Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Today in American History: National Iced Tea Day 06/17/2015

Today in American History: National Iced Tea Day - 06/17/2015

In fact, not only is June 6th of every year National Iced Tea Day, but June has been earmarked as National Iced Tea Month in America.  Of course, no one would fault you for not knowing this, it is after all, an unofficial kind of holiday.  But, it is one worth celebrating nonetheless -- the drink we know as iced tea today originated here in the United States.

Americans did not invent tea, of course, we brought it over from our mother country, Great Britain during colonial times.  And the origins of tea go back centuries to the ancient Chinese.  But the history of tea in this country go back to day one.  Tea has, of course, played an integral part in our history, from the early days of "tea time" to the Boston Tea Party itself, America has always loved her hot tea.

Early Ice Cutting by Tudor's Company
However, before you could have Iced Tea, you needed ice.  And ice did not begin to become prominent until the early 1800's when New Englanders began to cut large chunks of ice from ponds and lakes while they were frozen in the winter and insulating it in underground cellars with sawdust so they could use it during the summer months.  This was, of course, used for meats primarily -- but the crafty New Englanders threw a few small chunks into their tea and were the very first to sip what we now know and love as iced tea.

But in the south, there were no frozen lakes and pond to get ice from.  Nothing froze over!  It was not until the turn of the 19th century that northern states had perfected a method of insulating and preserving ice in such a way that it could be shipped.  Frederic Tudor was the New England ice magnate who perfected the practice of cutting ice from lakes, preserving it and shipping it to the south -- and then all over the world.  During the 19th century, the United States became the leader in shipping ice all over the world thanks to Tudor.  And once Tudor was able to ship ice to the south, the souther states embraced it and made iced tea its very own.  Just like music and meat, the south wasn't content with simply throwing ice in a drink and calling it a day.  The southerners began to create concoctions that contained alcohol that harken more towards a modern day Long Island Iced Tea than the popular Lipton black tea variety we consume in bulk today.  

Once tea had gone on ice, Americans en masse began experimenting with different flavorings and alcohol drinks.  The south gave us the "Sweet Tea" that we all know and love today, and even northern cities gave us classics like the Philadelphia Fish House punch.  The Philadelphia FIsh House Punch tended to be a combination of iced tea, cold water, sugar, fruit and rum.  These days the recipe does not actually contain tea, just like the Long Island Iced Tea does not have any tea in it.  One of the most popular tea-based drinks to come out of the south was Regent's Punch.  A good Regent's Punch contained green tea, rum, brandy, sugar, champagne and various other types of liquor.  It packed quite a "punch" indeed!

Non-alcoholic tea-based drinks did not begin to gain popularity until the late 19th century, which is when the southern masterpiece "Sweet Tea" began to really catch on.  That recipe was first published in the Housekeeping in Old Virginia cookbook by Mario Cabell Tyree.  During the early 20th century, iced tea got a boost from the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.  While the 20 million visitors walked around the hot, humid fair they sipped iced tea and brought a love for the cool and refreshing drink back to their homes all over the country, and the world.  But it was not until prohibition kicked in during the 1920's that iced tea became the true staple of an American Summer as the average American looked to the non-alcoholic drink to cool its overheated soul.

Another boon to the popularity of iced tea was the ever growing number of tea plantations in India, Ceylon and around the world.  This made the cost of importing and purchasing of tea leaves, particularly black tea, continue to drop during the 1920's and 1930's.  So even as green tea was immensely popular pre-1930's, during World War II
Classic Tennessee Tea
the trade routes with China were cut off and the country became evenly split between black and green tea because of cost.  After the war, black tea sales continued to climb as trade routes opened up again.  Simply put, Americans seem to prefer black tea.

According to the Tea Association of the United States, over 85% of tea that is consumer in America is iced.  So whether you like your tea with a good Tennessee Tea (that's Jack Daniels and iced tea) or just over ice with a twist of lemon, you are in good company partaking in this 200 year old tradition!

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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