The History of Tea (In the South) + A Recipe
There is one food tradition that seems to cross all social, ethnic, and economic boundaries in the South: iced tea, particularly sweet tea. In the movie, “Steel Magnolias” Dolly Parton’s character referred to sweet tea as “the house wine of the South.” In many homes and most restaurants, this is certainly the case. But, why is iced tea such a staple in Southern homes? The history is more complicated than you might think.
Tea was introduced to the United States in South Carolina where it was grown in the late 1700s. In fact, South Carolina is the only state to have even grown tea commercially. It is believed that French botanist and explorer Andre Michaux imported it, along with many unique varieties of flowers. Iced tea began appearing in American cookbooks in the early 1800s, first as alcoholic punches. These first punches were made with green tea, rather than the black tea commonly used today.
Households began to keep iced tea on hand when refrigeration became popular – and with it, ice. The first known version of iced tea, as it is prepared today, was printed in 1879 in a publication called Housekeeping in Old Virginia. Recipe author Marion Tyree wrote that green tea should be boiled and steeped all day. Then, the preparer should “fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls of granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar.” This first iced tea recipe also called for a lemon garnish.
By the late 1800s, the practice of serving iced tea had spread to other regions. The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair increased the popularity of the beverage when Richard Blechynden, director of the fair’s East Indian Pavilion, added ice to his hot tea at the request of overheated fair attendees. By the early 1900s, the popularity of iced tea rose and spread quickly across the entire United States and it became a common recipe in cookbooks. By this time, black tea had replaced green tea as the main ingredient; the black tea variety became much less expensive with an increase in tea imports from India, South America, and Africa.
Around this same time, Southern culture was refining the practice of serving iced tea. Special tall glasses were reserved for serving iced tea. Soon, long spoons and lemon forks became customary at Southern tables. By the end of World War I, the entire country was drinking out of tall crystal goblets – iced tea glasses. Iced tea consumption rose during the 1920s with Prohibition, when families began looking for alternatives to wine, beer, and other alcohol.
In 1928, the cookbook Southern Cooking published a recipe by Mrs. S.R. Dull that became the standard for Southern iced tea. “Freshly brewed tea, after three to five minutes’ infusion, is essential if a good quality is desired. The water, as for coffee, should be boiled and poured over the tea… The tea leaves may be removed when the desired strength is obtained…Tea, when it is to be iced, should be made much stronger, to allow for the ice used in chilling… A good blend and grade of black tea is most popular for iced tea, while green and black are used for hot. To sweeten tea an iced drink-less sugar is required if put in while the tea is hot…”
Today, iced tea is widely served across the country. In the South, ice tea is most commonly served sweetened. In almost every restaurant, an order for tea is almost always assumed to mean iced, rather than hot tea. Unsweetened tea drinkers should be prepared to specify their preference, since sweetened tea is standard fare at many homes and restaurants. Iced tea is so popular that it is now bottled and sold at grocery and convenience stores. There are now varieties of sweet tea vodka and sweet tea punches are experiencing a revival.
Many people who drink iced tea have their own special preparation, varying the amount of sugar, the strength or variety of the tea, and the presence of lemon. In the Alabama Chanin Factory Café, we brew several gallons of Choice Organic black tea each day. Our iced tea is served in the traditional tall glass, and comes sweetened, unsweetened, or both (many of us here at the studio prefer a blend of half sweet/half unsweet).
THE FACTORY CAFÉ ICED TEA
4 quarts water
3 bags Choice Organic Classic Black tea
1 cup organic brown sugar (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)
Bring approximately 4 quarts water to a boil. Add tea bags and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. For sweet tea, combine steeped tea and 1 cup sugar in a gallon-sized (tempered) glass pitcher. When tea is cooled, serve over ice in a tall glass. Garnish with lemon wedge, if desired.
First Mondays @ The Factory
Join us the first Monday of every month in our expanded studio space to sew and socialize. Spend your morning working on your latest project in the company of fellow sewers.
Share inspiration, encouragement, and fellowship. Coffee, tea, and light breakfast will be available for purchase from The Factory Café. Please bring your own fabric and sewing notions.
