Posted on June 10, 2017
Some people claim that iced tea was invented in 1904, and first introduced to an adoring public at the St. Louis World's Fair.
The story goes that a tea merchant wanted to give samples of his delicious tea to visitors - hoping, of course, that they would want to purchase then or in the future HIS brand of tea. But the weather was hot in St. Louis that summer, and few of the fair-goers were interested in his hot samples. So the merchant poured the tea over ice, and voilà! The rest was history!
Or so the story goes.
Does that story seem very likely? Tea has been brewed for thousands of years, and from the early to mid-1800s, more and more people were discovering a love of iced drinks. Does it seem likely that it would take decades and decades for someone to try pouring tea over ice?
How can we know?
Food historians (and historians) often check claims against primary sources such as published newspapers and magazines. And, in this case, such a check has made it clear that iced tea was not invented in 1904.
In the September 28, 1890, issue of the Nevada Noticer newspaper, an article about a gigantic feast casually mentioned that 880 gallons of iced tea were served. They way this was mentioned with no fanfare in a list of other items served during the event suggests that readers had long know of iced tea - nothing revolutionary about it. And of course, that was more than a decade before the St. Louis World's Fair.
(You can read more of the Nevada Noticer article here.)
Like most stories, the iced-tea-invented-in-1904 story is probably partly true. I bet that a lot of people who may have heard of iced tea but had never tried it were introduced to the beverage at the World's Fair, probably in merchant's samples. And I bet that iced tea really boomed in popularity after that.
Remember, there were very few people who had ice makers in their homes until the mid-1900s or later; freezer ice makers (aka automatic ice makers) were introduced in 1953.
By the way...
I was reading about "the Ice King," Frederic Tudor, who had to work to convince people to even try cold or iced beverages. And I remembered that the first time I ever went to Europe, I found very few restaurants that served cold beverages - even beer and soda were served room temperature where we traveled. The last time I went to Europe (a couple of months ago), it was still challenging to get loads of ice in drinks, and it was even challenging (and costly!) to get regular old water (sometimes called "still water" because it doesn't have bubbles) at most restaurants. But beer and soda and water were most often served chilled. It seems to be partly dependent on the climate of the country (for example, more Spaniards want icy cold drinks than do Brits), and it might be partly dependent on technology and infrastructure (for example, restaurants that won't serve the water out of their taps for fear of bad taste or contamination ALSO won't serve ice made from tap water).
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