America's favorite drink (after water) is iced tea

July 14, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Tea is the most popular beverage in the world, second only to water - and most Americans prefer their tea over ice.

Iced tea - straight-up, sugar-sweetened or flavored with fruits, spices, herbs, even seasoned ice cubes - accounts for about 40 billion of the estimated 50 billion cups of tea consumed in the United States each year, according to information from the New York City-based Tea Council of the U.S.A.

The Tea Council, Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. and the Specialty Tea Institute - all at on the Web - serve as the tea industry's domestic trade associations.


Culinary historian Linda Stradley wrote about iced tea in her cookbook, "I'll Have What They're Having - Legendary Local Cuisine" (Globe Pequot Press, 2002), and in "History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea" on her Web site at

Stradley wrote that sugar differentiates the two traditional iced teas in the United States - the sweet tea that's a staple in the American South and the unsweetened tea that's generally served elsewhere.

"Being a northerner, I didn't like Southern Iced Tea when I first tried it. In the northwest, Oregon, we don't sweeten our iced tea - but it seems to grow on you," Stradley wrote in an e-mail. "Now I crave it."


Stradley noted tea's long history in the United States. Highlights include:

- French botanist Andre Michaux imported the first tea plants to the United States in the late 18th century, and historians have traced America's first and only commercially grown tea to South Carolina in 1795.

- Tea has been served cold at least since the early 19th century, when cold, heavily spiked green tea punches were popularized.

- Iced tea's popularity paralleled the development of refrigeration.

- Iced tea gained widespread appeal during and after the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, a hot affair that sent exhibitors and guests scurrying for cold drinks. Indian tea merchant Rich Blechynden poured his hot tea over ice, "creating a cool tea beverage that was an instant success and changed the way Americans thought of tea."

- After 1900, black tea replaced green tea as the preferred tea for serving cold, primarily due to inexpensive exports. Black tea from British-controlled India soaked up 99 percent of the American market during World War II, which cut off the country's major sources of green tea - China and Japan.

Nearly 95 percent of all tea consumed in America today is black tea, according to statistics from the Tea Council of the U.S.A. About 75 percent of the tea produced worldwide is black; about 23 percent is green; and about 2 percent is oolong, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture at on the Web.

All varieties of tea - black, green and oolong - are produced from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a white-flowered evergreen. The leaf processing method distinguishes the three types of tea, according to the USDA. Herbal teas are made from leaves of other plants, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that herbal tea labels carry the name of the plant from which the product derives.

The Herald-Mail Articles