Everything has its own national day now, so why not that most revered of beverages, that summer stalwart, the noble iced tea?
NPR’s The Salt posted a fascinating history of the steeped marvel in honor of today’s National Iced Tea Day, which points out that the beverage was popularized right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Ice was quite the luxury in the 1800s before refrigeration technology came onto the scene, NPR notes, so when Yankee entrepreneurs began shipping ice down to the South, it was quite the game changer.
Also: Iced tea started out a little more Long Island than Mississippi porchfront. From NPR:
“Early recipes had more in common with the booze-laden Long Island iced tea than the stuff Lipton sells. Indeed, Americans were drinking iced tea in the form of alcohol-drenched punches at least as far back as the Colonial era.”
Other drops of knowledge: Non-soused iced tea recipes didn’t appear much in print until 1876, and the drink really caught on at the particularly sultry 1904 World’s Fair. (The beverage of the future!) Prohibition, predictably, also gave iced tea a boost in visibility, NPR says, as did the gradual affordability of the leaves themselves.
No doubt you’re thirsty now. Here are a few of our staff’s favorite spots to grab a tall glass of chilled leaf-water:
- I guzzle a lot of glasses of iced black tea at Thunderbird Coffee, as well as the cold stuff at Pei Wei Asian Diner. Don’t laugh: mix the iced chai and green teas together. Also a quencher: the hibiscus fizz at Magnolia Cafe, or the straight-up hibiscus at Milto’s. (I’m also partial to the sweet tea pie at Lucy’s Fried Chicken, but that’s neither here nor there.)
- Assistant online news editor Gabrielle Muñoz is a traditionalist, favoring the Southern-style stuff at Threadgill’s.
- Editorial writer Alberta Phillips says Eastside Cafe’s hibiscus iced tea, with a twist of mint, can’t be beat.
- Director of photography Nell Carroll makes her own Arnold Palmers at Central Market’s cafe drink fountain.
- Social media editor Jackie Stone is a fan of Nile Valley Teas, brewed at many restaurants around town, and also available at local farmers markets.
- Tech columnist Omar Gallaga swears by the home of the big iced tea travel mug, Bill Miller BBQ.
- Westlake Picayune/Lake Travis View editor Ed Allen prefers the same tea favored by many Texans on Sunday lunch: Luby’s, which he says always makes him go for a refill.
- Features editor Sharon Chapman wouldn’t be caught dead without a bottle of Sweet Leaf Half & Half, a local darling available at fine grocers and gas stations near you.
- Speaking of bottled tea, we also recommend an Austin favorite that’s closer to iced tea’s alcoholic origins: Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka.
- If you’ve got the time to brew your own in celebration, try this recipe for Zhi’s Sparkling Jasmine Iced Tea, which parenting columnist Nicole Villalpando introduced us to in 2013.
Know of a better place to get your tall, cold glass of relief? Let us know in the comments. Happy sipping, Austin.