“Iced tea is now coming into use in the hot summer months; but this is an eccentric innovation, not likely very soon to become a common custom”
This opinion appeared in 1869, in the not very far-seeing Herald of Health, published in New York.
Iced tea was known in the 1860s as a warm weather drink, and was quite common in 1870s America, when it was on sale at hotels and railroads, according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. From the 1870s on, writers referring to iced tea expected their readers to know what it was – no explanations needed.
So why do so many people say it was “invented” in 1904? There are other myths about its origins circulating on the internet too, so let’s tackle some.
- The New York Times said iced tea was first served at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair in a 1961 article. Unfortunately this was before their journalists could easily search their own archives, or they would soon have realised their mistake. Searches of news archives, or Google Books, will confirm there was plenty of iced tea around before that.
- Some people say the first iced tea recipe in print was published in Virginia in 1879, or 1878, or 1877. There is a Virginian housekeeping book first published in 1877 by Marion Cabell Tyree with a recipe telling you to start at breakfast-time to make iced tea for supper, but it’s not the first in print. Quezi’s research at the Feeding America Project found the Buckeye Cookbook by Estelle Woods Wilcox also had two recipes for sweet iced tea. The first edition was in 1876, but we’re not saying her recipes are the first ever published. How much research would you need to say that with confidence?
- Did iced tea start out as a drink made from green tea, with black tea not used during the 1870s, as some websites believe? No. The Buckeye Cookbook says “Iced tea may be prepared from either green or black alone”. The writer thinks “it is considered an improvement to mix the two”.
Iced tea was enjoyed in Russia well before it was popular with Americans. Travellers to 1840s St. Petersburg were interested in the way Russians stored their winter ice in cellars to keep through the summer – and they were impressed by their iced drinks.
“The Russians cool all their drinks with ice – iced beverages of various descriptions are commonly sold in the streets throughout the summer – and, not satisfied with their iced water, iced wine, and iced beer, they even drink iced tea, substituting for a lump of sugar a similar portion of ice.” (Johann Georg Kohl, quoted in 1842)
Russian tea with sugar and lemon slices was fashionable in the USA during the 1870s – cold as well as hot – served under the name “tea a la Russe”.
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