Sweet tea began as an item of luxury due to the expensive nature of tea, ice, and sugar.  Ice was possibly the most valued of the ingredients since it had to be shipped from afar at a time when access to cool drinking water was already a relative luxury.

The oldest known recipe for sweet iced tea was published in 1879 in a cookbook titled Housekeeping In Old Virginia by Marion Tyree. That recipe called for green tea which was the most commonly used tea during that period. After World War II the availability of green tea was cut off by the Japanese. That left the majority of the west to use black tea from India. Black tea is more acidic and sweet tea was originally mixed with peach or liquor flavorings like mint.

 

For those who didn’t want the alcoholic version of sweet tea found that the acidity of black tea was a bit too much. Today the recipe for sweet tea in the Southern United States was adapted in the 1940’s with an unusual ingredient, baking soda. Just a pinch of baking soda will react chemically with the bitter caffeine and astringent tannins in the tea to form a more neutral flavor taste.  Plenty of other tea drinkers on internet forums have claimed that baking soda works wonders on their sweet tea.

Some say that adding baking soda to sweet tea increases cloudiness. Cloudy sweet tea will taste just the same. If you are ordering sweet tea at a restaurant, cloudiness can be a sign that the tea is old and it may taste musty. Since we’re talking homemade, cloudy sweet tea is entirely an appearance issue.  Plus some restaurants don’t properly clean their vats properly and they become stained with sediment. Just ask anyone who has worked in a restaurant.

So whether you add flavoring or liquor to your sweet tea try just a pinch of baking soda next time and taste the difference.

Personally for me, I prefer unsweet tea.

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