Monday, February 2, 2015
8:30 am – 11:30 am
Monday, March 2, 2015
8:30 am – 11:30 am
Monday, April 6, 2015
8:30 am – 11:30 am
462 Lane Drive
Florence, AL 35630
For more information, contact: email@example.com or call +1.256.760.1090
THE HEART: THE FACTORY
If you visit our studio here in Alabama, you will arrive to find that we are housed in a sturdy, industrial-style, metal building which we call “The Factory.” Our community was, for generations, home to textile mills that employed an incredible number of area residents. This industrial building where we work and spend hours of our lives has seen thousands of workers pass through the doors over the years; it has heard the hum of machines running and the voices and laughter of employees passing the day away. This building is part of Alabama Chanin’s history, but, more importantly, it is part of our community’s history—a symbol of economic boom, hard times, and community rebuilding.
Tennessee River Mills, a local textile company, built the building that we call The Factory in 1982. In 1996, the Wylie family and Tee Jays Manufacturing acquired the building and all of its equipment, located in Florence’s industrial park, to use as a t-shirt manufacturing facility. Tee Jays started primarily as a screen printing facility, but grew into a comprehensive operation, creating textiles from yarn, then sewing, dyeing, and screen printing the final products. In this building alone, there were 54 circular knitting machines and six large dye machines, each having a capacity of 600 to 1000 pounds of fabric per cycle. Approximately 300,000 pounds of fabric were knit and dyed in this building every week. Around 450 sewers were employed in this space, sewing basic t-shirts, raglan-sleeve garments, sweatshirts, and a range of other products. The facility housed about 650 people, just a fraction of the people employed by Tee Jays.
Though Tee Jays and many other local manufacturers closed shop after the passage of NAFTA legislation, Terry Wylie retained ownership of the building. This facility, known to the Tee Jays staff as Building 14, was largely empty after 2001. The massive space measures about 105,000 square feet in total. Knowing how difficult it might be to find a tenant who required that much room, the Wylie family decided to recruit smaller companies and break up the building into more manageable spaces. The former Building 14 has housed Alabama Chanin since 2007 and we are neighbored by several other office and storage spaces. Alabama Chanin and the developing A. Chanin line utilize a total of 20,000 square feet of the building: 5,000 for the studio and Alabama Chanin production, 10,000 for the new machine-sewn textile facility, and 5,000 for our new event space.
As we’ve mentioned, our production manager, Steven Smith, once worked in this very building. He worked for Tee Jays for many years in about seven different buildings, two of those years in our current Alabama Chanin space. Steven was a floor person, a unit supervisor, and worked in the dye house. Toward the end of the textile boom, Steven was one of the last two Tee Jays workers in this building, one of the last to leave the dye house before the company closed the doors one final time. He admits that coming back to this space with Alabama Chanin was surreal. His current office was once the Tee Jays plant manager’s office. Seeing the massive space subdivided was initially jolting; sometimes he still sees the building as it once was. Where he once saw shirts cut and sewn dozens at a time, he now oversees garments cut piece-by-piece, by hand. And he will be here to, once again, hear the hum of sewing machines. It is a true, full-circle moment.
Faye Davis, a former Tennessee River Mills employee who has also worked for Alabama Chanin, told us: “I graduated from high school on Saturday and went to work in the plant on Monday. The man in charge asked me ‘Does your mama know you’re here?’” She replied that her mother was, in fact, working and sewing in the plant. Faye went on to describe how the people, the workers, at the plant were her family. “We shared lunches, and family, and raised our kids.” Faye has also returned to this building. She once operated an automatic hemming machine and a back-tacker (a machine that closed t-shirt sleeve seams) in Building 14’s sewing room. She went on to work 11 years for Tee Jays, though in another building. Today, you will find her in the Alabama Chanin Factory sitting, again, at a sewing machine, although producing garments in much smaller quantities.
Steven says that, after the devastating mill closures of the 1990’s, he never imagined working with textiles again, let alone in the same building where he stood so long ago. Working here with Alabama Chanin gives him a fresh perspective on where the textile and garment industry can go and how it might grow. We find a strength and a safety working in a place with such a storied history. Sometimes it seems that the building has a bit of wisdom to pass on, that it is invested in us and wants us to succeed. We at Alabama Chanin want to remain in the former Building 14, now The Factory, for years to come. We want to be a part of revitalizing the textile industry here in The Shoals and we want to honor those who worked here – the Fayes, Stevens, and their contemporaries – and helped build our community.
The Factory, part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.