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Iced Tea: The House Wine of the South

Recipes and lore for National Iced Tea Day.

Summer is rounding the corner. As the thermometer rises, so too, do the ice levels in Southerners’ glasses. Today is National Iced Tea Day, and as Truvy, played by Dolly Parton in “Steel Magnolias” aptly proclaims, iced tea is the “house wine of the South.”

Among all the ways to doctor up a tall glass of iced tea, from lemon to mint to honey, the heart of iced tea and all its variations stems from the simple question, sweet or unsweet?

Peach Iced TeaThe first cookbooks featuring American iced tea recipes did not include the traditional sweet or unsweet black teas used today. Instead, the first iced teas enjoyed by Americans were green teas called punches that included liquor, wine or champagne; these recipes date back to the early nineteenth century. The following recipe is the first known sweet iced tea recipe from an 1879 community cookbook, “Housekeeping in Old Virginia:”

After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea. If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast. At dinnertime, strain, without stirring, through a tea-strainer into a pitcher. Let stand till tea time and them pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.

Most of us have a tried and true method of brewing iced tea, but here are some modern twists to dress up traditional iced tea.

One way to get the most out of peach season here in Central Georgia is to make a simple peach syrup for iced tea. Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley is where I often go to stock up on peaches by the basket this time of year. The following recipe is inspired by Lane Southern Orchards’ Peach Iced Tea.

Simple Peach Syrup for Iced Tea

4 small peaches, peeled and chopped
1  cup water
1  cup granulated sugar

Place water, sugar and chopped peaches into a saucepan over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil for one minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Once mixture cools, drain syrup through a strainer into a container. Set strained fruit aside. Store strained syrup in a Mason jar and keep in the refrigerator.

According to your preference in sweetness, add 2-4 tablespoons of peach syrup to an 8-ounce glass of unsweetened black iced tea. Optionally, for an extra kick, add a 1.5-ounce shot of your favorite bourbon.

thaiteaFor inspiration to create a Thai iced tea at home, I visited Lemongrass, a fusion Thai bistro in downtown Macon. Lemongrass’ Thai iced tea is made with a strong traditional black sweet tea poured over ice, sweetened condensed milk is added, and finally the drink is topped with a little heavy cream. The result is a glorious deep orange drink that tastes light and just sweet enough to compliment the spice of curry dishes. Variations of the recipe include steeping tea with star anise pods, which adds a hint of exotic spice to the iced tea.

To make a homebrewed Thai iced tea, try this recipe inspired by Lemongrass’ Thai Iced Tea.

5 cups water
3 family-sized tea bags (traditional black tea)
4 star anise pods (found at your local Latin American grocer)
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy cream

Star Anise PodsIn a saucepan, bring water, sugar and star anise pods to a boil over medium heat. Remove saucepan from heat and add tea bags. Steep tea until it cools to room temperature. The tea should be very dark. Remove and discard tea bags and star anise pods. Prepare individual servings by pouring brewed sweetened tea over ice in an 8-ounce glass until glass is 3/4 filled. Pour in sweetened condensed milk and lightly stir, leaving room for two tablespoons of heavy cream. Top with 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Enjoy!


shannadixonShanna Conway Dixon is a senior New Media and Communications major at Middle Georgia State College and plans to return home to Biloxi, Mississippi, after graduating. She currently serves as content editor for her college’s literary magazine, The Fall Line Review, and showcases the life and works of modern women poets from the Deep South on her blog Swamp Skirts. Read her own poem Lagniappe here. 

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