Posted July 5, 2017
It’s summertime, and the living is easy in South Carolina. This time of year it’s hard to beat a little bit of porch-sitting and sweet-tea sipping. A little whisper of a breeze and a cool drink feel pretty good as the temperatures rise and the air thickens. The living is as easy as parking yourself in a rocker, a hammock or a porch swing – with a pitcher of sweet tea nearby.
Iced tea is the national drink of summer. About 80 percent of the 3.8 billion gallons of tea consumed in the U.S. in 2016 was iced, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. In South Carolina it must be sweet tea. Unsweetened tea is what Brits drink hot and Yankees drink cold. (And neither of those affinities is held in much regard in Savannah or Charleston.) However you like your tea, energy figures prominently in the mix. Natural gas and oil help nearly every step along the way, from drying the tea leaves, to packaging the tea bags to the manufacture of sweet tea jugs. Making things better – it’s what modern, versatile energy goes.
Sip It on Down
The debate over sweet tea’s history is a bit contentious. Yet, many agree that the birthplace of the libation is the aptly named Summerville, S.C., home of the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest sweet iced tea. As you might guess, Summervillians take their drink pretty seriously. Indeed, South Carolina’s history has tea coursing through it. It is one of the state’s oldest and most treasured traditions. The flavor of sweet tea is infused in everything from vodka to pie, allowing for enjoyment by many across the United States. Thanks, Palmetto State!
Heat It up before You Cool Off
Fresh leaves are an absolute must when cooking up a fine batch of tea. The leaves are dried after harvesting, allowing for increased shelf life and enhancing the flavor. But the leaves don’t sit out in the sun to dry. Various processes using natural gas and charcoal produce the brew-ready tea that reaches local grocers. Commercial dryers use conveyors on endless chains and fluidized beds, where leaves dry on a bed of hot air. Oven drying also is common, using convection to dry out the leaves.
Once dried, tea needs clean and tidy packaging so it can be dropped in water without mess. Polypropylene wraps around paper tea bags ensure proper sealing that will mean quality brewing and flavor later. The bags allow the leaves to sit in hot water without needing to be strained out after brewing.
Feel the Need, the Need for Tea
Craving that sweet nectar and don’t have the ingredients to fashion some up? No worries! Head to the local BBQ joint or Southern food chain and grab a jug. The container, of course, most likely is made of petroleum based-thermoplastic.
Whether grabbing ready-made, on-the-go sweet tea or brewing it yourself at home, you can do as South Carolinians do this time of year: Sit back, relax and enjoy a sunset with the national drink of summer in your hand. Cool and satisfying – with a big hand from energy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.