Dare to ask: Iced tea in the South? How sweet
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Do Southerners out there agree that iced tea is the official regional
beverage of the Southland? And that it must be enjoyed extremely sweet?
Jennifer, 30, St. Paul, Minn.
The South is hot! Who wants a cup of cocoa in the summer? As far as why it is
liked so sweet, sugar cane was primarily grown in the South and so was readily
Melody, St. Augustine
Some of my earliest memories involve drinking sweet tea from a quart fruit
(Mason) jar. Sweet tea is a vital part of our culture. My family . . . can go
through about a gallon a day. Tea doesn't cost as much as most other cold
V.C., 26, male, Corinth, Miss.
I have been drinking iced tea all my life, and I don't put any sugar in it. I
have never understood why anyone would want to trust someone else with the sugar
content of their tea.
Gary, 47, Houston
Most restaurants around here serve tea already sweetened. If you have a cold
glass of iced tea and you add sugar to it, it tastes different than if you add
the sugar when the tea is still hot, then chill it.
Elizabeth, Little Rock, Ark.
Iced tea is definitely the "House Wine of the South," and the sweeter the
better. Instant tea will do in a pinch. Perhaps it is the fact that it is a
time-consuming process that makes iced tea so cherished here.
Gary, 39, Mebane, N.C.
Sweet tea - those with unrefined palates might refer to it derisively as
"tea-flavored sugar" - has its origins in heat, hard work, tradition and maybe
Scott Peacock, head chef at Watershed restaurant in Decatur, Ga., which
specializes in Southern cooking, said back in the day, when folks were picking
crops in the scorching Dixie heat, they were looking for a reward for their
back-breaking labor - something "refreshing, with energy from sugar, good to
taste, and that had caffeine."
"It was a pick-me-up, the way people drink Coke now. It was fuel and a
treat," said Peacock, co-author of The Gift of Southern Cooking.
Drinking it for so many years created the element of tradition, "where it
becomes a taste you develop and it almost becomes part of your DNA."
Also, before refrigeration in the South, sugar was a chief preservative,
which may account for Southerners' sweet-tooths to begin with, he said.
And by the way, to uninitiated (read: Northern) souls: You don't just create
this concoction by adding sugar to instant tea. You boil water, brew the tea,
then add sugar (or sugar syrup) to the proportional tune of perhaps a tablespoon
or more per 8 ounces.
"Northerners don't understand it . . . but Southerners are about extremes. We
like intensity. We're less Puritanical than the North. For a Northerner,
something so indulgent as a nice glass of sweet tea, there might be some guilt
or judgment that goes with that - and jealousy that they didn't come up with
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. email@example.com. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his