Sweet tea is a Southern institution. In the South it is more plentiful then water, however this was not always the case. In the late 1800′s and early 1900′s sweet tea was a luxury. Sweet tea was a way to demonstrate ones status and decadence. There were several reasons for this. During this time period, tea, ice, and sugar were expensive. Out of all these the biggest luxury item was ice which had to cut and shipped from frozen lakes often over great distances and then stored into the warm months.
The oldest known recipe for sweet ice tea was published in 1879 in a cookbook called the Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. This original recipe bears a strong resemblance to the modern version including the long steeping time and massive amounts of sugar. The only glaring difference is the use of green tea. Prior to WWII green tea was plentiful in the US and most sweet tea during this time period was made from green tea. However because of WWII green tea was no longer imported from Japan and instead the US turned to India which was under British-control and produced black tea. After the War, America never looked back and now black tea, specifically Lipton is the hallmark of sweet tea.
While people from the North may balk at the sweetness of the tea it is a refreshing summertime staple. But sometimes you need a little extra kick in your tea. The following drink was created by Simon Gibson of the Brooklyn Star. I discovered this recipe in an article written on Complex.com
Sweet Tea Sour
2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon
1 oz. sweet tea syrup
1 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. egg white
Tea Syrup: Steep two large Lipton iced tea bags in three pints of boiling water for 30 minutes. Remove tea and add 1 quart of sugar while the water is still hot. Stir to dissolve and allow to cool.
For a Southern secret, try adding a touch of baking soda while the tea is boiling to help smooth some of the bitterness. The egg white adds a real nice texture to the drink. There is a a nice balance between the sweet and sour components but in homage to sweet tea on my second go round I dropped the lemon juice by a 1/4 to up the sweetness of the overall drink. I did not have have any Four Roses so I used Old Weller Antique.