Now that it’s stopped snowing (finally), the summer solstice is fast approaching and turning up the heat so we reach for cool, refreshing beverages to get us through the day. Tea is perfectly suited for just that. And iced tea, a true American invention, is like summer in a glass. The history is interesting, a pretty sweet story, and involving booze in the South.
Popular lore says iced tea was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. That’s not quite accurate. Iced tea was first served in South Carolina (the only colony that grew tea plants commercially) in the early nineteenth century. Cold green tea was the base of punches, often spiked with a hefty splash of liquor. One en vogue recipe, Regent’s Punch, was named after the English prince regent, George IV. Different recipes took on a regional flavor and often bore patriotic monikers such as Savannah’s Chatham Artillery Punch, which was known to pack quite a “punch” due to its high alcohol content, and St. Cecelia Punch, named for that city’s music society.
Iced tea punch recipes — as well as traditional sweet recipes — were published as early as 1839 in “The Kentucky Housewife” cookbook. The earliest printed sweet tea recipe (1879) was found in a community cookbook entitled “Housekeeping in Old Virginia.” Iced tea was a favorite warm weather refreshment in the south, where it’s still the go-to drink on a balmy day.
Fast forward to 1904 and the St. Louis World’s Fair. It was there that India Tea Commissioner and Director Richard Blechynden, was offering hot tea to everyone passing through the East India Pavilion. He didn’t get many takers, given how hot Missouri gets in the summertime. Blechynden and his team came up with the idea of adding ice and voilà: iced tea suddenly has mass appeal (nearly 20 million people attended the fair) and the beverage was commercialized.
When the temperatures climb in Colorado, iced tea takes the stage. Here at Happy Lucky’s, we brew up time-tested favorites, based on what our Leafsters are sipping and what tea lovers are asking for.
Dylan, our purchasing manager, helped choose this month’s featured teas. He finds that the tastiest iced teas are fruity, floral, and herbal with sweet rather than spicy notes. He’s a big fan of Stanky Lemon Shou Pu-er. He likes its rich maltiness, flavored with lemon myrtle. Be forewarned — last year’s Australian wildfires have impacted lemon myrtle crops, and it’s become very difficult to source. We may run out of this blend. He also reaches for Plum Oolong. The plum flavored tea leaves present the stone fruit flavor up front, but also linger in the mouth.
When you brew up your own iced tea from one of Happy Lucky’s teas, you end up with a naturally sweet and healthy drink. The bottled teas that line grocery store shelves are chock full of sugar and corn syrup. Pour some home brewed iced tea into a tumbler for an on-the-go drink and you’re good to go.
Stop by and ask a Leafster to recommend one of our blends for your next iced tea. Who knows? It just may become your new favorite.
Iced Tea vs. Cold Brew
Iced tea starts as hot tea. Typically, half the amount of boiling water is used for whatever amount of loose tea leaves are measured out, resulting in a strong concentrate. The concentrate is cooled before pouring over ice.
Pay attention to steeping time. Just as with hot tea, over-steeping can result in a bitter brew. The longer the tea steeps, the more the caffeine and tannins are released, and the more astringent the tea becomes.
Add sugar to taste for a classic sweet tea (Dylan likes Dhumari Black) and a slice of lemon for a sprightly citrus finish. Or, take a cue from early American tea lovers and whip up an adults-only punch.
Cold brew tea is very different from iced tea. First, the tea leaves are steeped in cold water, not hot. And the leaves sit in the water for at least twenty minutes and up to two hours. Brewing in cold water brings out sweet and savory amino acids like theanine, and not as many catechins that make for a bitter drink. Try cold brewing one of the teas you drink hot. You’ll find this process brings out a different flavor profile and has a different mouth feel. Dylan recommends Milk Oolong for cold brew. “It’s about the best you can drink,” he says. “Let it sit for about 45 minutes before drinking it. It’s like a dessert.”
So which will it be? Iced tea or cold brew? Whichever blend you choose and however you prepare it, now is the time to enjoy a glass of the most refreshing tea you’ve ever tasted.