Although Americans drink copious amounts of iced black tea, few know the origins of this country’s most in-demand beverage. Iced tea is so popular that it is often referred to “America’s National Drink,” and dates back to the 1830s. Regional foods expert, Linda Stradley, chronicles recipes for cold green tea punch, heavily laced with alcohol, in American and British cookbooks from the early nineteenth century.
As the country emerged from the devastation of the Civil War, 1884 saw recipes for cold sweetened black tea in the Boston Cooking School’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking. Additionally, an 1890 newspaper article in the Nevada Noticer describes over 800 gallons of iced tea served to a gathering of Civil War veterans at a picnic in Nevada, Missouri. Such accounts of iced tea were numerous as the innovative twentieth-century dawned.
The young country was finally on its feet financially and able to play host to the 1904 World’s Fair at St. Louis, Missouri. Among exhibits from all over the world displaying their wares, a young English tea grower, Richard Blechynden, set up a glamourous and colorful booth with exotically-turbaned Indian servers steeping fine Indian black teas. Hired by an association of Indian tea growers to promote teas from the different regions in India, Mr. Blechynden tried to serve the delicious cups of hot tea. However, he found few who were interested in the steaming beverages as the mid-western summer sweltered under intense heat and humidity. Despite his best efforts and premium Indian teas, his promotion appeared doomed.
Whether inspired by his own need to cool off or some amazing marketing muse, in a move that was to inspire a multi-million dollar industry, Mr. Blechynden packed glasses with ice and poured his black teas over the cold crystals. It was a fortuitous act that change the course of tea consumption in America and saved the day for the young entrepreneur, as Fair visitors flocked to try this novel new drink. Historically, Americans had been green tea drinkers, but found this new, cold black tea so enticing that its popularity quickly spread throughout the nation, persisting to this day as America’s most beloved drink.