With Thanksgiving upon us, I only feel it proper to address the sweet vs. unsweet tea thing. Some may read this as a diatribe, others as a sugary paean, but what’s right is right, and that is sweet tea.
NOTE: In my family, we never made a differentiation between sweet tea and unsweetened. Sweet was the default, served cold and over ice. Anything less would be an affront to our tastebuds and tradition.
I’ve guzzled more glasses of tea than I can count, and over the years my palate has become finely attuned to the subtleties of tea. Perfectly chilled tea is one of my favorite beverages and it’s almost always a finishing touch to Sunday dinners, Christmas feasts and Thanksgiving meals.
Sadly, I failed to properly brief a friend of mine before she showed up to Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin’s house in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a few years ago with a quart of unsweetened swill.
Jaws dropped. Eyes narrowed, curious at the sight. The container remained unopened for the rest of the evening, as we enjoyed glass after glass of the tea my cousin made.
Some of you may be asking, Couldn’t you just add sugar? Well, no. Unsweetened tea + sugar = a bitter, undrinkable slurry. Stir as swiftly as you like, but the sugar always settles at the bottom of the glass.
I wish I knew the intricacies of the science behind properly sweetened tea, you know the expanding molecules and diffusion and whatnot. But because I’m a writer, I’ll put it like this: sugar mingles better in warm environments — don’t we all?
Here’s how I make my tea:
Ingredients: water, five tea bags (I use Lipton) and a five-pound bag of sugar.
Directions: Fill a medium-sized pot with water, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and steep tea bags for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong you prefer your tea. Pour the tea into a pitcher, then add sugar (to taste) and stir. Fill the rest of the pitcher with water, chill and serve in a tall glass over ice. Enjoy and repeat as necessary.*
Variations: follow the recipe above, adding lemon or mint before you chill the tea.
*may change your life