I grew up drinking sweet tea.
The “tea” in question came in a powder from a cardboard drum with a brightly colored plastic lid. Money was always tight growing up, so we never got the fancy name brand instant iced tea with pictures of smiling people. I remember that it had a generic greenish bluish color container of the store brand and it promised that it was flavored with lemon, although my suspicion is the closest thing to lemon it came near was being in the same warehouse as the generic instant lemonade.
Before dinner one of us kids would have the job of mixing up a gallon. This involved skill of stirring steadily and not rushing because otherwise it would foam up over the top of the container and cause a mess. We routinely ignored the instructions on the packaging which called for eight scoops and instead put in five. I can still hear my mother’s voice reprimanding us if we snuck in an extra scoop to make it sweeter, although we would often try to do so.
As it was, at five scoops to a gallon, there was just enough flavor and color to make it more palatable than plain water. Still, to a kid it beat drinking out of the garden hose and running the risk that your older brother would turn the faucet all the way on and give you a face full of water. To this day, I find that I prefer my sweet tea a bit on the weak side and have been known to split a cup of it from a convenience store 50/50 with water to get it to the level I grew up with.
We would make up coolers of tea to bring with us on our many trips “down the shore” to the beaches of Atlantic City. A key difference between ocean beaches and freshwater beaches found on lakes and rivers here, is that the ocean salt that dries to your skin and lips adds flavor to everything you eat or drink. I can still taste the salty iced tea from those summer afternoons at the shore, just as how I can still remember feeling the sensation of the waves crashing down and the cry of the seagulls.
As I grew older, my experiences with iced tea likewise grew. I learned that there were many people who made iced tea the same way as hot tea. This concept blew me away, probably because at the time I could not think of drinking hot tea without milk and a small mountain of sugar.
As times change so do tastes and I have since become fond of brewed iced tea and will often make it for myself mixing in some herbal tea packets as well as the more traditional types.
A bit of cinnamon, a hint of blueberry or some other flavor makes what can otherwise be a dull drink into something special and fancy. I have even branched out and have developed a fondness for basil tea with stevia when I have an abundance of basil around.
It was strange to me the first time I ordered an iced tea at a restaurant and it was served as being anything other than sweet tea. I thought for a moment that there was something wrong with me, or worse something wrong with the people all around me who seemed to be actually enjoying drinking the bitter swill.
It is a lot like eating dark chocolate for the first time after having had only milk chocolate or the first time you drink a dark beer after having had nothing but Busch Light.
It takes some getting used to, but you soon embrace the flavors of nuances and miss them when they are not there or they are covered up by cloying sweetness.
Everybody’s taste for tea is a little different, and that’s OK. Just like it is OK for all of us to be a little (or a lot) different in other ways.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.