Tea in New Orleans may not sound as exciting as a mixed cocktail with three or four different liquors mixed into a tall frosty cup, however, New Orleans Tea is indeed a real debated topic! What- was once considered a classy southern drink, is now getting watered-down for its original meaning. Let’s explore how tea in the Big Easy isn’t such an easy topic to swallow.
A Tale of Two Teas
For more than a couple of centuries, tea has always been enjoyed in New Orleans due to its love affair with green tea that was first successfully grown in South Carolina. Because of the distaste for black tea that was imported from India by the British colonies, Americans decided that green tea was a better choice especially if it was served at room temperature or even chilled.
The recipe is rather simple according to a traditional recipe for making Ice tea’ back in 1839, only if you want to experience a classic treat. It starts with brewing up a very strong version of green tea (at least a whole pitcher’s worth) and pouring it over a block of sugar (2.5 pounds these days), then adding sweet cream topped off with a bottle of any alcohol. It then gets chilled in a cool cellar for several hours until it’s nice and cold.
That might have been a bit more adventurous back in the good old days when simple pleasures always included a bit of booze, but these days it might be more politically correct to leave out the strong stuff… Well, until the dynamic invention of the ice machine that first appeared in New Orleans in 1868, Ice Tea could be made a lot faster in the sweltering heat of Louisiana from blocks of ice that were delivered by mule to affluent homes with cellars.
The term Ice tea’ never actually specifies that it’s served with ice, and doesn’t imply it was ever made with ice! It was allowed to chill naturally below ground or was served when the hot tea had finally cooled off. The fact that it contains so much sugar also gives the impression that it’s a sweet tea, which was also completely untrue. Ice tea and sweet tea in New Orleans are two very different types of tea.
By definition, making sweet tea is adding granulated sugar to hot tea and then it is consumed while it’s still hot. This is not to be confused with another version of sweet tea which is also called Sun Tea’. This is another type of tea that is popular in Georgia where boiled water, black tea, and sugar are placed in a glass jar and allowed to steep in the sun for a day. The result is a tea that is less bitter and pleasing to drink.
Sun tea is also notorious for allowing bacteria to grow which is why black tea is used. The caffeine in black tea can kill off bacteria in addition to the boiling water. It’s not a popular tea for folks in Louisiana since this will be more prone to bacteria growing in the water.
If you go into a restaurant these days in New Orleans, they not have adapted to using the term Sweet tea. The old expression Ice tea was just too confusing for non-locals to understand so now sweet tea is prepared the same exact way Ice tea used to be prepared.
If you’re asking for Iced tea, this is traditional non-sweetened tea with ice added to the cup. You’ll probably need to add sugar to make it sweet.
This was first invented in 1902 by William Reily, who was the owner of a small grocery based in Monroe, Louisiana. William later moved his company to New Orleans due to the growing need to expand his business and contacts with shipping importers. This innovative brand of tea most likely started with green tea but later this recipe was refined for making ice tea. This recipe began using Orange Pekoe and Pekoe cut black tea which was better suited for making ice tea in the 1930s.
Since then, the recipe hasn’t changed and is one of NOLA’s favorite brands of ice tea that’s available. Now with the third generation of the Reily family still working at their New Orleans-based factory, they carefully guard their secret recipe for creating the ice tea blend. One of the most unique parts about this blend is that the tea will not become cloudy after it’s brewed or when it’s chilled in ice.
Many of the workers at the Luizanne factory came from families that all came from diverse backgrounds working with various tea companies. Some of their crew has worked closely with Tetley tea, while others worked with Lipton. Currently, Luizanne now sells over 200 million per year and is the 2nd largest seller of tea in the USA!
Interestingly enough, in the 1950s, a very young Betty White appeared in several print ad commercials featuring Luizanne. This was further followed by Burl Ives who made multiple commercials in the 1970s and 80s. They also feature a variety of other products, however, they were never as successful as their ice tea has become.
Adding Alcohol To Ice Tea
When going on any trip to New Orleans, the chances of finding an alcoholic version of ice tea is just a matter of asking any trained bartender in NOLA. Some of the most popular ice tea versions with the good stuff in them include the NOLA Peach tea drink, this is a fruity blend of peach and tea flavors. There is also the classic Bourbon ice tea cocktail which mixes bourbon, flavored fruity syrup, and ice tea.
The last one for this list might be a real slam dunk and is called the New Orleans Ice Tea which has vodka, triple sec, Blue Curacao, and raspberry schnapps. Even though the linking recipe intends for you to use coca-cola you can swap this out for using ice tea instead. After a couple of these, you may find that you’ll need to swap out for a few hours due to this intensive alcoholic mixture!