From the Ice King to the First Yeti to the Original Iced Tea

From the Ice King to the First Yeti to the Original Iced Tea

I’ve never cared for the ice cube machines on refrigerators. The ability to just press your cup against a lever and, with a hum and rattle, you have a glass full of ice. There's no magic to them. I’m an ice cube tray person through and through. Maybe it’s the Neanderthal in me but nothing beats a good twist of the old ice cube tray, the following snap, crackle, pop! or the slight burn of your fingertips as you pluck the imperfect cube from its holster.

Sometimes convenience pulls all the life out of, well, life!

But that certainly wasn’t the case before refrigeration was invented. Back when people had to collect giant slabs out of ponds and lakes, haul them back to town, then chip them down to ice cube size. It’s crazy to think that only 240 years ago, making a glass of iced tea was a touch more inconvenient than the mere twist of a plastic tray. But people did it. And there was no one better at it than Frederic Tudor, aka the “Ice King”.

It was the early 1800s, when the ambitious idea of harvesting ice from New England ponds and lakes and shipping it to warmer climates around the world, struck the Ice King. But making that idea become reality wouldn’t be easy.

First and foremost, he had to find suitable ice sources and develop efficient harvesting techniques. But logistically speaking, that was the easy part. Next, he had to devise methods for preserving and transporting the ice over long distances without it melting. The answer? The Ice King would need to create the first transportable Yeti cooler.

Now, I don’t have one of those either. My cooler is from Canadian Tire, a plastic bucket with a burgundy lid and all the dust and dirt it’s collected from BBQs & campsites since the 1990’s. But contrary to pressing a lever and having ice magically appear, the convenience of your ice not melting for a week is one I appreciate much more. As for the Ice King, he wasn’t just gunning for the same idea, it’s what he needed in order to get ice from Boston to the Caribbean.

He established icehouses and storage facilities in major cities along the East Coast and developed insulated cargo ships equipped with ice chambers for transporting ice to distant ports. A ship with an insulated compartment isn’t exactly a cooler you can carry, those didn’t come until the late 19th century after Tudor’s time, nonetheless, I’m counting it as the original floating Yeti.

With a way to transport ice to the Caribbean, you might think the rest is history, but as any entrepreneur knows, creating the product is only half the battle. Marketing that product is a whole other beast. Some have a knack for it, some don’t. And the Ice King? Well if he were alive today, let’s just say he’d have Gen Z doing some ice dance on TikTok that would give every skeptic a case of FOMO (fear of missing out).

In addition to free samples and the typical campaigns praising the virtues of ice, he commissioned paintings of people consuming ice in tropical climates. Palm trees swaying in the breeze, toes tucked in the warm sand, and an iced goblet of rum or sorrel tea in your hand. Can you see yourself basking in the Caribbean sun? Because people back then sure could.

When Tudor arrived to the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1806, locals gobbled up his frozen wares. And that was when the rest became history. Tudor’s ice harvesting empire continued to expand, and by the mid-19th century, he had become one of the wealthiest businessmen in America and earned himself the nickname the "Ice King."

But that still leaves one question unanswered.


Who invented iced tea or rather, what are the modern day origins?

Now, just like the origins of barbecue, we may not be able to definitively say when “iced tea” was invented. But we can make reasonable assumptions.

First, we know “coolers” aren’t a modern invention. The Greeks and Romans had insulated underground pits where they stored ice in order to preserve food and ancient Asia had icehouses. With tea culture extending for thousands of years in Chinese history, it’s reasonable to assume that some Emperor at some point during a hot and heavy Chinese summer, iced their green tea.

But, alas, without official documentation, we are left with more modern origins. And so I give you, Marion Cabell Tyree’s cookbook titled “Housekeeping in Old Virginia”, published in 1879. You can find her original recipe online, on page 64.

Or, if you prefer, here it is word for word.

“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 then pour into decanter, 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.”

So, at the very least, we know iced tea was happening in America in the 1870s. But there’s still no indication that it was popular. Unfortunately, at that point the Ice King wasn’t around any longer to get more pictures commissioned of people downing iced bevvies in non-tropical climates. Fortunately, there was another who took advantage in the summer of 1904 in St. Louis.


When did iced tea get popular?

