I used to work for the Georgia Renaissance Festival, although more specifically, I worked for the Peacock Tea Room at the GA Renaissance Festival. That job holds the distinction of possibly the (physically) hardest job I’ve ever had, but also the most interesting. I worked in full Renaissance garb, met people who travelled around working at the Renaissance festivals all over the country, and learned about orange spice sweet tea.
Being based in Georgia, sweet tea is a go-to beverage. We want it the normal ways, made from Lipton or Tetley or Luzianne black tea, with sugar mixed in as the tea brews. (In fact, in Georgia, there is legislation on the books to clarify what exactly “sweet tea” is, legally, and how restaurants are thus required to serve it.) That sweet tea (the legal kind) is like candy. It’s the kind of sweet that almost make you pucker your lips. Put a little slice of lemon and a sprig of fresh mint on the top, and you have got yourself a Southern experience.
But I worked at a Renaissance Festival. All the rules got broken. Our “sweet tea” was brewed with oranges and spices (like cinnamon, cloves, etc.). I have a feeling it was sweetened with sugar, but it might have been honey. Needless to say, people expecting legal sweet tea were disappointed.
This is to their detriment, because that orange sweet tea was awesome. And lately, I’ve been craving it. I was less into cooking back then, so I didn’t get the recipe, but this weekend, I set about trying to recreate it.
Orange Spice “Sweet Tea”
1 orange, zested and sliced
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
5-7 tea bags (black tea)
Honey, to taste (I used 1/4 cup, I’ll probably use more next time)
Muddle the orange zest, cloves, and allspice using a mortar and pestle until resembling dirty orange zest. Put orange zest mixture into a tea bag and twist to close.
Boil water in kettle until it whistles. Add tea bags, orange slices, orange zest tea bag, and cinnamon stick. Let steep at least ten minutes.
Pour tea through strainer into pitcher with honey. Leave the cinnamon stick in the pitcher, and refrigerate. Serve cold.
Next time, I’ll probably steep it longer, use more of the spices (I used not quite a teaspoon of each, so next time, I’ll use a full teaspoon or more), more cinnamon, and a bit more honey. But all in all, it’s light and refreshing. And because I live in Virginia, totally legal.
**Note: My fact-checker (also known as my mother) emailed me to tell me that the sweet tea law was never actually passed in Georgia. This, of course, has shaken my identity to its core, as I have glibly pranced about, claiming my home state had sweet tea legislation on on the books, for years. I shall stare at a wall, and drink my “sweet tea,” and think about the ways my life has been a lie.**