June 10th is National Iced Tea Day. We're exploring a bit of the history around this iconic Southern beverage.
The United States is not known as a tea-producing nation, of course. Most historians agree that the first tea plants arrived with French explorer and botanist Andre Michaux in the late 1700s, who was attempting to please the desires of wealthy Charleston planters. As a result, South Carolina was the first place in the United States where tea was grown and remains the only state to ever have commercially produced tea.
You may be surprised to learn that the custom of serving tea cold is not entirely American. Extant cookbooks from England show us that tea was being served cold since at least the early 1800s, usually in the form of tea "punches", concoctions of tea that were heavily spiked with liquor.
With the development of refrigeration technology, iced tea's popularity skyrocketed. By the mid 19th-century, you could find an "ice box" in many homes, and the commercial manufacture of pure ice was becoming more and more common.
But what about that iconic Southern standby, sweet tea? Where did it come from? The oldest known sweet tea recipe exists in Marion Cabell Tyree's 1879 community cookbook Housekeeping in Old Virginia, and is as follows:
The dawn of the 20th century solidified iced tea's popularity in the American consciousness.
At the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, iced tea was not only popularized but also, for the first time, truly commercialized. The summer of 1904 was sweltering, and fairgoers were on the hunt for cold drinks, making iced tea an obvious choice for thirsty patrons.
Since that time, Americans (and especially Southerners) have been insatiable for iced tea, developing their own customs and recipes. Raise your glass and celebrate with us!
Iced Tea Recipes:
Iced Tea Recommendations: