Texas Living

All About Texas Tea

By Celia Bryan-Brown 4.23.18

Allison Glock hit the nail on the head when she wrote in Garden & Gun that sweet tea “isn’t a drink, really. It’s a culture in a glass.”

The oldest written recipe for sweet tea hails from native Texan Marion Cabell Tyree’s 1879 book Housekeeping in Old Virginia. She lists using green tea, which was what America preferred prior to World War II, when we developed a taste for British-imported black India tea.

Given the copious quantities of sugar and ice required, sweet tea swiftly became the ultimate status symbol in wealthy society. And our love of the sweet stuff has only grown from there. It’s now a staple beverage across the Southern belt of America. Still, a healthy debate rages in the Lone Star State between lovers of sweet tea and those who prefer straight-up unsweetened iced tea.

For those of you with a bit of a sweet tooth, these easy twists on the classic will garner nothing but compliments and add quintessentially Southern charm to your spring garden parties and cookouts. Cheers!

The Classic

Most Southerners have a much-loved family recipe, but this recipe is a perfect start. For a classic sweet tea, start with the basic recipe: 3 family-size (or 12 individual) tea bags with 4 cups of hot water and 1 cup of sugar will make a tea base for 1 gallon of sweet tea.

sweet tea

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

Fabulously Fruity

Adding fresh, ripe fruit is a surefire way to make your sweet tea sing. Start with these suggestions.

  • Tropicana: Switch out 3 quarts of the cold water used to top off your pitcher for one each of lemon juice, pineapple juice, and grapefruit juice. Delightful garnished with slices of fresh citrus.
  • That’s Peachy: Exchange ½ cup of sugar for ½ cup of peach puree, store-brought or homemade. Add extra peach slices to serve for added Texan charm.

Sugar and Spice

Whole spices add some real zing to your pitcher! They’re a great option when vinegary barbecue sauces are on the menu.

  • Ice Cream Sundae: Add a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or powder at the same time as your cold water to give your tea a mellow depth. Use vanilla sugar, too, for extra flavor.
  • Silk Road: Add a stick of cinnamon and the zest of an orange to your hot tea. Garnish with rose petals for an Eastern take on this Southern classic.
sweet tea

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

The Herb Garden

Make the most of your yard by growing handfuls of soft herbs and easy roots like ginger to add to your pitchers of sweet tea.

  • Sweet Tea Julep: Swap black tea for green and add a handful of fresh mint leaves to the hot tea for a deliciously refreshing sweet mint flavor.
  • Bee’s Knees: Add 1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger to your hot tea and exchange the cup of sugar for a cup of honey. Perfect for sunshine sipping!

For more spring recipe ideas, check out this simple roast lamb and fresh herb salad.

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