• Did you know that iced tea was first “officially discovered” in 1904 at the World’s Fair, St. Louis?
• Or that prohibition and home refrigeration in the 1920s and 1930s helped increase the popularity of tea?
• And that approximately 84% of the tea consumed in America is iced?
Welcome to National Iced Tea Month!
The most popular story goes something like this: In 1904 at the World’s Fair, Richard Blechynden, a tea plantation owner was planning to give away free samples of hot tea to visitors. It was so hot in St. Louis that year and no one was interested in hot tea – so he dumped cubes of ice into the drink. The rest is tea history. That said, there is also some information and a story about a Mrs. Tyree and her recipe for iced tea that was published in 1877 (well before the World’s Fair) in Housekeeping in Old Virginia – which is pretty darn cool. (Pun intended.)
In fact, many Americans were already familiar with and drinking iced tea in alcohol based punches as far back as the Colonial days. There is reference to the Philadelphia Fish House Punch from the early 1700s which was diluted with tea. David Wondrich, a liquor historian wrote that the recipe for Regent’s Punch (1815) “…also packed quite the potent wallop: Not only did it call for green tea and arrack, a rum-like liquor from South Asia, it also threw in citrus juice, sugar, champagne, brandy and rum.” That’s a significant difference from how we drink iced tea today.
When Prohibition rolled around and took effect in 1920, nonalcoholic iced teas took off. In 1921, The Spice Mill (a book on coffee and tea industry) wrote: “Since Prohibition has gone into effect, tea has been drunk in places not heretofore thought of.” In order for social clubs, hotels and bars to survive, they looked for substitutes for (hard) liquor sales. Enter the birth of virgin fruit punches and strongly brewed iced teas – both packed with flavor and perfectly legal. The real tipping point arrived with the availability of home refrigeration and freezers which meant that people didn’t have to leave their homes to attend a social club for an iced cold drink.
This brings us to America and its 84%. We stand almost entirely alone (American, Canada, Thailand) in terms of tea culture worldwide in that we are prefer our tea over ice – while the rest of the tea drinking world drinks its tea hot. In countries like China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan, tea is almost always served hot regardless of the season.
Is it because of our early access to ice? Or that Americans were “forced” to drink a strong nonalcoholic beverages during Prohibition? Perhaps! Regardless of the answer, iced tea isn’t going anywhere.
One of the best ways to enjoy real iced tea is to brew it yourself using loose-leaf tea. The quality and taste are far superior than anything you will make from packaged teabags. What I find most interesting and also surprising is how many people ask me HOW to make iced tea. I get this question almost weekly at markets. It’s really quite easy and takes little effort.
There are 2 ways to make iced tea: traditional hot brew method and cold brew. I’ve made both. My personal preference is to hot brew black teas and cold brew green teas.
For Hot Brew: The proportion I use is roughly 1 oz of loose-leaf tea to 1 gallon of water. I use boiling water for black teas, herbal and rooibos. With any herbal infusion or rooibos you can brew the leaves as long as you like without risking bitterness because there is no Camellia Sinensis (tea) in herbal infusions. You could walk away from rooibos (or herbals) for hours and return to perfectly brewed tea. It’s not the same for black teas. Time matters or you end up with a very strong, sometimes bitter brew. Most iced teas in restaurants are often brewed too long, and I believe it’s why so many people resort to sugar in their tea. Quality tea made correctly requires no sugar!
For Cold Brew: As mentioned I like greens (and oolongs) brewed cold. The ratio is slightly different in that you need more leaf to water. My preference is 1.5 oz of tea leaves to 1 gallon of ice/water placed in the fridge over night. When you wake up: Iced Tea! Depending on the tea, I might even use 2 oz of tea leaves to 1 gallon of water. What’s great about this method particularly for green tea, is that there is little to no astringency or bitterness. Some research even suggests that the caffeine level is lower and the anti-oxidants are higher with this method.
Our summer iced tea menu at our local farmer’s markets rotates between these 6 flavors:
For those of you that follow Pearl Fine Teas around the DC Metro area, or are one of our online customers, I’m offering 15% OFF these 6 teas for the rest of June during National Iced Tea Month. Enter code: ICE15 at checkout to receive your discount!
Only blog readers will have access to this code which expires at midnight on June 30th! Grab some leaves and brew over ice!
~ The Chief Leaf