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Area tea drinkers, unite!
Whether you sip the beverage hot or iced, brewed or instant, sweet or plain, now is the time to stand up and be counted, because June is National Tea Month.

According to the University of Maryland College of Medicine, archeological evidence suggests that Camellia sinensis, or tea, was being consumed as many as 500,000 years ago. Botanical evidence indicates that India and China were among the first countries to cultivate tea. Tea comes in three varieties: Green, black and oolong; the difference among the three lies in the processing.

Although the history of tea drinking indicates the beverage was usually served hot in other countries, iced tea has its roots firmly planted in American soil.

Linda Stradley, Texas author of "I''''ll Have What They''''re Having - Legendary Local Cuisine," says green tea was the popular choice for early American tea brewing, and that black tea began replacing green tea as the preferred cold brew after 1900.

"The oldest sweet, iced tea recipe in print comes from a community cookbook, ''''Housekeeping in Old Virginia,'''' by Marion Cabell Tyree, published in 1879," said Stradley. "The recipe reads as follows: ''''Iced 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 till 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.''''"

Stradley''''s research indicates it was at the 1904 World''''s Fair in St. Louis that iced tea was popularized and commercialized.

"Due to the hot summer of 1904, people ignored any hot drinks and went in search of cold drinks, including iced tea," said Stradley. "Because of this, it changed the way the rest of Americans though of tea, thus popularizing iced tea."

Aside from iced or hot, another division in the tea wars involves drinking the beverage plain or presweetened. Tahlequah is considered by most standards part of the South, and presweetened tea is primarily a southern tradition.

Darlene Hawzipta, Tahlequah resident, won''''t drink tea any other way.

"Sweetened tea is the best," said Hawzipta. "It just has a better flavor. I make my tea presweetened by the container. First I brew it and let it steep, then I pour in into a container filled with ice and sugar."

When Hawzipta eats out, however, she ends up using packets of sugar after the tea arrives.

"You can''''t find sweet tea at any of the restaurants here in Tahlequah," said Hawzipta. "I end up having to use table sugar after my tea comes to me. Muskogee has a couple of restaurants that offer tea presweetened, but I haven''''t found one in Tahlequah yet."

Packaged, pre-brewed tea has also gained in popularity recently. Glenn Stafford, manager of the Tahlequah Reasor''''s, said the local grocery carries several varieties of pre-brewed teas.

"We carry Red Diamond iced tea in the refrigerated section of the store," said Stafford. "One of our vendors offered it to us, so we took it. The sweet variety of that one sells really well."

Stafford said Red Diamond tea isn''''t as sweet as you would find in, say, Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi, but it offers people on the go an alternative to brewing their own sweet tea.

Did you know?

Tea is grown in thousands of tea gardens or estates around the world, resulting in thousands of flavorful variations. Like wines, each tea takes its name from the district in which it''''s grown, and each district is known for producing tea with unique flavor and character. Tea is also divided by grades, determined by leaf size. Smaller-sized leaves are used in tea bags, while the larger sized leaves can be found in packaged loose tea. Herbal teas do not come from Camellia sinensis, but are an infusion of leaves, roots, bark, seeds or flowers of other plants. They lack many of the unique characteristics of tea and are not linked with the research on the potential health benefits of traditional teas.

Tahlequah Daily Press,USA Teddye Snell, Press Staff Writ


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