Did you know that Texas doesn’t have an official “State Drink”?
We have a “State Tree”, (Pecan), a “State Pie”, (also Pecan), and a “State Health Nut”, (also Pecan!). Note to self: Do NOT get crosswise with the Texas Pecan Lobby!
The Official State Designations are adopted by the state legislature from time to time. The earliest one I can find is the 1901 adoption of the Bluebonnet as the State Flower, (amended in 1971). Apparently, that was considered enough for almost three decades as the next official designation didn’t occur until the 1927 naming of the Mockingbird as the State Bird. Thereafter, things floated along with the State Song being named in 1929, (“Texas Our Texas”) and the State Motto in 1930, (“Friendship”). The lege must have been pretty busy with other things throughout the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s but since about 1969 naming “State Stuff” seems to have become a priority for our elected officials.
Even the State Nickname, (“The Lone Star State”), wasn’t official until 2015.
We now have a State Dinosaur, (Paluxysaurus jonesi), a State Small Mammal, (Armadillo), a State Large Mammal, (Longhorn – Hook’em), and a State Vegetable, (Sweet Onion – Gig’em). Altogether, there are now just over seventy Official State Whatevers.
But we still have no State Drink. That just seems negligent.
Dr (no period!) Pepper bills itself as the “National Drink of Texas”, but that’s an advertising slogan and not an official State designation. DP was famously created in a Waco drug store by pharmacist Charles Alderton in the the 1880s, and thus could make a pretty good case for the title of “State Drink”. But so far, no dice. (Note: As I write this, Dr Pepper Snapple Group has been acquired by Keurig, the coffee pod people.)
Big Red? There are those who suggest that no other beverage is acceptable when feasting on BBQ, especially East Texas style pork ribs. Those people also like “sweet tea”, but more on that later.
Some will argue that Shiner Bock Beer also has a legitimate claim. Shiner has been brewed in Shiner, Texas, (and ONLY in Shiner, Texas), since 1909. Except for Prohibition, of course.
The brewery was started by German and Czech immigrants who yearned for a taste of home. We can also thank our Teutonic ancestors for Kolache (and Klobasnek), Central Texas style BBQ and Chicken Fried Steak, but that’s a story for another time.
What about Lone Star Beer? Similar to the claims made by Dr Pepper, Lone Star calls itself the “National Beer of Texas”, but again like Dr Pepper, it’s just an advertising slogan. Let’s just say it’s “Too obvious” and leave it at that.
A friend suggested Frozen Margaritas. Maybe. A properly made Margarita, whether frozen or “on the rocks” is a thing to be admired. Delicately balanced and nuanced, what’s not to like? The problem is that so many of them are just plain bad. Too acidic, or sweet or watered down.
Thus, predicated on the wisdom of the fifty-something Texas summers in my rearview mirror, I suggest that there is only one serious contender for the title of State Beverage of Texas. Iced tea, (or as it is more commonly known hereabouts, just “tea”), is a wonderfully icy cold, amber colored glass of pure refreshment.
Tea has been cultivated and consumed in China and eastern Asia for at least 2000 years, first medicinally but very quickly thereafter recreationally. Even now, tea is commonly believed to have certain health benefits including providing the essential nutrient manganese, as an “antioxidant” and of course, as a mild stimulant due to its caffeine component.
There are many types of Tea commonly available but in truth, they are almost all the same variety - camellia sinensis. Green Tea, White Tea, Yellow Tea, Black Tea and Oolong Tea are all the same leaves. The difference comes in the way the leaves are picked and prepared.
Tea has played a prominent role in world history. In the eighteenth century, exorbitant taxes on tea caused colonists in the Boston area to attack a British merchant ship and heave bales of tea leaves into the harbor. That act of defiance became known as The Boston Tea Party and is considered a pivotal moment in the events leading to the American Revolution.
Brits took to tea so completely that there quickly arose a huge trade imbalance between England and China with hard currency flowing into China and tea flowing out. The ever-industrious Brits began importing opium into China from India while exporting tea out leading to the Opium Wars. Eventually, they introduced the tea plants to the Indian subcontinent in order to cut out the Chinese completely.
