Iced tea in the South is a year-round drink. We drink it if the temperature is below zero or above. Having been born in Western Kentucky, then living in several locations in Tennessee and then returning to Kentucky, I think I may consider myself a Southerner. My several years in Connecticut erased my drawl and I say “you guys” just like a New Englander; however, I’m still a year-round iced tea drinker.
Growing up, our iced tea was served without sugar in tall glasses, or, in some cases, Mason jars. The place setting at the dining table included long handled spoons for those of us who liked our tea on the sweet side. There were also little dishes of sliced lemons for those who liked a little tartness. When I started “fixin” my own, I discovered I found the plain tea more refreshing than the sweetened, and I liked the fact that the plain tea didn’t interfere with the flavor of whatever I was eating.
I might add that wherever I ate, the tea was unsugared and iced tea spoons were available—at homes or in restaurants, Kentucky or Tennessee. Perhaps now their iced tea is just like South Carolina’s.
I think I mentioned the incident when I first had lunch with the girls in the office in Connecticut. I ordered iced tea even though it was cold enough to freeze your…well, anyway, it was cold and there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground. The waitress informed me that they didn’t have iced tea in the winter. I asked her if she had hot tea. She said yes. I asked her to bring me a cup of hot tea and a glass with ice. Everyone looked at me as if I were nuts.
When we moved here to South Carolina, I discovered that iced tea is sickly sweet as a matter of course. Apparently, there is a recipe for iced tea that involves dissolving lots of sugar in hot water and then steeping the tea in it. You can’t just add sugar to your cold tea. If you want no sugar, you have to specify. My problem is, I say, “Iced tea, no sugar, please.” This seems to cause every server a problem. At first, there is a look of bafflement and then you see from the expressions on their faces, their befuddlement passes. “You mean ‘unsweet tea?” This doesn’t happen 25% of the time or even 50% of the time—it happens every time I order.
I know that I could solve the problem if I could just say “unsweet" but there is something about the word that just seems wrong to me. (When I type “unsweet” spellcheck tells me there is an error, so I guess I could be a little bit right.)
I suppose it’s a cultural difference, and when in Rome. . . I should try to order “unsweet” tea, but it’s hard to change after 65 years of tea drinking and talking. I just don’t get why it is so hard to understand “iced tea, no sugar.”