Monday, August 5, 2013

Ice Tea, Sweet Tea history

Iced tea was given out free at a Tea Store in Macon, Ga, in August 1896 (ad below).  Ice or Iced tea in the second half of the 19th century was made with green or black tea, or both - blended.  Although generally brewed, there were early recipes for the tea made in cold water.

Early references to Ice Tea dealt with its immense popularity in Russia in the 1840s; and by 1860 it appeared in American books.  The Russian influence was noted in recipes labeled Russian Tea or Tea a la Russe.  

A northern cookbook contained the first recipe in a cookbook to brew sugar with the hot water – sweet tea – before the usually cited Old Virginia cookbook of 1877.  Another early sweet tea appeared in a medical recipe. ...

Sweet Tea

A northern book first published in 1876, Buckeye Cookery, gave what may be the first recipe for ‘sweet tea’ - the sugar and tea are heated together in the morning.  The process is also described – all infused at the same time (when tea first brewed) – in a medical journal in the late 1860s (recipe below).

"Iced Tea.  Prepare tea in the morning, making it stronger and sweeter than usual; strain and pour into a clean stone jug or glass bottle, and set aside in the ice-chest until ready to use. Drink from goblets without cream. Serve ice broken in small pieces on a platter nicely garnished with well-washed grape-leaves. Iced tea may be prepared from either green or black alone, but it is considered an improvement to mix the two." [Wilcox, Buckeye]

What is generally given as the first sweet tea, is actually an iced tea with the sugar added when consumed, in Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Tyree, 1877.  This is even later than a similar recipe in 1875 titled 'Iced Tea a la Russe' (recipe below).  Thus is NOT the first cookbook with Sweet Tea or Iced Tea, as stated many places on the internet.

ICED TEA.   After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea. If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast. At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea-strainer into a pitcher. Let it stand till tea time and then pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.--Mrs. S. T.  [Tyree, Old Virginia]


ICED TEA.  The most delicious and sustaining beverage that can be drunk in hot weather is good strong tea, cooled down with lumps of ice. It should be only slightly sweetened, without milk, and flavoured with a few slices of lemon, which are infused at the time the tea is first made. A jug of this ready at hand would suit the complaint of many of our readers to a T, whilst the thermometer denotes a high temperature.—Medical Times and Gazette. [Timbs, 1869]

Some early references to ice tea were medicinal. Several times Dr. Dewees, in his 1854 book, recommended cold tea.  Chambers, under 'Thirst’ prescribed "Cold tea, without milk or sugar, is the most satisfying drink under these circumstances."


The earliest reference to “ice tea” found thus far deals with the Russians drinking immense quantities of “ice-tea” in 1842, and the same author noted it in another book ten years later… as “iced tea.”  “Russian Iced Tea” and “Iced Tea a la Russe” recipes appeared later in Fannie Farmer, Aunt Babette, Boston Cook Book and other cookbooks. 

Iced Tea A La Russe. To each goblet of cold tea (without cream), add the juice of half a lemon. Fill up with pounded ice, and sweeten well. A glass of champagne added to this makes what is called Russian punch. [Terhune, 1875]
“The Russians have accustomed themselves to use a prodigious quantity of ice for domestic purposes. They are fond of cooling all their beverages with ice; indulge themselves freely in the frozen juices, which are sold all the summer in the streets of all their towns; and drink not only ice-water, ice-wine, ice-beer, but even ice-tea, throwing into a cup of tea a lump of ice instead of sugar.” [Kohl, 1842]  "Throughout the summer, ices are sold in the streets of every Russian town; and not only iced water, iced wine, and iced beer, but even iced tea, is drunk in immense quantities." [Kohl, 1852]  


A literary reference from 1860: "Last summer we got in the habit of taking the tea iced, and really thought it better than when hot." [Robinson]  Iced tea is the latest beverage” proclaimed a Maine newspaper. [Bangor 1872] “Iced tea is constantly growing in favor, and is now considered a standard beverage in many homes.” [Boston 1888] Iced tea was “liberally provided during the warm weather” in the Senate cloak-rooms, and yet that year, 1884, “the use of iced tea as a summer drink has not yet attracted the attention it deserves…”[American; Frank Leslie]

