Learning about the South’s favorite drink

Published 7:30 am Saturday, September 3, 2022

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Way back in 1996 people were making and drinking sun tea when I saw an article in a newspaper that suggested it could be harmful to our health. According to another article, the safe way to prepare tea is to drop it into boiling water to kill E-coli bacteria. In other words, the article advised that people lay off the sun tea, and make sure the water comes to a rolling boil before you pour it over the tea or drop in tea bags.

For me that prompted the question where does tea come from? This was once brought up at the table during a festive event at my house. Someone said Ceylon, and somebody else said China. It was time to look it up in an encyclopedia.(Internet hadn’t appeared yet.) Some of the leading tea grower countries did include China, India and Ceylon.

Have you ever noticed the words pekoe and orange pekoe on the boxes of your favorite teas? Of course I had seen that, but never questioned them until I turned to the encyclopedia again. Orange pekoe, flowery Pekoe, pekoe and souchong first are grades of tea. The very highest quality is the flowery pekoe, made from the leaf buds at the end of the branch of tea plant. From the youngest leaf that has opened next to the leaf bud comes orange pekoe. Then from the next youngest comes pekoe. The third leaf up the twig is the source of souchoung first tea.

Here in the south we love our sweet ice tea. There were times years ago when our whole family was at the table together. Many times our favorite ice tea (sweetened) appeared on our table both during the mid-day meal and at suppertime. Ice tea is mostly an American drink. People in other parts of the world prefer hot tea. Some drink it with lemon, cream or sugar.

I love the story Jack my distant cousin told about his English bride-to-be during his service in World War 2. You know how the English enjoy their afternoon tea, so he expected her to be a tea drinker. She was not. Jack said she learned to drink tea after she came to the states. Her family back in England was flabbergasted that she had to come to the United States to learn how to drink tea.

Most of us drink it, whether hot or cold. I drink hot decaf tea for breakfast and my favorite noon-time tea is cold sweet tea.

How did people get started using this plant? There is a legend that an Indian saint prayed without stopping for years, then fell asleep. He was so sorry he went to sleep that he cut off his eyelids and prayed for another five years without sleeping. Then he felt sleepy, so he chewed tea leaves that made him feel alert.

By the way, sun tea can be safe if you brew it right. Just make sure you use boiling water.