Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Sweet Tea Odyssey

How do you define “tea?”

What is the first image that comes to your mind?

  • Do you automatically think of fresh brewed sugary sweet, diabetic-inducing tea?
  • Do you think of hot tea?
  • Do you think of unsweetened cold tea, that you add sweetener to?
  • Do you think of instant tea mixed with water?

This morning I received an email from my wonderful long-time friend Jodi, a Jersey girl transplanted in Florida, who was raving over Dunkin Donuts new “Fresh Brewed Sweetened Iced Tea.” I had to laugh!

While, I myself didn’t grow up drinking sweet tea, I married into a completely southern sweet-tea-drinking family. They don’t just drink sweet tea… it is their life-sustaining liquid… and (probably to my detriment) has become mine! As a matter of fact, one of the first things Michael and I bought as a married couple was a Mr. Coffee Tea Maker. I tried for a month or two to make tea from scratch on the stove, for Michael, but he said it just didn’t taste the same.

(His mom Carol, usually makes tea with her tea maker, which probably creates a more “even” tasting tea every time -- tea made on the stove can become more or less bitter depending on how little or long you boil it.)

SO, with a little help from our Mr. Coffee tea maker, Michael and I have brewed fresh tea at least every other day since we’ve been married! In our house (and probably most eastern NC homes) tea = water!

We use 2 decaffeinated Lipton family size iced tea bags for every 3 quarts of tea we make. We add about ¾ cup of sugar to 3 quarts of fresh brewed tea… which in comparison to many southern tea makers, isn’t much at all! Our tea probably tastes a little diluted compared to others because I don't like my tea as strong as most "tea" recipes call for. We also don't use lemon in our tea. I like lemons and I like lemonade, but I don't like lemon in my tea!

When you ask for tea at a restaurant in eastern NC, or in just about any home here, they will assume you are asking for a glass of cold, iced, sweet tea. Not hot tea, not unsweetened cold tea (why would anybody drink that? ;-) But sweet tea , that was sweetened as soon as it was brewed, thus infusing the sugar with the hot tea, then cooling it. Tea that is sweetened after it has been cooled doesn't have the same taste, and the sugar doesn't infuse with the tea (though I've learned from places that didn't serve "southern" sweet tea, it's awful good to drink that last swig of sugar at the bottom of the glass!)

Jodi grew up drinking tea made with Lipton Instant Iced Tea Mix… which as true sweet tea drinkers know, tastes nothing like real tea. But I love her anyway!

What are your experiences with tea? How do you like your tea? Share your sweet, un-sweet, and hot tea stories in the comments below!

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