Sweet tea is a form of iced tea in which sugar or some other form of sweetener is added to the hot water before, while, or after brewing the tea but before the beverage is cooled or chilled and served. Adding sweetener to hot water allows for supersaturation of the solution, enabling the tea to hold more dissolved sweetener than under colder temperatures. Toward that end, sweet tea is often brewed in simple syrup which is sometimes tempered with baking soda to eliminate bitterness.
Many restaurants have dispensers that dispense hot or warm sweet tea, and customers pour it over a full cup of ice to make iced tea. This especially sweet variation of tea enjoys most of its popularity in the Southern United States, though bottled iced teas labeled "Southern Style" or "Extra-sweet Southern Style" appear in refrigerated cases throughout the country. Sweet tea is often flavored with mint leaves in a popular variant of sweet tea known as sun tea, which is brewed by leaving loose tea or tea bags in water for several hours.
Most restaurants in the region, including fast-food and other national chains, offer a customer the choice of sweet tea or unsweetened iced tea (Usually referred to as "sweet tea" and "unsweet tea", respectively.). It is a signature drink of the region to the point where the Southern use of the word "tea" is largely used to refer specifically to cold sweet tea and not to hot or unsweetened varieties. In 2003, supposedly as an April Fool's joke, the Georgia House introduced a bill making it a misdemeanor to sell iced tea in a restaurant that did not also offer sweet iced tea on the menu. The bill never went to a vote.
An important part of the tradition of sweet tea in the South is the fact that it can be made in large quantities quickly and inexpensively. It is usually consumed daily as a staple drink.
The oldest known recipe for sweet ice tea was published in 1879 in a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree, who was born in Texas. The recipe called for green tea. In fact, most sweet tea consumed during this period was green tea. However, during World War II, the major sources of green tea were cut off from the United States, leaving them with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India which produced black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking predominantly black tea.
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