Wonderfully democratic, sweet tea avoids traditional tea stereotypes. While other revered tea preparations might involve hunting down rare leaves or special tea pots and whisks, sweet tea combines just three things: very cheap black tea, white sugar and ice.
A pitcher of sweet tea remains a fixture of southern kitchens and restaurants. "Somebody comes over to your house, and you offer them sweet tea," says Matt McClure, executive chef of The Hive in Bentonville, Arkansas. "It's the daily drink in the South—a nice, ice-cold pick me up that doesn't feel as bad for you as soda."
- What Is Earl Grey Tea and How to Perfect It
- Moroccan Mint Tea: The Sweet Tea You've Been Missing
- What Is Chai and How to Make It
Sweet Tea History
McClure says that tea's general popularity in the South started in the late eighteenth century in South Carolina, the first place in the United States to grow tea commercially. The oldest recipe for sweet tea can be found in the 1879 cookbook, Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. The recipe calls for green tea—the most commonly available (albeit expensive) variety at the time. The other elements, sugar and ice, were also pricey commodities (and refrigeration was a new concept), making sweet tea something of a luxury drink.