A Beverage Divides Us
This country is divided. There is a chasm that stretches across this great land from West to East. This line separates us, causes interpersonal strife and there is a lack of understanding from both sides of this line on how the other side lives. One side thinks the rest of the country should feel the way it does and the other side doesn’t see the need. Sad part is, this divide has existed for decades and there is no end in sight. The Sweet Tea line is a real thing, believe me. And it is tearing this country apart.
Anyone who has ever traveled outside of the southeastern United States has experienced this. And of course, anyone who has grown up in the Southeast would certainly want to order sweet tea with their meals regardless of where they may be. When you are safely within the humid, heavy-aired confines of the south you have no issue with this problem plaguing our great nation. Go into any restaurant, diner, fast-food joint, café or coffee shop in the South and sweet tea is right there on the menu board. There’s no awkward question to the waitress if they have sweet tea, it’s a given. You can safely plan your meal around the knowledge that your meal will be accompanied by the appropriate beverage. But I have news for some of you, it’s not like this everywhere.
This dividing line runs west from middle Texas through Dallas, into Little Rock dividing Arkansas in two. From there it travels north to the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, and at some points including part of the Bluegrass state and other points excluding it. It then makes a bee-line for the coast embracing North Carolina but shunning Virginia for being the northern state it truly is. Everything south of this line is safe from the brown, bitter ice-water passed off as Iced Tea in the rest of this nation.
Restaurateurs in that other part of the country do not see the need to cater to anyone driving north it seems. Nothing is more devastating to a southerner when ordering their meal than to be told, “we don’t have sweet tea, but we have sugar on the table”. How does this help exactly? That’s like running out of gas on the side of the road and someone pointing to an oil field in the distance and saying, “you need gas, there’s all the gas you need out there”. Knowing that cold tea and sugar on the table don’t make for sweet tea you automatically go to the back-up “I’ll have a Coke then” you say. “Is Pepsi OK?”, comes the response from the waitress. At this point you fight the urge to load up the family, abandon the entire vacation and head back south where you know you’ll be taken care of. “Water will be fine.”
Cold water and sugar don’t mix. No, I mean literally it doesn’t mix. It takes heat to make the sugar dissolve and mix evenly in the water to make tea sweet. Simply dumping packet after packet of sugar into your glass does not sweeten the mixture. You see the sugar swirl and fall through the water until it all collects at the bottom of your glass like a snow globe you can’t see through, one that no child would want. And once it’s down there, that’s where it stays. At this point it’s like the sand on the bottom of the ocean. You can spin that abnormally long spoon as much as you desire, it’s not helping. You’ll make brown butter out what’s in that glass before anything close to palpable emerges. And if by some chance, on a dare, you were to drink that swill and reach the bottom you would be greeted by a pile of soggy sugary ooze to cap off your desperate bid to quench your thirst.
The shame of it all is that it’s such a simple beverage to make. If you can boil water you can make sweet tea, because that’s all tea is, boiled water. For Pete’s sake, they had to boil the water anyway to make what they do offer. But you have to add the sugar to it while the water/tea is hot. That’s the only way to do it, simple stuff. The amount of sugar you do add is critical however. There are some places where they simply put too much sugar in their tea. I know some people say that’s not possible but it is. Some ‘Mc Places’ put so much sugar in the tea that you can actually feel your teeth decaying with each sip. My mother, bless her heart, used to put way too much sugar in her tea when I was younger. I would experience both the sugar rush and crash before I even had dessert. I think I may have slept through dessert from age 9 to 13. Dang it, I bet my brother owes me 4 years of desserts. Now we could talk about Degrees Brix and the optimal amount of sucrose per 100 grams of solution but it’s really not necessary. Just flavor to taste.
Here’s how I make it:
Place 3 or 4 tea bags in 4qts of water and bring to a boil. This is one time it is acceptable to use a microwave in southern cooking because frankly it doesn’t matter how you get the water hot.
At this point it’s best to pour in a container that you will use to refrigerate and store the tea.
After pouring the tea in the container put 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of sugar and stir. Place in the fridge and in a few hours, you will have ice cold sweet tea.
If everyone follows this recipe I believe we can heal this country. One glass of tea at a time.
Travis Hicks - Contributing author
Travis Hicks was born and raised in Marietta GA, and with the exception of a very brief period of living in Denver CO has lived in metro Atlanta his entire life. A childhood filled with playing outside until way after the streetlights came on, being an expert on the original Star Wars trilogy and his induction into the Front Yard Football Hall of Fame has produced the bon vivant that is Travis Hicks. Travis developed his palate for true southern food by way of his mom’s cornbread, his dad’s mashed potatoes (and knowing to never let the reverse to ever occur). Also adding to Travis’ culinary expertise is knowing that Barbeque is a noun and never a verb.