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The Arbor Teas Blog

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Iced Tea!

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Organic Iced TeaJune is National Iced Tea Month, and we’re celebrating by looking at the history of iced tea, popular varieties of iced tea, and how to make the very best glass of iced tea. 

The First “Iced Tea”

The first iced tea is credited to having been served at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. This was more by accident than anything else, as tea merchants from India and Ceylon were in St. Louis to drum up popularity for tea in the United States. It was a hot day, and nobody wanted to drink a hot beverage, so it was served chilled.

Even though iced tea was formally introduced in 1904, Americans had been enjoying iced teas for at least a 100 years before the World’s Fair!

Tea Punches

The first iced teas served in the U.S. were tea punches, a combination of infused green tea, sugar, sweet cream and liquor, wine or champagne. The first published instance of a tea punch was in a 1839 cookbook titled The Kentucky Housewife.

Want to try a tea punch for yourself? Check out this 1862 tea punch recipe from Classic Mixology.

Southern Sweet Tea

Like tea punches, classic southern sweet teas predate the 1904 World’s Fair. The first sweet tea recipe was published in a 1879 cookbook by Marion Cabell Tyree called Housekeeping in Old Virginia. It called for green tea, sugar and lemon.

The first instance of sweet tea made with black tea was published in Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking in 1884 in a recipe called ‘Iced Tea or Russian Tea.’” Russians don’t tend to drink iced tea, so the “Russian” in this recipe likely referred to the use of black tea, rather than green tea.

Half-and-Halfs, aka “Arnold Palmers”

Lemon and iced tea are a combination made in summer heaven, so why not combine lemonade with iced tea? That seemed to be the thinking behind this classic summertime drink popularized by the golfer, who the story goes, ordered it at a bar; someone overheard him and said, “I’ll have that Arnold Palmer drink.”

Sun Tea & Cold Brewed Tea

Although the traditional method of making iced tea involves steeping tea in hot water and then cooling the steeped tea with ice, alternate versions are also popular. Sun tea involves brewing tea over a period of several hours in direct sunlight. Cold brewed tea follows a similar concept, except that cold brewed tea is brewed while refrigerated.

Iced Tea Abroad

Iced tea is served, in some iteration, in more than twenty countries. In Thailand, iced tea is served sweet and creamy as either traditional Thai iced tea or tapioca-style Boba tea. In southern Spain and France an iced version of Moroccan mint tea is served in the summertime. In Brazil, on the beaches of Rio, mate is served over ice with lime.

How to Make the Best Iced Tea

Iced tea, like other culinary feats, involves some form of alchemy. Sometimes, this alchemy can go wrong. Iced tea that is overstepped, or chilled too quickly can become bitter or cloudy. To make the best iced tea to your taste, measure your tea according to instructions on the label, and make sure not to over steep it. When cooling your tea, make sure you do so gradually, as tea that is cooled to quickly tends to cloud. If you still have problems, try cold brewing. Cold brewing tends to be much more forgiving and produces a smoother infusion.

What Teas Make the Best Iced Teas?

Pretty much any tea can be served over ice, but darker, more robust teas will produce the most flavorful infusions. The best tea we’ve found for traditional black iced tea is Nilgiri Black Tea from India. This tea resists clouding and produces a deep, reddish-brown infusion many seem to favor for iced tea. Other teas that produce excellent iced tea include strong green teas such as Gunpowder Green Tea and tisanes such as Rooibos and Hibiscus. Find all of our favorite varieties to serve over iced here.

Happy National Iced Tea Month!