What Makes Iced Tea A Uniquely American Drink

Lots of people say there’s nothing more American than apple pie. However there is another sweet treat that’s more American than apple pie: Iced Tea, and specifically Sweet Tea if you’re in the South. Going into any formal hotel event anywhere in the nation and there’s a pretty good chance that one of your drink options is going to be iced tea. Even though the tea itself comes from Asia, iced tea is a uniquely American invention.  

The History of This “American” Drink

The history of iced tea is said to begin in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair. During the summer heat wave, Richard Blechynden was selling hot tea. Because of the heat (and to save his investment), he decided to pour the tea over ice. The new “Iced Tea” became so popular at the Fair that it soon spread across America.

An Image of the St. Louis World's Fair
The St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Photo Credit: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1904). Bird’s eye view, World’s Fair, St. Louis.

Since that time, Americans have perfected different methods of making iced tea and innovation in recipes. Iced tea aren’t only the traditional teas but they’ve also expanded to include tisanes like Hibiscus, Peppermint, Raspberry, and a variety of other herbs or leaves.

Best Teas for Making Iced Tea

Iced tea is most commonly made from black teas. Green teas and oolongs also make great choices for iced tea. One trick for a great iced tea is choosing a flavored tea like our Chigasaki Beach Green Tea, a green tea that includes rosehips, blue pea flowers, & hawthorn fruit. One of my personal favorites is the Trinidad and Tobago Calypso, a medley of tropical fruits that culminates in a zing.

Hot Steeping or Cold Steeping: Does it Matter? 

Iced tea may be made using either cold or hot steeping.Neither one has a clear advantage with flavor; the biggest difference is going to be based upon the time until drinking. In cold steeping, the dry tea leaves are placed in a clean jug filled with an appropriate amount of cold water. The infusion is refrigerated for at least six hours or overnight, and then strained into a second jug or container.

This container comes with a built-in screen so cold steeping iced tea is a breeze.

To steep tea using the hot steeping method, the easiest method is doubling the quantity of dry tea leaves you’d use when steeping a hot tea. Infuse the leaves in hot water for twice the amount of time and then pour the infusion into a container with the same amount of cold water. This method dilutes the strong tea and prevents clouding.

While iced tea is America’s drink, how you drink it varies from region to region. Most places will simply give you a plain and unsweetened iced tea if that’s what you order. In the South like Atlanta (the home of Fresh Steeped!), you’ll need to specify UNSWEET TEA because sweet tea is the default.

Making sweet tea isn’t just putting sugar into a glass of tea. Iced tea requires a little more effort. If you choose a hot steeping method, then you can add granulated sugar or honey to sweeten before adding ice and water. The hot temperature will quickly melt the sweetener away.

If you’d prefer to use a cold steeping method so guests can sweeten on demand, then using a superfine or bartender’s sugar is recommended. Another option is making a sugar syrup on the stove with a 1:1 water/sugar blend. The sugar syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Fun Drinks Made With Iced Tea

Iced tea doesn’t have to be boring either. It can be turned into an Arnold Palmer, a drink with equal amounts of lemonade and tea. Mocktails are always a good idea with tea. The variety of flavors can substitute for your favorite alcoholic beverage to give a unique kick without a hangover the next morning. I hear that this Tea-Tini from Trisha Yearwood is a crowdpleaser.

A mocktail Tea-Tini is just one of the ways to spice up iced tea. It has a great flavor with no alcohol.

Tea also makes a great base for a mixed drink as well. Here are 15 iced tea cocktail recipes that you can consider for your drinking pleasure. They have a variety of alcohols and teas that are a perfect fit.

Sweetened, flavored, hot or cold brewed, iced tea is an age-old American tradition. Brew up a pot today and for a real taste of America, serve it with a big slice of apple pie. Let me know how you like it. 

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