punch begin to acquire regional, or even patriotic names, such as Charleston’s Cecilia Punch, and Savannah’s more potent version, Chatham Artillery Punch. It was a drink of high society during this time.

With the development of refrigeration iced tea started its popularity. The oldest sweet tea recipe comes from 1879. It is from a cook book called House Keeping in Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree.

Sweet tea has 0 carbs, 0 protein, and 0 fats. However, depending how sweet one likes their tea, the calories can range from 48 to 60; based on an 8 ounce serving which is the size most households use. Most of the fast foods sweet tea is served in a 16 ounce or larger cups and the calories can range from 90 to a whopping 280 if one chooses the belly washer size cup.

Regardless of calories, Southerners still love their tea, SWEET. There are even folks that will swear by one brand of tea or another. With the ever growing popularity and the thirst for tea, many companies are commercially producing brewed sweet tea. You may even see the names of celebrities on the sides of a jug of sweet tea in the super market. It seems everyone is trying to jump on the old Southern band wagon known as sweet tea.

It doesn’t matter which meal a true Southerner drinks their sweet tea with, here below the Mason-Dixon Line sweet tea is and will always be affectingly known as “the Wine of the South.”

Joe Cowart is Publisher of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contracted at joe.cowart@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7218.