As a northerner, I had never really heard of “sweet tea,” an essential drink made especially in the American south, till recently. I asked my friend Foxy for her recipe, which you will find below. Foxy is not only a champion sweet tea maker, but she is also an excellent and dedicated graphic artist. When I read the recipe, I realized that her sweet tea making was also an art. In fact, it reminded me of the Japanese “Tea Ceremony.” While I’m not an expert in the Tea Ceremony—people study for years to be able to conduct a Tea Ceremony correctly—my understanding from participating in one and reading about them is that they are very formal ceremonies in which tea is prepared and served by a host to guests in a way that emphasizes grace and beauty and promotes contemplation and awareness of the joys of the world around us.
In Foxy’s recipe, I see the same elements of taking time to do something right in a way that slows us down and makes us appreciate what the world offers to us through our senses. Here is Foxy’s recipe:
Ingredients and Equipment
4 C ceramic (microwaveable) teapot
4 C. cold water
5 single or 2 family tea bags (I don’t like wimpy tea)
1/8 C. (or less) Honey or about ½ C. sugar. (After you have made your first batch, you will know how to adjust the sweetness to your taste.)
Small pinch baking soda
*Microwave water for 5 min. or until it is really hot. Add the sweetener. (Make sure the honey or sugar goes in while the water is HOT. Never try to sweeten cold tea. It doesn’t work.)
*Remove from Microwave and add the tea bags.
*Add the small pinch of baking soda (makes a richer color and tones down the acidic taste and is also easier on the tummy).
*Put lid on pot and let steep for at least a couple of hours or more.
When you are ready to pour it up, squeeze the tea out of the tea bags and pour it in a half gallon container. Swish it around to mix in the honey/sugar, then fill the container the rest of the way with cold water.
Then go out to the garden and pick a sprig of mint to top it off.
This also makes a delicious hot tea in the winter. Make it as per the recipe and then nuke it in the microwave.
When I think about these two ways of making and enjoying tea, I am struck by how something as unique as making tea brings out a common spiritual sense in two very different cultures. It is moments like this that make me realize that humans really are much more alike than we are different.
But, at the same time, sweet tea-making has generally been something that women have done and it seems to me that it also speaks to some of the wonderful and unique things about us. Like the tea ceremony, sharing sweet tea—whether at a tea party, on a porch chatting with neighbors, or as a break in a girls-day-out shopping trip—is a social activity, but one that tends to be informal, chatty, and intimate. The experiences you share over a glass of sweet tea are the stuff of daily life with all its tragedies and triumphs.
Sweet tea is a summer drink that celebrates nature and especially the heat of the sun that ultimately brews the tea, whether directly or through the fire on our stoves or the electricity in our microwaves. We drink it outdoors and, when we add a sprig of mint or other herbs from our gardens, we bring some of our own connection to nature to it.
Sweet tea is, well, sweet, much sweeter than matcha tea that is used in the Tea Ceremony which generally has no sweetener in it at all. When we drink sweet tea, we are honoring the sweetness of life itself and all its joys that we experience through our senses.
Finally, sweet tea-making is a very creative enterprise. I would guess that most women who make sweet tea eventually come up with their own favorite twists on the basic recipe. It is how we can add a little of our artist selves into our daily lives. I know that in the month or so that I have been making Foxy’s tea, I have begun to add about two single tea bags full of herbs to each batch. So far I like rose petals and lemongrass the best.
Summer has just begun. Whether you make sweet tea as a contemplative exercise or as a delightful drink, make it and enjoy! And, if you are a sweet tea maker yourself, I would love for you to leave a comment and let us know how you make it!