Camellia sinensis. Its leaves were likely first brewed in the Shang Dynasty in China sometime between 1,600 and 1,046 BC, but tradition points to a much older origin, with Shennong, the traditional father of agriculture in Chinese lore. Long thought (not without modern scientific confirmation) to have medicinal properties, it became known as a pleasant and stimulating beverage owing to its caffeine content.
It is perhaps the most Southern of beverages, excepting perhaps bourbon, and simply must be consumed with another Southern staple; cane sugar (the four basic food groups of the South are butter; brown sugar, cornbread, and bacon). It’s virtually all I drink. The recipe is simple, but exacting. A glass of unsweetened iced tea and a packet of sugar is NOT sweet tea. Real sweet tea cannot be made once it’s cool. You have to put the sugar in while it’s hot.
Sweet Tea (1 gallon)
2 cups boiling water
1.5-2 times the number of tea bags it says on the box (make it strong)
1.5-2 cups plain, white cane sugar (no substitutes)
Brew the tea as normal, but let it steep longer (you want strong tea). Remove the tea bags (squeeze them out, don’t waste the liquid in the bags) and add the sugar while the tea is still hot. I bottle it straight and refrigerate it; adding ice waters the tea down, but I like it very strong and very sweet. It’s not quite syrup, but it’s sweet.
(Full disclosure: I use a fake tea-flavored enhancer like Mio (heresy!). It’s not great, and certainly not real sweet tea, but for just one person in a household of 4, there’s no room in the fridge for a jug of tea, and I drink a LOT of it throughout the day. The convenience is just too good to pass up. And yes, I know the fake sugar (sucralose) is no better, and maybe worse, for you than sugar, but I can’t carry around a five-pound bag of sugar to make it one glass at a time)