How did Sweet Iced Tea Become Popular in USA?

Sweet Iced tea loved today in America

Iced tea is offered nearly everywhere. Supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, restaurants and vending machines all offer iced tea. iced tea is so widely offered, it is more surprising when somewhere does not offer iced tea.  It is almost easier to access Iced tea than it is water. Iced tea is even available by the gallon!

So how did Iced tea become so popular in America?

  • Why is Iced tea so poplar in American when popular as a hot beverage else where in the world?
  • What created such as demand for Iced tea that it sells by the gallon full?

Lets look at the history of iced tea in America

The History of Tea:

For a more in depth look at the history of tea from China to Europe go to Tea History:

Black tea can be traced back as far as 6000 years in China. Although prepared in various forms over the years, was mostly drunk hot and black.

Sweetened Hot Tea:

When tea entered Europe- milk was added. At the time, Great Britain had major gains from the sugar cane production in the West Indies. Sugar was then added to tea. Leading to the sweetened version of tea drunk in America.

Although tea has been sweetened with fruits in Japanese and Chinese history. It was the British addition of cane sugar that reflects the American sweet drink consumed today.

Tea Follows the British to America:

Tea followed the British wherever they roamed as they expanded their colony during the time era. As towns were being constructed in America by the then British citizens, tea was brought with them. By the time of American colonization, Tea was a popular drink within America within all classes. Arguments over the taxation of tea and the Boston tea party helped lead to the revolution.

Tea is as much a part of American History as British history. So, when did the shift from the hot sweetened beverage change to the Iced sweet tea drunk today occur?

Tea Imports Cut Off:

Although tea helped ignite the revolution, following the revolution imports of tea were cut off. Although America once had a strong love of hot tea, the love of hot tea was never reignited following this cut off from trade. Love of tea occurs again in America in iced form but coffee takes over as hot drink of choice.

American’s Turn to Coffee:

During this time American’s largely turned to coffee as the hot beverage of choice. Hot coffee can now be accessed all over American and is still the most popular hot beverage. American’s now drink 3 times as much coffee as tea. There are over 14,000 Starbucks coffee chain stores in American. Not including other chains and stores that sell coffee within Unites States of America.

Ice is Added to Tea:

Prior to refrigeration, transporting and trading Ice had been around since the 19th century. The Global Ice trade was a major booming industry. Upper class citizens and those who could afford them would own cold boxes or cold closets where they would keep the ice once purchased from local ice sellers. It is thought tea and ice originally combined in tea punches.

Tea Punches:

The popular Iced tea drank today is likely born out of tea punches that were consumed. Punch is a drink often shared between people, mixed with an alcoholic beverage. One tea punch recipe from 1839 includes ice, sugar, tea, cream and red-wine.  Tea punches remained the preferred drink up until the 1920’s.

Shift from Tea Punch to Iced Tea:

In 1920 the National alcohol prohibition experiment occurred banning alcohol. Although overall the prohibition was a failure and did not lower the alcohol consumption, American’s did shift from sweet tea punch to the virgin sweet iced tea. For 13 years the prohibition was in place. Following legalizing alcohol, sweet tea punch never resumed its popularity, with most American’s preferring the iced sweet tea.

Increase in Sugar:

Although the popularity of virgin sweet iced tea did not arise until 1920, ice tea recipes can be traced back to 1879. In these recipes- sugar was an optional extra. Sugar cane was very expensive and not a routine substance due to the cost. It was not until sugar cane production started in what is known today as the Republic of Haiti that sugar became widespread in the Unite States of America. Sugar became more affordable to most citizens and was more accessible throughout America. With the ban on alcohol and increased accessibility of sugar- iced tea has flourished in popularity since.


  • China drink tea for last 6000 years
  • Tea Exported to Europe
  • Great Britain love tea and expand colony -> bringing tea to America
  • America declare independence and loose trade of tea
  • Fall in love with coffee for hot beverage of choice
  • Start drinking tea in punch
  • Alcohol banded from 1920-1933- start drinking virgin ice tea
  • Increase in sugar supply
  • Sweet Iced Tea American’s love today is born.

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