Friday, December 12, 2008

the ubiquity of iced tea

On Thanksgiving Day, we had the traditional midday dinner at my wife's aunt's place. It's one of those meals where there's enough attendees and little enough space around the table that once you sit down, you're pretty much locked in place until the plates are cleared in advance of dessert.

After we had loaded up our plates and sat down to begin mass consumption, two beverage choices were passed around the table:
  • unsweet iced tea
  • sweet iced tea
I don't like iced tea, but I didn't want to make a fuss, and I'm not a person who needs to drink while eating. And somewhat later in the meal, someone noticed that I hadn't chosen a beverage and at that point, I did receive liquid sustenance (in the form of good ol' H2O).

My point in bringing up this example is that in my adult life, I have found myself at dozens of meals - at workplaces, with significant-other families, at daytime/working-hours parties - where not only was iced tea the only beverage option offered, it didn't even seem to occur to the organizers that some poor miscreant might not want iced tea.

I've tried iced tea plenty. I'm not much for any kind of tea, but I imagine my aversion to hot tea has to do with my lifelong bafflement at how to consume hot beverages (grist for another blog post, that).

But iced tea... oh yeah, I've tried it. As a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, as a quadrigenarian, you name it. And I've never liked it.

Not sweet or unsweet, lemon or no lemon, never, no way. To me, it's like someone put a stick in some water and called it a beverage. It's work for me to drink, and I can't get down even half a glass. The only variant that I've been able to drink a glassful of in one sitting is "fruit tea," and that's grudgingly, and with enough fruit content that it may not quite be tea anymore.

We didn't drink any kind of tea in the house I grew up in, so this beverage was foreign to my own upbringing in West Virginia. But my first wife grew up 15 miles from where I did, and she and her family quaffed iced tea like it was going out of style. In fact, during the nineteen years we were together, her mother never remembered that I didn't like iced tea, resulting in many unpleasant moments for me at meals when I hadn't noticed that I'd been served tea. I'd pick up the glass, and take a big swallow of what I expected to be Coke or Pepsi or at least Big K... and bleagh! mouthful of TEA!

One more example: in the late '90s, I organized and implemented conversion training in three cities for the employees of a bank that my then-employer had bought. In Jackson, MS, I left the catering arrangements to my local counterpart. As I'm sure everyone reading this has already guessed, at every meal during these training sessions - which I'm thinking was ten meals during the course of that week - the only beverages offered were sweet tea and unsweet tea. By the second day, I tried to make sure that I either brought in a couple of drinks for myself or had enough change for the vending machines at the training center. However, I was the only person out of dozens at these sessions that I saw use the machines. Everyone else blissfully quaffed their iced tea.

But I want to know... is it just some weird southern / Appalachian thing to offer only iced tea, and to assume that everyone loves iced tea? Or is it all iced tea all the time everywhere?


2fs said...

I don't know about the phenomenon being limited to the Appalachians - but I've never run into this myself. I don't like iced tea (or tea tea) either, but I've never had a problem with their being alternatives. Around here, wine is often an option (obviously not at certain events), and generally there'll be soda.

(I'm also not a hot beverage drinker - usually it's too damned hot to drink, and then there's a window of about two minutes during which it's at the right temperature but before it turns to an unappealingly lukewarm sludge...)

Amy said...

Thanksgiving dinner without wine? Savages!

Flasshe said...

Iced tea is vile. Luckily there are plenty of alternatives here in Colorado. I've never seen tea-centric events around here like you've got.

Hot tea can be okay sometimes.

Hey, my captcha is "dongs". What does that mean?

125records said...

I love hot tea. LOVE it. Drink it every day, both black & herbal. But I don't particularly care for iced tea, unless it's got a fruity flavor. I must say that I did enjoy the ubiquitous sweet tea I got in North Carolina. The unsweetened ice tea with a lemon wedge in it -- meh, even after adding a packet of sugar in an attempt to make my own "sweet" tea. I would much rather just drink water than regular ice tea and think it's odd that you weren't given that as an option straightaway! BTW Joe HATES any kind of tea beverage. He's a soda guy.

Brainmine said...

There are so many tea variations!! I love tea, but it can be crappy if it isn't done right. Sweet tea needs proper brewing, and the sugar added and stirred while the tea is hot. If you take cold tea and add sweetener, it ends up tasting gritty. I hate flavored iced tea, though, which seems rampant out west and is slowly invading my eastern restaurants. The fruit flavors are overwhelmingly sweet, and conflict with the flavor of the tea. Some regular sweet teas are bad, too, when folks go too crazy on the sugar, or add a syrup instead of real sugar. But I still love the stuff, and plan on taunting you with it when you visit next. ;)