Earlier this summer my daughter’s friend took a trip up North. The friend texted my daughter that she was appalled to find that not only was there no sweet tea to be found but that no one even knew what it was. Trying to be good parents, we used this as an opportunity to explain a little about being tolerant of cultural differences and how, unfortunately, Yankees are still backwards and uncouth.
Sweet tea cannot be an afterthought. It is chemistry. If you make tea and try to add sugar after the fact, it will never dissolve properly, with most settling to the bottom of the glass requiring continual stirring as you drink. In short, it is an abomination.
A wise friend of mine told me her family said that making sweet tea properly is a mark of civilization. The fact that her family doesn’t live in the South and yet knows this universal truth is proof that I’m not writing in vain. Proper sweet tea needs the sugar to be added immediately before, during, or after it comes to a boil. Mostly it depends on how your mom or grandma taught you. Personally, I add it just after removing the tea bags and argue it should always be allowed to cool off before pouring over ice.
Recently I found myself at a conference here in Tennessee. At lunch, glasses of tea rounded the table and a tiny bowl of packaged sweeteners sat in the middle. This was not my first conference here and I expected no less than that the unsweetened tea on the table. While I pondered the greater sin of drinking it with or without adding sugar, I asked myself why was I being forced to endure this hardship south of the Mason-Dixon line? With the exception of some of the presenters, everyone in attendance resided in the Volunteer state.
I recognize that not everyone wants sweet tea. For those of you who refrain for medical or dietary reasons, I say it is better to do without than to endure a lifetime of a pale imitation. To those that request unsweetened tea on purpose, I can only say I will pray for you and may God have mercy on your soul.
On going to new places with their own traditions, I advised my daughter that when in Rome do as the Romans. That is one of the benefits of travel; to try something new. To restaurants and conference centers in the South, let us not be ashamed of one of our great traditions. Let us serve our tea with pride and spread this sweet gospel to all that enter in.
As a fourth-generation Kentuckian, of course I grew up with sweet tea. Living the last 40 years in New England, I finally gave up trying to explain the difference between sweetened tea and the real thing, so I switched to iced coffee. (BTW, the correct spelling is sweettea — all one word.)
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They just don’t know what they’re missing! Thank you for the spelling info.