July 10, 2017

A Brief History of Iced Tea

Most tea historians, rightly or wrongly, attribute the “invention” of ice tea to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis when iced tea was popularised and commercialised. The summer of 1904 was a particularly hot one and drove many fair goers to shun hot drinks in favour of colder drinks, including ice tea. But was ice tea only “invented” in the early twentieth century?

Historical cookbooks tell us that tea has been served cold as far back as the early nineteenth century when it was called “tea punches” rather than ice tea. Historically ice teas, or tea punches, were made with green tea rather than black tea. Tea was then primarily used to dilute the liquor filled punches and hence the name. In that sense, these old historical ice teas had more in common with the modern day Long Island Ice Tea, which is an alcoholic drink with no tea whatsoever, than with contemporary ice tea, which we enjoy alcohol-free on warm summer days.

As you might expect, iced tea’s popularity mirrored the development of refrigeration. By the mid-1800s cooling devices such as the ice house, the icebox (refrigerator) and the commercial manufacture of pure ice were becoming more widely available. The term “refrigerator” was used for the first patented ice box in 1803 and were common in the mid-19th century in the United States.

How to make iced tea, in the 19th century

Present-day cookbooks and internet website are full of contemporary ice tea recipes. But have you ever wanted to try some of the ice tea recipes our great-great-great grandparents might have enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon? Below are some that date back to the late 19th century and early 20th century. Why not give them a try?

Mrs Lettice Brynon shares her tea punch recipe in the 1839 cookbook, “The Kentucky Housewife:
Tea Punch – Make a pint and a half of very strong tea in the usual manner; strain it, and pour it boiling (hot) on one pound and a quarter of loaf sugar. (That’s 2 1/2 cups white sugar) Add half a pint of rich, sweet cream, and then stir in gradually a bottle of claret or champagne. You may heat it to the boiling point, and serve it so, or you may send it round entirely cold, in glass cups.”
Another ice tea recipe from 1879 comes from Marion Cabell in “Housekeeping in Old Virginia”:
Ice Tea – After scalding the teapot put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea.  If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast.  At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea strainer into a pitcher.  Let it stand until tea time and pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.”
The final 19th-century ice tea recipe is passed down to us by Mrs D. A. (Mary) Lincoln, director of the Boston Cooking School, in her 1884 book “Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking.” Makes for some very practical reading even for a modern day chef!
Ice Tea or Russian Tea – Make the tea by the first receipt, strain it from the grounds, and keep it cool. When ready to serve, put two cubes of block sugar in a glass, half fill with broken ice, add a slice of lemon, and fill the glass with cold tea.”


A traditional American South ice tea recipe from the early 20th century comes from Mrs S.R. Dull which she shared with her Atlanta Journal readers in 1928, in the Home Economics section. Her recipe remains popular in the Southern United States to this day:

“TEA – Freshly brewed tea, after three to five minutes’ infusion, is essential if a good quality is desired. The water, as for coffee, should be freshly boiled and poured over the tea for this short time . . . The tea leaves may be removed when the desired strength is obtained... Tea, when it is to be iced, should be made much stronger, to allow for the ice used in chilling. A medium strength tea is usually liked. A good blend and grade of black tea are most popular for iced tea, while green and black are used for hot . . . To sweeten tea for an iced drink-less sugar is required if put in while tea is hot, but often too much is made and sweetened, so in the end, there is more often a waste than saving... Iced tea should be served with or without lemon, with a sprig of mint, a strawberry, a cherry, a slice of orange, or pineapple. This may be fresh or canned fruit. Milk is not used in iced tea.”

Some of our Favourite Current-Day Ice Tea Recipes

If you are not feeling adventurous enough to try some of our forefather's ice tea recipes here are some modern-day ones and tips on how to make your homemade iced tea from tea bags.

Summer Classic Orange Ice Tea

A perfect healthy alternative if you are looking to lose weight or detox over the summer, as it uses very little sugar when compared to most commercial iced tea brands available today!


  • 6 organic black tea bags
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 10-15 sprigs of fresh mint
  • 300ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 sliced orange
  • 1 lime juiced
  1. Make the tea with 1 litre water and the sugar while warm to dilute. Add fresh mint and infuse for a further 10 mins. Strain the mixture and a leave to cool.
  2. Pour into a jug, stir in the orange and lime juice and serve with freshly sliced orange, mint and plenty of ice. Add strawberries to garnish and maybe a cocktail umbrella or two

Pomegranate and Lime Iced Tea

(Source: myrecipes.com)


  • 8 cups boiling water
  • 8 organic green tea bags
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 3 limes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Pour the water into a heat-resistant pitcher or large glass jug
  2. Add the tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes
  3. Remove and discard the bags and allow the tea to cool to room temperature before refrigerating
  4. Add the pomegranate juice, limes, and sugar and pour over ice

Iced Fruit Tea - the perfect iced tea for a summer garden party!

(Source: myrecipes.com)


  • 8 regular-size tea bags of your favourite organic fruit tea
  • 3/4 cup white (or brown) sugar
  • 1 navel orange, sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 3 cups ginger ale, chilled
  1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium size saucepan
  2. Remove from heat and add the tea bags
  3. Cover and steep for at least 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags
  4. Stir in sugar until dissolved; add orange and lime slices
  5. Cover and chill 2 to 6 hours in the fridge
  6. Stir in ginger ale, and serve over lots of ice
Top Tea Tip: For any of the above recipes try using organic black, green or herbal teas. Rooibos or Honeybush, especially are great substitutes as they not only are naturally caffeine free but most importantly never go bitter no matter how long they are left to infuse.

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