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.: August 2007 --> Southern Sweet Tea, An Appreciation

Southern Sweet Tea, An Appreciation

» What makes Southern sweet tea so special? It is good, though my father-in-law swears the stuff he buys in jugs at the store is better than what he can make at home.
 [ 08.10.07 ]


There's also "unsweet" tea (iced tea, no sugar; usually served with sweetener) and "half-and-half tea" which is half sweet-half unsweet.

Most places make their tea way too sweet, particularly to the taste buds of Yankee transplants like myself, hence the half-and-half hybrid.

For the first few years after I moved to the South, I always ordered Sprite to drink. In smaller towns, that pretty much screams "I ain't from 'round here." In a lot of ways, it was more about me holding on to my Yankee identity.

I knew I had started the conversion to Southern-ish when I started regularly ordering sweet tea in restaurants. In fact, I almost ordered some sweet tea in an *Italian* restaurant in *New York.* My BFF gave me that "Dear God, You've become Southern" look when she heard "swee..." turn to "Spri..." midway out of my mouth.

Yes! I can't tell you how delighted I was when someone asked me if I wanted "sweet" or "unsweet" tea for the first time.

I lived about half my life in Eastern Tennessee. Sweet tea was definitely one of those things that weirded me out the first time I got it. In the *very* rural area I lived in as a young teen, they didn't ask... "Tea" meant "Sweet Tea" period. The first time I ever ordered tea in Tennessee, I automatically put my one sugar packet in...

After they peeled me from the ceiling, I incredulously asked the waitress, "You put sugar in it *on purpose*?" I could not come to grips with the concept, and was certain that all she had done was bring me a tea that was left behind from another customer.

At any rate...

The secret to good sweet tea is *boiling hot* water. You add it to the sugar and then the tea bags (BTW... "if it ain't Lusianne, it ain't tea"). Let it "brew for a spell" then put it in the fridge. It needs to get *really* cold, so when you pour it... you need a ton of ice.

I swear... if you miss a single step, it won't taste right at all.

McDonald's in the south actually serve sweet tea (and country ham biscuits (woman at Mickey D's drive-through here in Alameda thought I was insane when I asked for a ham biscuit one morning a few years back)). I once witnessed a man take his tea back to the counter. Not because it tasted bad, not because it wasn't sweet enough... but because it "wasn't cold enough."

Here's the thing I was taught to do when making ice tea (for some reason we don't say sweet tea where I come from, but ice tea is understood to be sweet) -- after the water boils, and you put in the teabags, add a little bit (1/8 or 1/4 of a teaspoon) of baking soda. Enjoy the fizz! This supposedly keeps the tea from turning bitter over several days as it sits in the fridge, which is a good thing if you're the only one in the house drinking it.



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