Tea, made by steeping tea leaves in hot water, has existed in some form for more than 5,000 years. Iced tea, however, was invented only 200 years ago.
This delay was due primarily to the lack of refrigeration in earlier times. There was always plenty of snow and ice during the winter, but it was difficult to preserve ice through the summer months without a freezer. Ice had to be harvested in winter from frozen lakes and rivers, and then packed tightly in sawdust for insulation.
Many historians mistakenly believe that iced tea was first invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. However, variations of iced tea existed for more than 50 years before the Fair. Many English and American recipes for iced tea – back then, called “tea punches” – date back to the early 1800s. Typically, these beverages were made with green tea (not black!), ice, sugar, and either wine or champagne.
One later version, published in 1884, appears quite similar to today’s iced tea, calling for sweetened tea to be poured over ice, lemon, and sugar cubes.
Finally, a menu from the 1890 Missouri State Reunion of Ex-Confederate Veterans includes 880 gallons of iced tea. (Source: Agricultural History Series, MO State Univ.)
Clearly, iced tea was already well in existence before 1904. Yet it was in this year that it first became wildly popular – thanks to a merchant named Richard Blechynden.
The 1904 World’s Fair
The 1904 World’s Fair celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, which had occurred in 1803. Thousands of visitors from all parts of the world travelled to St. Louis to attend the various events, showcases, and palaces.
Among these visitors was Richard Blechynden, an English merchant, who hoped to popularize the black teas he had imported from India. Much to his dismay, when the day of the Fair came, the weather was blisteringly hot and humid. No one was interested in buying hot tea on such a sweltering day.
Trying not to panic, Blechynden suddenly noticed a delivery of ice blocks at a nearby food stand. A flash of inspiration struck him.
He hurried over, purchased several blocks of ice, and set his assistants to work swinging ice picks. After enough ice was broken up, Blechynden began filling glasses with ice chips and brewed tea, creating an improvised version of iced tea.
His creation was a huge success! Quickly, a long line began forming outside his tent. Everyone wanted an ice-cold beverage to cool off in the heat.
Iced Tea Today
Following the 1904 Fair, Indian tea imports rapidly grew in popularity, with black tea replacing green in American iced tea recipes. Ever since, iced tea has been hugely popular in the United States – today, more than 80% of all tea consumed in the U.S. is served cold!
Here at Culinary Teas, we offer several teas that make for delicious cold brews.
Organic Texas Iced Tea Blend
The world's greatest organic tea blend for brewing world famous Texas iced tea. Brew a pot for you and yours today. Enjoy y'all! Click here to purchase
Cape Cod Iced Tea
Beaches, sunshine, sand in your toes. Cape Cod Iced Tea makes us think of all of those things. Smooth, with fruity tones, this tea is perfect for summer picnics. Click here to purchase
Elderberry Energy Herbal Tea
Packed with whole fruit and Vitamin C, this is a tea to drink for vitality and energy. The hibiscus adds a tart dimension to the blend, which makes it very refreshing and full of Vitamin C. The rosehip chips add a mellow smoothness to the tea along with even more Vitamin C. The currants give the tea a very distinctive character – black for fruitiness and red currants for 'bite' and tangy flavor. Finally, raisins give it a natural sweetness. Click here to purchase