If you've spent any time south of the Mason-Dixon line, this query is as familiar to you as "paper or plastic?", but the rest of the USA doesn't have a cotton pickin' clue what you're talking about. See, we may get all schmancy, blending decaf Royal Tiger Spice Baby Assam with cran-kiwi nectar and individually wrapped cubes of Albanian raw beet sugar, but this Yankee is willing to admit that y'all got something special goin' on when comes to iced tea.
Sweet Tea is a staple of restaurants and homes across the Southeastern United States; so prevalent that a guest has to specifically request 'unsweet" in order to get a brew that won't instantly candy their molars, and enough of a cultural institution that several Representatives in Georgia presented House Bill 819 requiring all food service establishments to serve it. Sure, it was quickly revealed as an April Fools Day prank, but it bespoke the region's reverence for the "champagne of the South".
So, just what IS this magical elixir? Essentially, it's bagged or loose orange pekoe (that's a grade of black) tea, that's brewed and blended with sugar while it's still hot. A lot of sugar. If you're making this for the first time and you think you've swirled in enough sugar – you haven't. Keep pouring. Then pour more. If your stirring spoon is threatening to stand up on its own, you may still need to add more. Have a Southerner sample it if you're not sure. They'll tell you to add MORE.
If it's served in a Southern home, there's a good chance it'll be in a tall, slim glass filled with ice, and accompanied by a long-handled iced tea spoon with which one can stir in, bless their heart, even more sweetener if so desired. Milk is unheard of, and lemon or mint – well, that's just being fancy, but if it makes the Yanks feel at home, then so be it. That's just good ol' Southern hospitality.
There are as many ways to make Sweet Tea as there are Southern families. This is how my husband and I (he's from High Point, N.C.) like to make it at home.
The Wagner Family's Sweet Tea
For Simple Syrup:
* 4 cups sugar (Don't worry - not all of that goes in the tea!)
* 2 cups water
* 4 cups water
* 8-10 regular-sized or 3 "family sized" bags orange pekoe tea (preferably Lipton or Luzianne)
* Pinch of baking soda
* Additional water
Pour 2 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar into a saucepan and stir together. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and stir until thickened. Turn off heat, and set aside.
Strip tags from the tea bags, and tie strings to the handle of a wooden spoon, near the bowl. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Turn off the heat, and place the tea-tied wooden spoon in the pan with a pinch of baking soda (It smooths out the tea's tannins.). Once it's suitably darkened, and still hot, pull out the spoon. (Refrain from squeezing the teabags, as that clouds the tea.)
Stir 1 cup of the sugar syrup into the tea until it's thoroughly blended. Pour the mixture into a 1 gallon glass or metal pitcher, and fill to the top with water. Stir, and chill in the refrigerator. Pour the remaining sugar syrup into a glass jar, and cover.
Once the tea has cooled, serve it in tall glasses 2/3 filled with ice, with sugar syrup on the side so that guests may sweeten according to their personal taste.
Y'all come back now, hear?
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