Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Southern Style Sweet Tea

When I was in college I met a girl from England who was happy to try any food the South had to offer. I'll admit - she introduced me to some of my own cuisine, namely grits and sweet tea. Before being prodded by her to try these "Southern" foods, I was a vanilla eater that didn't eat much at all actually. Now, grits were never served at my family's table for some reason, but there was always a gallon jar of slightly sweetened tea available.

I had already developed a love for sweet tea when I eventually moved from the South. It was devastating to learn that family size tea bags are very hard to find elsewhere in the country. So that was added to my running list of items to stock up on when I go back to the South. I have used small tea bags to produce a pitcher of sweet tea. I even tried the powdered tea flavored with lemon furniture polish that is the standard "tea" outside the South...blech. There are also cans of that concoction on offer. If you have a choice between powder, cans or small bags, I recommend the small bags.

The tea used in traditional sweet tea is made with black tea leaves. I prefer Luzianne, but I might be partial to products made in the South these days. I found the Lipton family size bags at a Walmart Supercenter just across the border in Malone, NY. The Lipton Yellow Label small tea bags are available in Quebec.

I have heard the complaints about sweet tea. It is true that sometimes "tea" in the South tastes like sugar water. That is because the restaurant is pouring the hot tea over ice rather than letting it cool first. All the ice melts in the glass which dilutes the tea too much in my opinion. I am not going to name names here but chain restaurants aren't your best bet for trying sweet tea for the first time.

Since iced tea season is upon us, I thought I should share my recipe. I don't use a lot of sweetener in this tea, but it is very important to add your sweetener while the water is still hot. If you add sugar to cold tea, it doesn't melt and you just get a glass of unsweetened tea with sugar grains in it. I am using agave nectar here, but I want it fully incorporated so I add it while the water is hot. I like to serve this plain or with fresh mint leaves, orange slices or raspberries muddled into the bottom of the glass.

1/4 cup dark agave nectar
2 family size tea bags or 6-8 small tea bags
8 cups boiling water

Pour boiling water over the tea bags and agave. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove bags and stir. Refrigerate. Serve over ice when cool.

Makes a half gallon.

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  1. F.Y.I., your grandmother now uses family size tea bags to produce her beverage and she has cut the sugar from 1 cup to 4 tablespoons.

  2. Yay! First comment from Mom! I never knew she used anything but family size tea bags??? I think my tea is a little sweeter than Granny's. Agave is slightly sweeter than sugar.

  3. Although I don't drink iced tea with or without sugar, lemons, mint, berries, etc, I can make a mean pitcher of tea. I think it was required learning of southern girls before they could leave home. My mom taught me and the secret to hers just like yours was to add the sugar while the water was still hot. Aunt Deb