Not so surprisingly, iced tea’s popularity largely coincided with the commercialization of refrigeration. Before then there isn’t much mention of iced tea being a main stay among the general public, either due to access/expense or popular culture.

The first household refrigerators began to appear in the 1870’s. By the early 20th century, mechanical refrigeration continued to grow and improve, allowing for the production of ice on a larger scale and reducing the reliance on natural ice harvested from bodies of water. And as all technological innovations tend to do, they gradually replace their “primitive” predecessors. In this case, the natural ice trade and the Ice King’s Empire. It’s a lesson every business need remind themselves of: adapt or be left behind. Just ask Blockbuster.

Gone are the Friday nights where you can browse the movie aisles for the latest releases, all while you breathe lungfuls of musty carpet and shoving handfuls of oversalted popcorn in your mouth. Like I said, sometimes innovations push convenience too far. But I digress.

So by the 1870’s the world had “icing” technology and iced tea had already been written in cookbooks, but apparently popular culture and iced tea still needed the “spark” that would weld them together. That’s said to have come in 1904 at the St. Louis World Fair, where fair-goers were getting scorched by one melter of a summer, folks. As the story goes, a tea salesman named Richard  Blechynden couldn’t sell his hot tea. Not until he pumped his supply through some chilled lead pipes and suddenly could provide exactly what every fair-goer desperately needed. Relief from the heat in the form of an iced tea with just a smidgen of lead-poisoning.

I kid. But that’s the story. It’s all thanks to the Ice King’s entrepreneurial efforts and the bold ambition to ship ice from Boston to the Caribbean. If he hadn’t popularized ice and revealed the market demand for iced bevvies, then innovations like ice cube machines in refrigerator doors and Yetis small enough to carry wouldn’t have been created when they had. And maybe, making an iced tea today wouldn’t be so easy.

Thankfully, it is. And now that we know who to thank for bringing iced tea into the world, we best know how to make a proper pitcher’s worth. Without the lead, of course.

What’s the best loose leaf tea for making iced tea?

While there are certain loose leaf teas that make for great iced tea, the so-called best all depends on your personal preference and the flavors you’re going for. Some people prefer the robust flavor of a traditional iced tea made with an Assam or English Breakfast blend. Others prefer a lighter glass with more grassy tones and decide a Japanese green tea like Sencha is for them. Other times it all comes down to the occasion.

What we can let you know, is what the standard loose leaf is for each type of tea and what we like to use at The Tea & Spice Shoppe.

Black / Estate Teas: Try single loose leaf teas like Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling or try black tea blends like English Breakfast. Our personal favorite is Irish Breakfast blend which produces a stronger cup and stands up to ice better.

Green Teas: The standards Sencha, Genmaicha, and Gunpowder, but don’t be afraid to venture outside the box. Both Silk Dragon Jasmine and Jasmine Dragon Pearls produce a delightfully floral cup that’s refreshing on a hot summer day.

Oolong / White Teas: Though not typically used for iced tea, they both work. Oolongs will produce a cup stronger than green teas but weaker than black, while white teas will produce the lightest of cups with floral notes.

Herbal / Rooibos Teas: If you’re relaxing later in the day, then these caffeine-free teas are the way to go. Chamomile, Peppermint, Honeybush, & Rooibos Red. Sweet, earthy, & refreshing. No one is better than the other. Herbals all come down to getting their benefits in the middle of summer whether its for detox, sleep, gut health, or boost metabolism. Its simply an added bonus that they taste as good as they do.

Fruit Teas: If you’re looking for a specific fruity pop then one of our 24 fruit blends will do the trick. Bahama Mama, Blueberry Bang, Cranberry Apple, Orange Creamsicle, Peaches n’ Cream, Raspberry Lemonade, Tropic Thunder. But if fruit tea blends just aren’t for you, then there’s always any of our flavored black, green, white, oolong, or rooibos blends.

  • Black-based Teas: Try Apricot Peach (Black), Icewine, or Pomegranate Lemon,
  • Green-based Teas: Try Bohemian Raspberry, Long Island Strawberry, Georgia Peaches or any of our Matcha blends.
  • Oolong & White-based Teas: Blueberry, Vanilla Coconut White or Oolong Berry Blend.
  • Rooibos: Try Almond Biscotti for a sweet & nutty iced tea or Strawberries ‘n’ Cream for, you know, a strawberries ‘n’ cream flavor.

