Iced tea has become one of the most popular drinks in America. Here’s how it all started…
First discovered nearly 5,000 years ago in China, hot tea is drunk and appreciated by people all around the world. But what about iced tea? As it turns out, iced tea is primarily an American phenomenon that began showing up in recipes dating back to the early 1800s.
In the beginning, iced tea was not the same as we know it today. It was a type of punch. While tea was one of the main ingredients, it also called for a variety of other ingredients depending on the recipe. Ingredients might include things like juice, currant jelly, sweet cream, alcohol, and of course, lemons and lots of sugar. At this time, most recipes called for green tea, rather than black.
For a time, it was believed that iced tea as we know it today was first invented and offered at the1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis by a man named Richard Blechynden. Many researchers have found that not to be the case. In fact, there are references to the cold tea beverage in cookbooks that actually label recipes as “iced tea” as far back as 1879. It may be possible that iced tea recipes were floating around by word of mouth even earlier than that.
One of the earliest references to iced tea being served at a large gathering was at the Missouri State Reunion of Ex-Confederate Veterans in Nevada, Missouri in 1890. A newspaper article summarizes the food and drink served at the event which included, “880 gallons of iced tea” being served.
By the early 1900s, black tea began to replace green tea as a staple in iced tea. For a time, a mix of green tea and black tea was used for making iced tea. However, by the end of the 1920s, black tea was the norm.
With the advent of prohibition in the 1920s, iced tea grew in popularity. Along with the rise in iced tea’s popularity in the early part of the 20th century came special glasses and spoons marketed specifically for use with iced tea drinks.
The popularity of iced tea fluctuated throughout the 20th century. It peaked during the first part of the century and through World War I and dipped to its lowest point in the mid-1930s and late 1950s.
With the availability of canned, bottled, and powdered iced tea, iced tea has continued to maintain its popularity into the 21st century. According to one survey by the United States Tea Association, as much as 85 percent of tea consumed in the United States is iced.