Originally created 06/19/97

Iced tea: Wine of the South



More than grits, gravy and cornbread, Southerners love their iced tea.

"It's the house wine of the South," says Rena Allen, an Augusta antique reproducer. "We are weaned off the bottle and put onto iced tea."

Almost half of the iced tea consumed in the United States is imbibed down South, says Joseph Simrany, president of the Tea Counsel of the USA, in New York City. That's 16.4 billion cool glasses of iced tea.

"It's probably the most popular drink in the South," Mr. Simrany said.

The first pitcher of iced tea was poured at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Richard Bleechynden set up a booth of black tea, but it was too hot to drink it. Because he was thirsty, he dropped a few ice cubes into a glass and - voila! - the drink with more acclaim than Coca-Cola.

"For all the active people who are sweltering in the sun, iced tea offers a terrific way to cool down without feeling bloated at the same time," says Mr. Simrany.

Next to water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, according to The Book of Tea. One-and-a-half billion cups of tea are consumed every day.

Harrison Schofill, 25, won't go back to a restaurant if it doesn't have iced tea. He usually checks to see whether it's available before he goes. He's just has to have it, he says.

More than 3,000 types of tea are served up cold with sugar, lemon and sometimes a dash of rum.

"When you're raised in the South, every meal you drink iced tea," said Diane Prince, 44, postmaster of Modoc, S.C.

Even breakfast.

"I start my day with tea," said Donna Wells, a 50-year-old bridal consultant. "Iced tea, cold tea, hot tea, any tea."

But since it's summertime, she's choosing iced tea. She gets the sugar buzz and the caffeine lift without the letdown of coffee or soda.

Americans drink five times as much coffee as tea, but the United States remains the third-largest tea importer.

Shirley Moore drinks four 12ounce glasses of Lipton iced tea a day. She uses eight tablespoons of sugar in every cup.

"I like my tea real, real, real sweet," said Ms. Moore, 59, a custodian in Edgefield, S.C. "I just love my sugar."

So does Ms. Prince. She pours three cups of sugar into every pitcher.

"Some people make it too sweet, too bitter, too lemony or too strong," Ms. Prince said.

Her tea is just right, she said. To brew a beverage good enough for this iced tea Goldilocks, drop four family-size Tetley tea bags into the pitcher of water, stir in two scoops of sugar and nuke it in the microwave 15 minutes.

It's important to put the sugar in before you boil the water, said Joann House, a 53-year-old nurse in Augusta. It just won't dissolve right.

"When I go North, I have a time trying to find people who make it right," she said.

In this area, if a restaurant runs out of tea, the customers can go ballistic, said McKenzie Dicks, cashier at The Pizza Joint on Broad Street.

"They get so mad if we're out," Ms. Dicks said. The restaurant sells at least one glass on every ticket, usually more, she said. "They're like, `You don't have iced tea in the South? This is the South, don't you always have iced tea in the South?"'