What North Carolina Transplants Might Not Know: Nothing Says Southern Like Sweet, Sweet Tea

What North Carolina Transplants Might Not Know: Nothing Says Southern Like Sweet, Sweet Tea

New to the Triangle?  You aren’t alone. These days, Raleigh is one of the nation’s top transplant destinations. Relocating is exciting, but it can be a challenge as well – there’s so much to do, so much to learn and so much Southern sweet tea to drink.

sweet tea is an NC staple.
Image courtesy of Pexels from Pixabay

Connecting with a new place takes more than learning road names and grocery store locations. To really integrate into the community, you’ll need to understand the how and why of its culture. Understanding those cultural essentials makes all the difference.

Southern sweet tea is fundamental – at every meal.

Put tea on the top of that essentials list. But not just any tea. We are talking about sweet tea. And nothing says “Southern” like sweet, sweet tea.

It’s red-brown goodness in a great big tall glass. Served up sweet-sweet-sweet, over lots and lots of ice, Sweet tea is the staple of church suppers, homes and eateries across North Carolina.

If you witness someone adding sugar to their sweet tea, they’re not from around here. Sweet tea is sweetened when hot, so that the sugar will dissolve in the cup and be perfectly integrated by the time the drink is chilled, served and poured over ice.

Southern sweet tea is a staple in the south.
Photo courtesy of Uni Six from Pixabay 

A Little History

Marion Cabell Tyree is credited with the first published recipe for sweet tea. Her recipe appeared in 1879, in the cookbook Housekeeping in Old Virginia. Sweet tea was originally made from green tea, but in the 1900s, black tea had become the standard base of the southern staple.

Sweet tea bill: restaurants must have it – or it’s a misdemeanor.

In 2003, the Georgia General Assembly introduced House Bill 819. HB819 determined that ” Any food service establishment which serves iced tea must serve sweet tea… Any person who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.” Later on, it was provided that the bill was an April Fool’s joke, but it serves as a testament to how seriously the South takes sweet tea.

Transplant Lesson One: If you want hot tea – you’ve got to ask.

A coffee drinker, I never paid much attention to tea. And as a new arrival to Durham, I still paid none to it. That was a mistake.

The first time my mom came to visit, she ordered tea with dinner. You should have seen her face when the waitress came back with that big frosty glass. Confused doesn’t even begin to describe it. Lesson One: This is the South, and nothing says “Southern” like sweet, sweet tea. If you want hot tea, you’ve got to ask for it.

My suggestion? If you haven’t already done so, go ahead and try a glass of sweet tea. Chances are you’ll be looking for a refill.

Better still, try making your own sweet tea at home.  You‘ll need a large pitcher , some black tea (pick a brand made especially for iced tea) and sugar.  You might experiment a bit with the sugar-to-water proportions to find which amounts suit you best.

Southern Sweet Tea Recipe


  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • 4-6 black tea bags
  • 1-2 cups sugar
  • 6 cups cold water


  • First, bring two cups of water to a boil, and then remove the pan from the heat.
  • Add the tea bags to the hot water. Cover the pan and let the tea steep for 10-15 minutes.
  • Next, discard the tea bags and slowly poor the sugar into the hot tea. Stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.
  • Now pour the hot tea into the pitcher, then add the cold water. Refrigerate until the tea is thoroughly chilled.
  • Finally, serve up your tea in a tall cold glass over plenty of ice. Optional: add a slice of lemon to the glass just before serving.

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