Late to Tea

Posted by Robert on June 6th, 2017

What do the creator of the first thesaurus Peter Roget, Colonel Sanders the inventor of the first fried-chicken franchise, and your humble columnist have in common?

We are all late-comers to the game. We are all late to the game.

Roget was 73-years old when he became the synonym king, Sanders was 65, bankrupt, and reportedly had to use his first Social Security check to open his first fried chicken franchise.

I wasn’t late to the restaurant game, as I started working in this business at the tender age of 20. I was sort of a late bloomer to this writing career. I wrote my first column at 39 years old (still three years younger than Alan Rickman when he landed his first movie role), and now, 11 books later, I am still 10 years younger than the Colonel when he began slinging deep-fried chicken in cookie-cutter kiosks.

No, I was late to the iced tea game. I was 18-years old when I had my first sip of iced tea. As a devout Southerner, that is a rarer deed than finding someone who attended Harvard or Yale who doesn’t mention their alma mater within the first 45 seconds of meeting him or her. Most southerners’ first taste of iced tea is in their baby bottle.

My brother and I grew up drinking milk for meals. It’s just the way it was done in my family. My grandmother served very formal lunches and dinners every week where iced tea was served in sterling silver goblets with a sprig of mint floating on the top. At those meals, my brother and I had milk.

I drank my first glass of iced tea because I was broke.

In the summer of 1980, I was working on a landscape crew, and a glass of iced tea was always included in the meal price at the meat-and-three café where the guys ate lunch. A soft drink would have been one dollar more, and I couldn’t afford that. I wasn’t a fan of the taste of iced tea, but I was hot, dirty, and thirsty, and it was cold, sweet, and free.

So, after several dozen glasses of iced tea for lunch in the summer of ’80, I moved to back my long-term love affair with carbonated soft drinks. That bubbly dalliance lasted for more than two decades. I never drank tea again until I was in my early 40s.

I don’t remember when I started drinking iced tea with a fervor, or what set that change in motion, though— as I do with most things in my life— I dove, head first, into an icy Olympic-sized pool of green and black tea, and I’ve been doing the backstroke on ice cubes ever since.

I love iced tea. I drink it almost exclusively these days. When I am away in Europe I miss several things about the United States and my home in Mississippi. Iced tea would be one of the top five.

I take mint in my tea when it’s available, but it’s not a prerequisite. Lemon, on the other hand, is essential, and the more lemon the better. I can drink tea sweetened or unsweetened, and with or without lemon. But, in a perfect world, I am drinking a glass of unsweetened iced tea with about six or seven lemon sections squeezed into it, with a little added sweetener. I am a child of the south, and iced tea is THE beverage of the south.

This lemon thing is serious. When I order iced tea in a restaurant, I say, “I would like a glass of unsweetened iced tea with an obscene amount of lemons on the side.”

It’s not always easy to get a lot of lemons with an iced tea order. Several years ago, I started asking for, “half tea, half lemonade,” and that is where I stand today. Many call that drink an “Arnold Palmer,” after the famous golfer, who first ordered it at the bar after a round at the U.S. Open in 1960. A woman overheard his order and asked the bartender to make her, “that Palmer drink.”

According to Arnie, the perfect mixture is three parts unsweetened iced tea and one part lemonade. So, what I order is not technically an Arnold Palmer. I drink a half and half. Though I don’t find it coincidental that the drink was officially created around the time of my birth.

I drink a lot of iced tea and lemonade. Seriously, a lot. In a restaurant, I usually order, “half iced tea and half lemonade, please.” If they don’t have good homemade lemonade, I ask for a lot of lemons and am just as happy.

I always say, “half tea and half lemonade.” 99% of the time, the person will say, “Oh, an Arnold Palmer.”

I don’t take the time to say, “Actually, according to Arnie, a true Arnold Palmer was three parts unsweetened iced tea and one part lemonade.” I just say, “Yeah, that.”

Several years ago, I broke ranks and finally ordered it as an “Arnold Palmer,” instead of saying half tea-half lemonade, and the server said, “What’s that?” I went back to ordering half tea, half lemonade.

Friends who know me well know that my go-to on-the-go beverage is an Arizona Ice Tea Arnold Palmer Zero (no sugar, no calories) in a 23-ounce can.  I always prefer homemade iced tea from my refrigerator at home, or from a restaurant (though all iced teas at restaurants aren’t equal), but for just sheer on-the-go ease, those Arizona Arnold Palmer Zero’s in the can are handy and tasty, they travel well, and they fit in the cup holder of my truck.

The Arizona Arnold Palmer Zero (no sugar, no calories) is hard to find. The regular sugared varieties and “light sugar” versions are easy to find. I buy them buy the case and have them shipped to my house and office. But I know of only two places in town that sell the Zero, and I’m not telling you where those are, because I need to protect my supplier and their limited stash.

I don’t know what type of tea Roget or Rickman drank, likely hot tea.  Odds are high that Col. Sanders drank his share of iced tea.  When I started writing professionally, I told myself, “I’ve lived 40 years, now I’ll spend the next 40 writing about it.”  That’s sort of the way I feel with iced tea- I lived four decades without, now I’m going to– God willing– spend the next four decades enjoying every sip (and with an obscene amount of lemon).

View today’s recipe: Robert’s Summer Ceviche


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