With June being National Iced Tea Month we wanted to explore the history of iced tea a bit more, looking at its origins before 1904 and where it has evolved. Iced tea came into the mainstream in the United States when it was served, out of necessity, at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904.
History of Iced Tea
In actuality, iced tea had been in homes in the United States since the early 1800’s. Iced tea back then was more of a cocktail than a refreshing drink. Early cookbooks show recipes for Tea Punch, made with a combination of ice, green tea, sugar, cream and liquor. The green tea is not a surprise, as that was the predominant tea coming into the United States until the Opium Wars interrupted trade with China redirecting the tea trade to India and black tea. This punch took on regional names from Regent’s Punch (New England) to Chatham Artillery Punch (Savannah, Georgia).
Cookbooks in the later-half of the 1800’s started to talk about iced tea in the forms most American’s think of today – tea, ice, lemon and sugar. This is not a surprise given that ice boxes, the first form of the refrigerator, had become more prevalent in American homes at the same time. Sugar was present in all recipes but not in the quantities that are typically associated with sweet tea, until 1879.
Ice Tea Recipes and Varieties
The oldest known recipe in print for sweet tea was published in 1879 in Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. It called for 2 teaspoons of sugar for roughly 6 ounces of tea over ice, followed by a squeeze of lemon. Sweet tea is such a staple in the Southern United States that when visiting restaurants it is advised to ask for unsweet tea when ordering iced tea if sweet tea is not wanted. In other parts of the US, you will have to make your own sweet tea at the table with the available sugar packets.
Thai iced tea has become a more frequent fixture in the US as Asian culture has become part of main stream America. This tea is very close to the early American recipes for iced tea in that it includes tea, cream and sugar – no alcohol though.
Today, much like soda, iced tea is readily available in many flavors, sweetened or unsweetened in bottles. While convenient, they still don’t hold a candle to the fresh brewed taste of homemade iced tea.
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