From the South: Sweet Tea

Despite the best efforts of that hurricane-nor’easter-full-moon-fiasco to ground me in Edmonton, I managed to set out without incident last week for 11 days of adventure with my old traveling companion in Durham, North Carolina. Never having been to the American South before (unless you count a short trip to San Diego, which I don’t think you do), I’ve been embracing the place.   

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Which is how I found myself on Sunday afternoon, live-streaming a speech Bill Clinton was delivering to Obama supporters, all the while munching on impressively crunchy peanuts fried in patriotic corn oil, while sipping on sweet tea. Porch swing and banjo optional.

The whole thing sounds manufactured, I know, but unfortunately I can claim no responsibility for President Clinton’s movements and the peanuts were roasted here in North Carolina. As for the Southern version of iced tea, the inspiration was sourced locally, from an event I attended in Durham that offered up – and I kid you not – unsweetened sweet tea

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The drink in its sweetened form hails back to the 19th century South, when it was consumed by the wealthy, who were able to doll out the cash for the then-expensive key ingredients: sugar and tea. Fortunately, the world’s changed quite dramatically since then and sweet tea is no longer limited to the elite.

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I didn’t have high expectations for the recipe below given how basic it is, but it turns out that the stuff is refreshingly delicious, which is why I’m sharing it with you now, in November no less. Fitting with the history of the beverage, you can swap black tea for green, which was the staple until it was switched for black tea during WWII, or add in fresh mint or a shot of your favourite spirit. For someone who doesn’t have much of a taste for sugary drinks, I find the level of sweetness just right for a small glass. So be warned: if you’re planning on turning sweet tea into a dietary staple, as Wikipedia says it is here in the South, you may want to drop the sugar and keep your sweet tea unsweetened.
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Sweet Tea
Adapted from allrecipes.com
Makes 1 litre (4 servings)

Ingredients
1 cup of water
3 tea bags (black is the staple, but you can swap any other kind in!)
1 pinch baking soda
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar (optional)
3 cups of cool water 
A lemon, thinly sliced

Directions
1. In a medium pot, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Turn heat off.
2. Add into the pot the tea bags and pinch of baking soda.
3. Cover pot and let tea steep for 15 minutes.
4. Remove lid, remove tea bags and stir in the sugar, if using, until totally dissolved.
5. Stir in the 3 cups of cool water. Transfer to a glass container and refrigerate until cold.
6. Fill four small glasses with ice cubes and lemon slices. Pour tea overtop ice cubes and serve! 

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