Sugar, Sugar or Honey, Honey?

There are many things that separate Northerners from Southerners, but the way we drink our tea has to rank near the top of the list of differences.

If you were born below the Mason Dixon line, it is assumed that you drink sugar in your tea. Lots of sugar. And, for the most part, your tea is iced tea, not hot tea. Some folks who drink hot tea in the south will put honey in it, but not sugar.

Most Northerners I’ve met prefer their tea unsweet. None can really give much of a reason for their preference, just that, like Southerners, that was how they were raised.

Northerners also tend to drink their tea from fancy china cups or nice mugs. Southerners have no problem drinking their tea from a jelly jar. If you have to ask what a jelly jar is, you likely are from the north.

I grew up on tea made by people who lived through World War II. From the amount of sugar they put in their tea, I can only assume that after all of the rationing they had to tolerate in the 1940s, they made up for any sugar they couldn’t have by putting it in my tea in the 1960s.

I learned early that a good barometer of whether sweet tea is made properly is if you can feel cavities developing before you finish the glass.

Good tea required at least four of the big Lipton bags, boiled in a pot on the stove until the last possible amount of tea was purged from the leaves. The big Pyrex measuring cup would then come out and two heaping piles of Imperial Pure Cane Sugar were added. A nice vigorous stir was the last step before pouring it into a large glass pitcher.

What I loved about the sweet tea of my childhood is that the same people who wouldn’t let me have candy would put the equivalent of 13 Snicker Bars into one glass of tea. I guess as they say, irony can be sweet.

A few years ago, a family member was diagnosed with diabetes, so I made every effort to cut back or eliminate sugar to avoid their fate. Shortly after my decision to cut out sugar (which didn’t last, but that’s another story), a friend of mine took me to his favorite chicken restaurant. This was a place owned and run by true Southerners.

When I asked for unsweet tea, everyone just stopped and looked at me. It was kind of like one of those scenes in the movies where the cop goes into the biker bar and everything, including the jukebox, just stops.

“You want what?” the girl asked.

“Unsweet tea,” I said.

“Now, why would you want that?” she said as she turned her head to one side and raised an eyebrow.

They didn’t even sell unsweet tea. No diet sodas, either.

I thought about her question and realized that she had a valid point. I ordered the sweet tea to wash down my fried chicken and I didn’t melt or evaporate. Everything turned out just fine, and the tea was darned tasty.

I’ve never met a person who didn’t have an opinion regarding whether tea should have sugar in it or not. The question almost rivals the debate of beans or no beans in chili.

Not quite, but almost.


©2015 John Moore

For more of John’s musings, visit


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