Extra Lemons, Please!: The History of Southern Sweet Tea

sweet tea with ice and blue strawIt happens every time. You’re sitting down at your favorite restaurant in Pigeon Forge, you order a tall glass of Southern sweet tea and you are transported down memory lane. Now you are back in your grandmother’s kitchen as she’s bringing a large pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, she adds eight tea bags and a couple of cups of white sugar to a tall, glass pitcher. After the water boils, she pours it into the pitcher. Using a wooden spoon, she gently stirs the mixture to dissolve the sugar. She allows it to steep for approximately 15 minutes, then she removes the tea bags. She dilutes the mixture with a bit of cold water and places the pitcher in the refrigerator. An hour later, she fills a small drinking glass with ice, pours the mixture on top of the ice and garnishes the glass with a bright yellow lemon wedge. So it begins, the tradition of Southern sweet tea!

First Pitchers of Tea 

Southern sweet tea, as we know it today, has not always been served alongside traditional Smoky Mountain foods. In fact, the first brews of iced tea were made in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They were a simple mixture of green tea and alcohol, commonly referred to as punches. Until the invention of the ice house, and later, the refrigerator and freezer, these punch mixtures were a luxury beverage because ice was not an item for everyday use.

Tea Through History

During the American Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, the popularity of iced tea skyrocketed since people were forced to find alternatives to their typical alcoholic beverages. Then, at the time of the Second World War, the switch from green tea to black tea was noted. The sources of green tea were cut from the United States, so people were forced to use a different tea. This is when black tea, from the British, became prominent throughout households. Until this point, sugar was added to the tea after the tea was already chilled. Since sugar was being rationed, people realized that adding the sugar while the tea was still hot meant that they could use a smaller amount in the pitcher and create a more unified glass of tea.

Today’s Southern Sweet Tea

Today, Southern sweet tea is paired with the finest Smoky Mountain foods. Whether enjoying a fine dining experience or a homecooked meal of favorite Smoky Mountain foods, Southern sweet tea is the most popular beverage in the area! Today, people enjoy many different varieties of sweet iced tea. Many restaurants serve their sweet tea with a lemon wedge, but some serve it with an orange slice or mint leaves. No matter how you drink it, sweet tea defines the South.

To experience true Southern hospitality and a glass or two of Southern sweet tea, book your stay in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg! You can take a look at our cabin rentals or contact us at 1-877-369-9694 to book your stay with one of our friendly reservationists!