Of course, in Asia and in Europe and everywhere that Yankees live, “tea” is properly a hot concoction brewed to order and designed to be consumed in tiny porcelain cups with a pinky raised. In fact, the entire country of England shuts down every day at 4pm or something for Tea Time when everyone in the whole country stops whatever else they might be doing and has a “cuppa”.
The Japanese have the Chanoyu, a very solemn and choreographed ceremony for serving and consuming even tinier porcelain cups of tea.
Note that while Iced Tea may be available in many parts of the world, in most countries drinking tea cold is unthinkable - tea is to be consumed hot. In icier climes that may be a reasonable position to hold, but in Texas Iced Tea is almost a medical necessity. So although Iced Tea is very much a regional thing, that is exactly why it would be the perfect official State Drink of Texas.
In Texas, Tea is served in a very large glass, filled with ice and usually but not always, sweetened with either sugar or one of the several artificial sweeteners known affectionately as “Yellow”, “Pink” or “Blue”. It almost always comes with a wedge of lemon hung over the rim of the glass - even when you ask for it to be omitted. Lime is another frequent option, especially in TexMex joints.
Elsewhere in the Southern States, a restaurant drink order for Tea or Iced Tea will be taken to mean “Sweet Tea”. Sweet Tea is seemingly made from a 50/50 mix of brewed tea and simple syrup. While even civilized people, (like your humble correspondent), drink their Iced Tea sweetened with sugar, “Sweet Tea” is just a cavity inducing abomination that’s best left east of the Mississippi, but alas East Texans have been dabbling with it to go along with their pulled pork barbecue. As noted above, Big Red is similar in its cloying syrupy texture.
Another variation is the “Arnold Palmer”, a 50/50 mixture of Iced Tea and Lemonade made famous by … you guessed it… the even more famous golfer, Arnold Palmer. It too can be a terrific treat on a hot afternoon, but for an everyday drink nothing can beat a good old glass of plain old Iced Tea.
Unfortunately, a recent restaurant trend has been to outsource their Iced Tea making to third party operators. The most egregious examples are delivered to the site in a giant plastic bag, premade and utterly disgusting. Hopefully, Iced Tea’s elevation to State Drink Status will embarrass them to the point they improve their product. It’s so bad that I have quit even ordering Iced Tea in a restaurant. More often than not it’s just awful.
How I make mine:
About every other day, I put a whistling tea kettle of water on the stove to boil. You can use any old sauce pan to boil water but be careful not to spill.
While that’s working, I take an old carafe from a long-busted drip coffee maker and gather my tea bags. After years of experimentation, I have found a blend I particularly enjoy:
2 Family sized Decaf Tea Bags
2 Green Tea Bags
2-4 Black Tea Bags, (Or Orange Pekoe, White Tea, Oolong, etc. See note below)
1 Jasmine Tea Bag
Note: I do NOT like Pu-erh or Earl Grey Tea for Iced Tea - the flavors are too strong. I will occasionally add one flavored tea bag, generally Peach or Raspberry, but I really like the light subtle floral notes of the Jasmine. I gather up the string tabs and give the bags a spin. Otherwise, you tend to get one or two who want to take a dive when filling the carafe with the boiling water.
After carefully filling your carafe with the boiling water, just hang the string tabs over the rim and pop the lid on the carafe to keep them in place. You should let your tea steep at least three hours, but I usually let mine steep overnight. I’ve heard that causes more tannins to leech into the tea, but it seems pretty tasty to me. This makes a very concentrated tea that can be kept in the fridge and diluted when served.
To serve, I fill a Mason Jar with ice cubes. Then I’ll add plain water to fill about three quarters of the glass and fill the rest with my tea. Then I add a tablespoon or two of my proprietary sugar blend, (half Morena Pure Cane Sugar and half Turbinado Sugar), and pop on a yellow Duke’s Mayo lid and give it a good shake to dissolve the sugar.
It’s so refreshing on a hot Texas summer day. There’s nothing else that can logically be officially recognized as The State Drink of Texas.
But I’m open minded about it.