When it comes to making iced tea, the rule of thumb is this: the world is your tea oyster. You can pretty much take any one of our loose leaf teas and create its iced version. And if you really want to liven your glass up, add a splash of chilled sparkling water. More often than not, it’s going to turn out great. Be bold. But trust your instincts. Icing Valerian Root or Lapsang Souchong might be a little risky.

Now, let’s take a look at how the world does their iced tea.


What types of iced tea are made around the world?

Thai Iced Tea

Thai iced tea, also known as Thai milk tea, is a popular beverage among all tea drinkers. A cup starts with strongly brewed Ceylon tea, often infused with spices like star anise and cloves before it’s sweetened with sugar and condensed milk. The result is a creamy tea usually served over ice.

You can create Thai iced tea using Ceylon Estate or our customer favorite, Kenilworth Ceylon, along with fresh star anise and cloves.


Japanese Mizudashi & Kōridashi Methods

The Mizudashi method of making cold brew tea has been practiced in Japan for several decades, although it has likely been used informally for much longer. It involves steeping tea leaves in cold water for an extended period, typically refrigerated for several hours or overnight, to extract the flavor gradually. But because the catechins and caffeine in tea aren’t extracted as easily in cold water, the Mizudashi method results in a smooth & mellow flavor.

Kōridashi is another cold brew method, but instead of using cold water, you use ice. By mixing high-grade tea leaves like Sencha with ice and allowing the ice to melt at room temperature, you extract the delicate flavors inside the tea while minimizing bitterness. The result is a smooth cold brew with a smooth finish. Relative to Kōridashi, the Mizudashi method is robust and has a fuller body.

Bancha, Genmaicha, Hojicha, Sencha, Silk Dragon Jasmine, grab any one of our Japanese green teas and give this refreshing summer drink a go.


Moroccan Mint Tea

Locally known as Atay B’naana, mint tea is a traditional beverage served both hot and cold in Morocco. It's made by steeping green tea leaves with fresh mint leaves and sweetening with sugar. The tea is then poured from a height to create froth before being served over ice.

It’s a revitalizing and energizing drink that’s so good it may become part of your daily ritual. You can create a Moroccan Mint-styled tea using Gunpowder, Spearmint, and a bit of sugar.


Indian Iced Chai

Chai, or spiced tea, is black tea is brewed with a mixture of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The brewed tea is then sweetened with sugar and mixed with milk before being chilled and served over ice.

Either grab your favorite Assam, along with some cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, or scoop up one of our ready to go chai blends like Coconut Chai Latte or Vanilla Chai, and give this iced tea a go.


Mexico & Latin America Agua de Jamaica

Agua de Jamaica, or Hibiscus Tea, is a popular beverage in Mexico made from dried hibiscus flowers (known as Jamaica in Spanish). The flowers are steeped in hot water with sugar, resulting in a tart and tangy tea that's served cold over ice. It's sometimes flavored with cinnamon, ginger, allspice, or other spices for added complexity.

You can find pure Hibiscus, Cinnamon, Ginger, & Allspice right here to create Agua de Jamaica for your next cookout.


Russian Mors

Mors is a traditional Russian berry drink made from fruits like cranberries, raspberries, or currants. The berries are simmered with water and sweetened with sugar to make a tart and refreshing fruit concentrate which is then diluted with cold water and served over ice. But don’t limit yourself to one flavor.

At the Tea & Spice Shoppe we have 24 fruit teas you can use to create a Mors-styled iced tea. From Blueberry Bang and Cranberry Apple to Mango Tango and Raspberry Lemonade, we have flavors both you and the kids can enjoy.


Tanzanian Tangawizi

In Tanzania, Tangawizi is a refreshing iced tea made with black tea infused with ginger. The tea is brewed and then mixed with freshly grated ginger and sweetened with sugar or honey. It's served over ice with a slice of lemon or lime for garnish.

At the Tea & Spice Shoppe, we just so happen to have the perfect tea to make Tangawizi. Grab yourself a bag of Tanzanian Estate tea, fresh ginger & honey and give this midsummer treat.

Whether you are an “ice cube tray people” like myself, who also secretly yearns for the musty smell of the old movie stores, or someone who kicks their feet up on their Yeti and fills their glass at the press of a switch, all I can say is that you now have the knowledge to appreciate and explore the world of iced teas.

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