In 1897, “Ice-cream and ice-tea are terms now commonly used for what are properly iced-cream and iced-tea.” [Raub] The no ‘d’ ice tea had actually been used earlier. [Kohl, 1842] 

Cold ‘brewing’

Several recipes suggested making the tea in cold water rather than brewing it.  An early non-brewed recipe stated “...the best iced tea is not steeped in hot water. Just try “steeping” it for a few hours in cold water, using a little more tea than for the hot beverage and having it strong enough to be weakened with ice-water when it is to be served.” [Bangor 1880] It was also the method found in Aunt Babette’s. [FA 1889]

Brandy = Ice tea

The term was also a euphemism for brandy as in a 1775 London dictionary: "Cold’tea. Brandy." [Ash]  A century later an article recounted a Senator’s stay at the Ocean House, Newport which was ‘strictly prohibition.’ He was told to go to the Casino and ask for iced tea. “But I don’t drink cold iced tea,” interrupted the senator. “Of course not, you only call for it. Don’t you understand? They’ll bring you brandy and soda.” [Sentinel 1886]
Newspaper articles, ads and a poem

Newspaper articles in the later part of the 19th century discussed the virtues of either green or black teas and the best method to prepare iced tea. One even contained a poem to Iced Tea, excerpts below. [Daily Picayune, 1897]

                  Iced Tea
Oh, there are drinks and drinks and drinks,
 Enough to drown the sea;
But of the multitude, methinks,
 The best is iced tea. … 

Then cool it nicely, add your ice,
 And churn it in a shaker;
‘Twil show a broth of creamy froth,
 And be a blessed slaker. 

Squeeze o’er the ice a tiny slice
 Of lemon till it’s tart,
And handle well your sugar shell –
 Be still, my pulsing heart! 

 Other newspaper reports on the best way to prepare ice tea also mentioned shaking up the tea to cause foam (froth, bead), “…and your neighbor will think you are drinking beer.  But the bead won’t make it taste any better.[Daily Inter Ocean, 1887]

Advertisements offered free iced tea samples in the tea shops. “As usual, delicious ice tea served free at the Tea Store today.” and "Such delicious Ice-tea at the Tea Store Saturday free!  free!!"  [Macon 1896] Remember that the next you order an ice tea and pay several dollars.

Works Cited

American Druggist. July 1884 p130
Ash, John. New and Complete Dictionary. London: 1775
Aunt Babette’s Cook Book. Cincinnati: Block Pub., 1889 p465
Chambers's Encyclopaedia. Phila: Lippincott & Co 1872-73.
Dewees, Wm. Treatise on the diseases of females. Phila: Blanchard, 1854. 10th
Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly. June1884 p645
Kohl, JG. Panorama of St. Petersburg. London: 1852
Kohl, Johann Georg.  Russia and the Russians, in 1842.  London: 1842.  p.42
Raub, Albert. Helps in the Use of Good English. Phila: 1897 p 248
Robinson, Solon. How to Live. NY: Fowler & Wells, 1860. p 157
Terhune, Mary.  Breakfast, Luncheon, and Tea by Marion Harland.  New York: 1875 p361 Timbs, John. The Year-book of Facts in Science and Art. London: 1869 p159
Tyree, Marion. Housekeeping in Old Virginia. 1877
Wilcox, Estelle. Buckeye Cookery. Minn: 1876

Atchison Daily Globe (Ks) July 16, 1897 p4 image of ad
Bangor Daily Whig & Courier (Me) Aug 24, 1872; Aug 9, 1880
Boston Daily Advertiser (Ma) June 28, 1888 p4
Daily Picayune (New Orleans) Aug 7, 1897 p7
Macon Telegraph (Ga.) Aug 1, 1896 p5
Milwaukee Sentinel (Wi) Aug 22, 1886 – from: Albany Evening Journal

©2013 Patricia Bixler Reber

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