Tea has always been a very important aspect of my life for two reasons: my mother’s family is from Britain and I personally grew up in the South. I drink tea like it is my job. All tea, of course, is not brewed equally. In fact, the tea we drink in the South is wholly different than tea drank in Britain. I relish both types because I have grown to love both.
Every morning, I wake and turn on the kettle before stepping into the shower. While shampooing and jamming out to The Wombats from my Nook’s too-small speakers, the water is boiling. It has just enough time to cool to the just-right temperature by the time I finish showering and brushing my hair (which I have recently cut short, making this process easier by tenfold.) I cycle through a lot of different types of teabags, so I choose the own for today and let the cup sit with the teabag floating inside.
Mind you, I say they are different types, but really only slight variations on the original. I drink tea the British way. There’s nothing very herbal about it. That sort of tea-drinking experience can be found in Asia. No green teas or papaya-flavored teas. When I brew tea, it’s typically only what I can describe as English. Add milk, add sugar. Stir vigorously. Viola! British tea.
Drinking tea has become an integral part of my morning routine. Sometimes, when I need a little extra kick, I buy coffee. I never brew coffee, since my skills at doing so are sub-par to my skills at tea-brewing. But on a normal day, like today, my go-to beverage is tea. It warms you up, flowing through your veins.
Southern tea, on the other hand, is ice-cold. That’s how I like it. What sets Southern tea apart from any other tea is its excess of sugar. The secret to making it is to put in so much sugar that no more sugar can possibly dissolve in the liquid, meaning there may be some sugar residue in the bottom of your pitcher. Brewing southern tea, I tend to use the same teabags (black tea). But the process is different. No milk. Only sugar.
I allow it to brew for far longer, then dump the whole pot into a pitcher where I add about four gallons of sugar. After mixing it all together, we’re done. Simple, right? Not at all. To actually brew the tea long enough while keeping it at the right temperature requires special attention. And the tea-to-sugar ratio is actually more complicated than “a lot.” It all depends on how much you want to make. I’ve got a nose for making tea.
Down here, we call all tea “sweet tea.” That’s it. Only coffee shops and I brew hot tea here. Instead, Sweet Tea rules the land. In Steel
Magnolias, Dolly Parton called it “the wine of the South.” You can’t get it anywhere else but down here, and even if advertised, it’s probably just not the same.
Sweet Tea is extremely important to Southern tradition. If you can’t handle the sweetness, we don’t whether you’re “from around here.”
There are a world of different teas out there, but none surpasses my hot tea and ice-cold tea, simple and pure and sugar-filled. You may have Sleep Time Brew or like to drink raspberry-flavored Lipton. But if it’s “unsweetened for health reasons,” we don’t even want to taste it. These teas exist together in the world, enjoyed voraciously by two culturally disparate groups. Yet what unites them is the simply brewed drink, tea. Fortunately, we Southern children have been sucking sweet tea out of baby bottles, grown up with the taste. We’re not just well-acclimated. We love it.