A Southern Treat: The History Behind Sweet Tea

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Nothing says summertime in the South like a tall, ice-cold glass of sweet tea! Served up in restaurants, fast-food joints, and homes across the country, this beloved beverage is a symbol of pure Southern culture and cuisine. You may drink nature’s nectar by the gallon, but do you actually know its history? Dive into this pitcher of particulars to discover some fun facts about the legacy of sweet tea.

1. Say merci to the French

To tell the tale of our favorite iced drink, let’s first rewind the clock to 1795. French explorer and botanist Andre Michaux introduced tea leaves to America with the hope of satisfying the extravagant tastes of wealthy Charleston tea planters. At that time in history, South Carolina was the only colony in America producing tea plants.

It didn’t take long for the popularity of this “new” plant to spread across the New World. Recipes for tea punches began popping up in cookbooks throughout the country. These recipes varied slightly from today’s teas, as they were typically spiked with alcohol and used green tea leaves.

2. Sweet Green Tea?

The first recipe that closely resembled the sweet “iced tea” we know and love today wasn’t printed until 1879. A cookbook titled, “Housekeeping in Old Virginia” shared the original recipe by Marion Cabell Tyree. Although it used green tea, this was the first recorded recipe to flavor the drink with sugar and lemon. Little did Marion Tyree know that her new creation was the start of something much bigger!

3. The Modern Boston Tea Party

Five years later in 1884, the head of the Boston Cooking School, Mrs. D. A. (Mary) Lincoln, created her own take on the drink. She was the first to use black tea, proving that iced tea wasn’t just for southerners. Shortly after, America began importing black tea from countries around the globe at a much cheaper price than green tea, making it the new ingredient of choice.

4. Meet me in St. Louis…for some sweet tea

If you believe the popular tales, more foods and beverages were invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis than during any other single event in history – think: the hamburger, hot dogs, peanut butter, Dr. Pepper, cotton candy, and more. Thankfully for all of us, the hot summer temperatures drew the crowd to another new icy drink called sweet tea, officially catapulting its popularity across the country. 

5. The ROARing Twenties (pun intended)

During American Prohibition in 1920, iced tea gained even more traction as people throughout the country turned to this refreshment as a suitable swap for alcohol. It wasn’t until 1928 that sweet tea became the southern thirst-quencher of choice it is today. The well-known “Southern Cooking” cookbook published a sweet tea recipe that shifted iced tea from a refreshing beverage to a cultural staple. Societal women and church goers across the South began whipping up their own renditions and, thus, a southern treat was born!

6. Sweet Tea becomes Law

As decades passed, sweet tea continued to grow in popularity and even began making legislative waves. South Carolina adopted sweet tea as the state’s Official Hospitality Beverage in 1995, and Georgia introduced a House Bill in 2003 requiring that all restaurants in the state serve sweet tea.

Sweet Tea Today

Over the years, sweet tea has transformed from a high-society drink to an everyday refreshment that’s cherished and loved by all. At Royal Cup, we have a serious passion for serving up the best sweet tea around. Our tea leaves are grown specifically for iced tea and produce a delectable taste that’s naturally sweet and smooth. Make sure to check out our full array of delicious sweet tea products here!

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