Cold, sweet, smooth, earthy, and garnished with a lemon, nothing says the south like sweet tea. Sweet tea says “welcome to the front porch” or “I’m glad you came to visit”. You can find it served in restaurants, fast-food joints, and homes all over the southeastern states. Perfect for sunny summer days, sweet tea may be what you reach for on a hot day, but it means so much more. In this month’s blog, we are going to delve into where sweet tea comes from.
Sweet Tea is so entwined into the southern culture that there is a “Sweet Tea Trail” in Summerville, South Carolina. Summerville claims to be “The Birthplace of Sweet Tea,” however, there are several claims that it was created at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the 1904 edition of the World’s Fair also claims responsibility for the hamburger, hot dogs, peanut butter, Dr. Pepper, cotton candy, and many more items.
But the reality is French explorer Andre Michaux introduced brewed tea leaves to wealthy Charleston planters in the mid-1790s in an effort to attract their extravagant taste buds. At that time in history, South Carolina was the only colony in America producing tea plants. It didn’t take long for this drink to spread across the country as recipes started popping up all over the southern half of the “New World” over the next century. However, Michaux’s concoction was quite different than the refreshing beverage we enjoy today. Most of the early recipes included alcohol and green tea leaves.
The oldest known recipe for the sweet tea we know and love today wasn’t printed until 1879. Marion Cabell Tyree shared the original recipe in a cookbook titled “Housekeeping in Old Virginia”. However, this recipe used green tea, but it was the first recorded to be sweetened with sugar and lemon. Just a few years later, the head of Boston Cooking School, Mary Lincoln created her take on the drink. Lincoln was the first to use black tea. Shortly after this recipe became popular, America began to import black tea from other countries around the world at a much cheaper price than green tea.
The prohibition of the 1920s helped sweet tea gain even more popularity as it became a very suitable replacement for alcohol. In 1928, “Southern Cooking” published the sweet tea recipe that further catapulted this amazing drink to the stardom it experiences today. Thanks to this cookbook, societal women, churchgoers, and many others across the south now had the ability to create their own renditions, and BOOM! A southern treat was born!
Sweet tea has taken such a massive hold on southern lifestyles that South Carolina adopted it as the state’s Official Hospitality Beverage in 1995 and Georgia introduced a House Bill in 2003 requiring all restaurants in the state to serve sweet tea. Sweet tea is that important.
Sweet tea may have started as a high-society treat, but it has now become an everyday drink that is loved and cherished by all. We would love for you to stop by, join us on the porch and raise an ice-cold glass of Sweet Iced Tea. Join us at Bubba’s Fish Shack where we treat everyone like family!