Nothing quenches your thirst quite like a tall glass of iced tea during the summer heat. But if you think this chilly beverage is reserved for hotter days—think again. The Tea Association of the USA estimates that 80 percent of tea consumed in America is served on ice, proving that whether it’s warm or cool out, we love our iced tea drinks.
The history of tea
We have been drinking tea in America since colonial times. South Carolina was the only colony in the U.S. to grow tea in the late 1700s and started to plant it for commercial production. In England and America, green tea punches were becoming popular. These booze-infused drinks contained brandy, rum, sugar, citrus, green tea and other additions. In the early 1800s, inexpensive black tea was being exported from South America, India and South Africa furthering availability and a growing popularity for tea drinking.
Iced tea was still a rare treat because availability of ice was limited to colder climates and only during winter months.
In 1904 at the World Fair in St. Louis, entrepreneur Richard Blechynden decided to add ice to hot tea for fair goers looking for a cold beverage. Iced tea soon gained popularity and became a well-known beverage in North America.
Modern tea drinkers consume this popular beverage made with black tea, green tea, herbal blends, fruit infused teas and more.
Sweet tea is a drink popularized in the Southern States. Sugar is added to brewed black tea while the water is hot to dissolve the sugar. After steeping, the tea bags are removed and tea is poured over ice. Often a wedge of lemon is served alongside this drink.
When you order iced tea in most places outside of the South, expect to get an unsweetened black tea.
Today the world of iced tea beverages has evolved to include many diverse and exciting drinks. Learn the ins and outs of each type below.
Which tea should you try?
The flavor of iced tea comes from the tea leaves themselves; black teas, green tea, white, herbal tea, Pu-erh, chai tea and rooibos are some of the most popular choices.
Choose tea leaves that are carefully grown, harvested and dried. Organic teas are the best choice if you want to avoid synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The practices used in growing organic tea result in better flavor, overall nutrition and are better for the environment.
Sweeten things up
Shaken, stirred, blended or straight up over ice you can’t go wrong. Pick a tea or tea blend, brew and serve as is or add a sweetener:
Or, if you’re avoiding sweeteners of any kind, cinnamon, citrus zest and gently macerated mint or ginger will add a touch of sweetness and zing without added sugar.
Add a splash of coconut water to your green tea and top it off with basil or mint.
Tea around the world
Traditional teas from around the world are showing up in iced versions.
Tea made from barley is found in China, Korea and Japan and traditionally served hot but also delicious chilled.
In Singapore, an iced lemon tea is made with black tea and fresh lemon.
Thai iced tea, brewed with Ceylon or Assam tea, with coconut milk or condensed milk and sweet spices like star anise, cardamom and anise or sugar and orange blossom is served over ice in a tall glass.
Mix things up
- A half and half is a non-alcoholic drink is half lemonade and half black tea, named after famous American golfer Arnold Palmer.
- Green tea lemonade is of course made with green tea instead of black tea.
- Moroccan tea or Maghrebi mint tea is a blend of green tea and mint with sugar.
- Yerba Mate, known as the “Drink of the Gods,” hails from South America and is served in a small gourd and sipped through a special straw.
- Taiwanese bubble tea is made from black, green or jasmine tea, sweetener and powdered milk. The bubbles are small balls of tapioca starch. Bubble tea can now be found in many specialty tea shops. Honey, mango, passion fruit and strawberry are some of the most popular flavors.
- Kombucha is a lightly fizzy and fermented drink, traditionally made with green or black tea, sweetener and flavorings. Make your own or buy it already brewed and bottled.
- If you want to keep it simple, brew up a batch of sun tea. Choose your favorite tea or tea blend, add to a large jar, cover with water, set it out in the sunshine and let nature take over while you kick back and enjoy the lazy days of summer.