Iced tea is a Southern favorite that completes any meal, no matter what kind of weather it is outside. Floridians and visitors alike guzzle down an immeasurable number of gallons of tea through the year- especially around this time of year when the sun is shining and there’s a small breeze ruffling the trees.
However, this raises the question: how long has tea been consumed in Florida? Further, when did we decide to drink iced tea instead of hot tea here in the South?
According to Florida Memory, we Floridians have the Europeans to thank for first introducing tea to the Sunshine State.
Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of a French colony at Ft. Caroline, first brought the concept of brewing tea to Florida after creating a series of sketches that depicted the “black drink” ceremony practiced by Native Americans in the Southeast. This ceremony involved brewing and consuming a drink made from the leaves of the yaupon holly. Those who drank the drink vomited afterwards but the Native Americans believed this was a way of purifying the mind and body.
Europeans weren’t too fond of the ceremony but they enjoyed other herbal concoctions. Nicolas Monardes, a Spanish physician, wrote of the Sassafras plant, whose roots were often made into a tea. It was believed to cure a wide variety of ailments, from fevers to constipation to lameness. As Europeans were gradually introduced to green and black tea from Asia, these tea products began showing up in shipments of goods traded in Pensacola and St. Augustine.
Although coffee outranked tea in popularity in the 1820s, there is still plenty of evidence of tea consumption among the earliest American settlers; in fact, local Tallahasseans bought teacups, saucers, teapots and tea itself, according to a sales ledger of a general store in Tallahassee owned by Miles Blake.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, consumption of tea was becoming more and more popular throughout the U.S.
Businessmen wondered if Asian tea plants would grow in Florida and in 1867, the Florida Tea Company published a prospectus that proposed to grow tea plants on a plantation here in Madison County. Those who organized this proposal claimed that this enterprise would yield as much as a quarter million pounds of tea per year; however, according to the Florida Archives, it does not appear that this ever occurred in Madison, or even Florida, due to the dire economic conditions experienced across the state following the Civil War.
By the twentieth century, tea became much more affordable and many Floridians made tea a staple.
Recipes for iced tea began showing up in print around the 1870s but the drink didn’t take off until it was introduced at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Iced tea offered flavor and fulfillment with a refreshing coolness to guests of hotels or those who rode the train and needed a drink after a long day.
Next time you enjoy tea, whether hot or iced, think about the long-standing tradition in Florida’s history that you are taking part in!