When I think of the South, of Home, I think of Sweet Tea. It’s ingrained in the culture, and synonymous with warm summer nights, fresh local food, and a slower way of living. Ask any non-Southerner to describe the South, and I bet “Sweet Tea” makes the list. Like a lot of traditions in the South, Tea drinking was brought in from another culture, and modified to suit the Southern way of life. Just how did a fermented leaf from India, and the nectar of the sugar cane become the common liquid of southern life, and what is the secret to the perfect glass?
Tea has been drank by every culture for centuries, and Southerner’s are no different. As great as Southern agriculture is, growing tea never took off and because of that we still import Tea to drink from around the world. What did take off in the 1800’s was regional “Tea Punches” or blends of Tea with everything from fruit, to alcohols. The first written recipe for sweet tea punch was found in Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree (1879), but called for Green Tea, not the now common “Black Tea”. It wasn’t until WW2 that “Sweet Tea” was solidified into Southern culture. Drinking iced tea was already on the rise, because of events like the Worlds Fair, it grew further in popularity. The War caused Green Tea shortages from the “East” so Southerner’s were forced to adopt the British black teas from India. Southerners began to blend the black Indian tea with their sugared tea punch recipes, becoming commonly known as Sweet Tea, and so it was born.
No tea tastes more like the soul of the South than Luzianne tea. There is something particularly smooth, about Luzianne’s blend that tastes like home, and it’s the only brand of tea I use for “Sweet Tea“. I spent 2 years in Colorado, and kept a steady supply of Luzianne tea, in case I couldn’t find it in the stores. Other than the brand there is only one other necessity to sweet tea and that’s sugar. As a child, I can remember visiting my grandparent’s house and my grandmother always had the sweetest tea in town, you could literally see the sugar settle in her old tea pitchers. The point is, the amount of sugar in your Sweet Tea is what gives your recipe its signature flavor.
The perfect glass of Sweet Tea, has 3 variables; how long one steeps their tea, the correct amount of sugar to tea ratio, and ensuring the sugar is added at the right time. The perfect amount of sugar, I can tell you, is more than a cup per gallon, depending on how long you allow the tea to steep. The darker the tea, the more sugar you’ll need to offset the bitter effect that comes from over steeping black tea (steeping time is critical). I prefer my tea darker, so I steep for 5 minutes, remove the bags and add 1 1/3 cup of sugar while the tea is still warm. Still need help, ask a relative. Southerners love to tell you how they make sweet tea, like a proud family recipe they most will happily pass it on. Just be sure to make it personal, that way folks will recognize you by your Sweet Tea.
The Hungry Southerner Sweet Tea
- 1 1/3 cups Sugar
- 3 Luzianne Large Tea bags
- 2 Quarts of water
Bring 2 quarts of water to boil. Once the water is boiling, remove from heat and add all 3 tea bags. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, add sugar to an empty gallon sized pitcher. After 5 minutes remove the tea bags from the water, and add tea to the pitcher, stir until sugar is dissolved. Top off the pitcher with cold water to the full gallon. Enjoy.
Stay Hungry Y’all!
Thanks to http://whatscookingamerica.net for producing the facts on Sweet Tea