85% of tea consumed in the United States is consumed as iced tea, according to Wikipedia. This is quite a departure from tea culture in the rest of the world. Aside from America, Canada, and Thailand, the majority of the world drinks it’s tea hot. In China, until recently, when Lipton broke into the market, tea is consumed hot, even in the summer. In India, tea is traditionally served not only hot, but hot and spiced. And in Japan, tea is served hot regardless of season. Why, then, do American drink so much iced tea? There are a few possible reasons, which all likely worked together to give us our unusual tea culture.
The first has to do with climate. For much of the history of the world, refrigeration was difficult. In 1803, the first ice boxes were patented. This meant that it was possible to cool about a cubic foot of space in the summer. However, in order to do so, you needed access to ice. This means that refrigeration was only possible in places which freeze in the winter, and only desirable in places which are warm in the summer. Iced tea might not have caught on in large portions of the world because it was impossible to make.
It is also entirely possible that iced tea was popularized as a trend started by a single man. This man was Richard Blechynden. The year was 1904, and it was absurdly hot at the World’s Fair. Blechynden was trying to offer people delicious hot tea, and quite literally could not give the stuff away. However, once he chilled it, people flocked to his tent in pursuit of the cold beverage. It is a popular misconception that this was how iced tea was invented, but there are references to it in cookbooks from more than 20 years earlier. However, when Blechynden started giving away cold tea at the world’s fair, he saw a ripe marketing opportunity. He started giving it away at department stores, as part of a massive marketing campaign. By 1917, tall, heavy bottomed glasses were generally called iced tea glasses, and were ubiquitous in most homes.
This happened just in time, as in 1920, prohibition came. This country was largely a beer drinking country. While it was still possible to enjoy a cold beer during prohibition, it wasn’t something casual and relaxing to do particularly publicly after work. Therefore, the cold working man’s beverage during prohibition became iced tea, rather than beer. This may explain why places where the temperance movement was strongest, which is to say, the deep south, is much more attached to iced tea than more northern states.
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