Sunday, April 22, 2012

Iced Tea, Traditions and Myths

The days are starting to get warmer and that means you may be thinking of trading your hot cup for a tall icy glass of tea. You are not alone in your tea drinking. Researchers estimate tea is found in four-fifths of our homes here in America. On any given day half of us are drinking tea. Further, 85% of our tea is served iced. If you live in the south where the majority of tea is consumed, your iced tea will probably be sweet tea which you are likely to drink all year round.

In my family, my oldest brother and his household drink it weak and very sweet. I call it sugar water. The rest of us drink it strong and unsweetened. Like southern sweet tea drinkers, we don’t really have an iced tea season. My family’s tradition is to start the day with a cup of coffee, then switch to iced tea the rest of the day. I am a bit of a loner as I don’t drink coffee at all, instead I start the day with hot tea and stay with it all day long. I sometimes switch to iced tea in the evening. We all have our own normal.

To my family, iced tea is just called tea. That means Lipton to them. I go against our tradition yet again. I use Tetley British Blend for my iced tea. Many of my Internet tea friends use all kinds of exotic teas both flavored and unflavored for their iced beverage of choice. Don’t be afraid to experiment. There is no right or wrong here as long as you enjoy it.

Today, the vast majority of iced tea is brewed from bags of black tea. It might interest you to know green tea, hot and iced, was just as popular as black prior to World War II. War, politics, and the resulting trade changes are responsible for a lot of our tea habits today. Innovation is also responsible for big changes affecting our daily lives. I am speaking of the tea bag and iced tea. No matter how you personally feel about either, you may have learned their story incorrectly.

Tea bags account for 65% of the tea drank in America. Ready to drink tea accounts for another 25%. Instant and loose leaf together account for the remaining 10% Sadly fellow tea drinker, loose leaf is consumed even less than instant. Don’t dwell, let’s keep moving.

Most of us were taught that tea bags are a recent American invention. Thomas Sullivan is credited with inventing them. The year is often cited as 1904. The best I can tell a more accurate date is 1908 when Sullivan furnished small hand sown silk muslin pouches of tea to New York area merchants as samples of his available product. The merchants put the sample, pouch and all, in water and voila the tea bag.

While Thomas Sullivan did just as history records and furnish tea in small pouches, he did not invent the tea bag. The first patent of a tea bag belongs to A.V. Smith in England. The year was 1896. The first U.S. patent for a “tea leaf holder made out of fabric” was granted in 1903. While Thomas may not have invented the first tea bag, his actions did begin to popularize their usage.

A few more tea bag figures for you to ponder: The first commercial use of tea bags I found was around 1920 when Joseph Krieger supplied them to caterers. Lipton invented the famous Flo-Thru design in 1952 and Tetley introduced the tea bag to England the following year.

Another bit of tea history that is often told incorrectly concerns the origins of iced tea. Usually the story is told that it was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The facts say otherwise. A merchant named Richard Blechynden did exhibit his hot tea wares at this time. The weather did turn very warm and he did ice down his tea in order to attract fair goers. As often happens he was in the right place at the right time. Iced tea gained popularity from this opportune moment and Richard goes down as the creator.

What goes unstated is that a handful of the food vendors at this fair had iced tea listed on their menus submitted prior to the event. There are many cookbook examples of tea used in iced drinks including punches preceding the 1904 fair. The earliest of these used green tea but even black tea was used iced prior to 1904. There is even evidence of it being sold at the 1893 Chicago World’s fair! For a more in depth look read the History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

I hope you enjoyed my rambling. I don’t know about you but after all this reading I feel the need for some iced tea.

1 comment:

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