8 Things Only Southerners Know About Tea

True Southerners can attest to these eight sweet-tea truths. Travelers headed south of the Mason-Dixon Line should take note.

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Chill Factor

Sweet tea is never chilled by ice; it's only served over ice. Proper Southern etiquette dictates that tea be stored in the fridge at all times. Because the ice will melt slightly while the tea is being sipped, the tea is made a little stronger so watering down won't ruin the day.

Oldie but Goodie

Grits have gotten fancy. Fried chicken's been dressed up. But one of the classic Southern recipes that hasn't changed is sweet tea. The holy trinity of tea has remained the same: water, tea and sugar. Lemon slices began as a garnish in earlier times, but they can be floated in tea with mint for very special occasions.

Sugar, Sugar

If you see someone stirring sugar into iced tea, they aren't from around here. Presweetening tea with loads of sugar while it's hot is the only way to sweeten the liquid to perfection, with each and every sweet grain dissolving. The amount of sugar can vary from state to state, but the tea has to be steaming when it meets the sugar. The farther west you roam in the South, the sweeter the tea gets.

By the Book

The Georgia General Assembly had sweet tea on the agenda in 2003. House Bill 819 defined sweet tea as "iced tea which is sweetened with sugar at the time that it is brewed." It also declared that restaurants offering iced tea without sweet tea on the menu as well would "be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature." It was later touted as an April Fools' Day joke, but not all Georgians were totally convinced.

Desperate Times, Sweet Tea

When Prohibition took effect in the South, tea drinking became more popular. In fact, tea was often served with alcohol before the great dry-out. All those beautiful crystal glasses formerly filled with stiff drinks couldn’t go to waste, so sweet tea soothed the South through to the end.

Go with the Flow

To order "tea" in a Southern restaurant is to simply order sweet tea. If you want to go against the grain for unsweet tea, you'll have to ask for it specifically and hope they'll sell it to you. Never will an order for tea come to the table as a hot beverage with a dainty tea bag in the cup. When you are out to eat, choose wisely and just order a tea.

The Proof Is in the Pitcher

In Southern homes, sweet tea is always served from the same pitcher each and every day. These pitchers won't be found filled with other drinks such as lemonade or punch. Sweet tea pitchers are passed down from grandmothers, much like jewelry and silver.

Feel the Frost

Ice was a luxury brought to the South by railcars from the North or by ship. When electricity lit up below the Mason-Dixon, ice became much more attainable for average households. Condensation brought on the need for linen coasters and monogrammed cocktail napkins.