A tall glass of iced tea, just picturing it can be a relief on a sweltering day. But what type of tea? Ah, that’s where some trouble has been stirring.
Do you want your tea dry, with nothing more than a lemon wedge, that unsweetened tea that has long been the New Orleans norm? Or do you want sweet tea, that nectar of the gods of the South, an elixir with enough sugary buzz to fuel a lap around the NASCAR track? Ordering tea is a natural, like breathing air and, in the heat around here, nearly as vital. But these days I’ve been hearing more discord when it comes to this ritual of the table.
New Orleans has long been known as a dry island in a sea of sweet tea, one of the many ways the city differs from its Deep South neighbors, just like the po-boys and gumbo it washes down.
Knowing the local style is like knowing where you stand, so a change in standards can feel like a shift of the landscape. Order iced tea now, in New Orleans, and the next question may be sweet or unsweet, a seemingly helpful inquiry that grates on some locals.
Ah, but the broadening definition of the beverage here does not always bode well for sweet tea devotees. Is it proper sweet tea, or just tea with sugar packs dumped in it at the table, a misguided attempt at accommodation that misses the point?
Tea becomes sweet tea at conception, when sugar joins hot, just-brewed tea and the agitated molecules spin together. Its chemistry becomes part of culture.
Well, the taste for the New Orleans norm runs just as deep. Is the change inevitable, will waves of homogenization muddle our distinctive borders of taste?
To both sides I say, be true to your tea. Resist halfway measures. And if they let you down, remember, in New Orleans iced tea isn’t the only cold one known to cut through a hot day.