Sweet or Unsweet?


Dear Reader:

For true connoisseurs of sweet tea (who grew up in the south) the question of  ‘sweet or unsweet‘ is considered a sacrilege to all things held sacred about the south. There is no such thing as “unsweet” tea. Whoever heard of such a ridiculous connotation?

In David Lauderdale’s column “Don’t Be Stirring Up Trouble with our Sweet Tea” he interviews a Bluffton, SC barbecue man for his thoughts on the subject.

Bluffton barbecue man Ted Huffman’s words were as refreshing as a sweating glass of iced tea in late July:

“There is no reason to drink unsweet tea,” Huffman declared in our newspaper last week.

Erin Shaw had simply asked, “How do you take your tea?” And he went off, like a lot of people do when it comes to sweet tea.

“My generation grew up down South assuming that Jesus saves, Rock City is worth seeing and all tea is sweet.”

Sweet tea has become a symbol of what little is still right in this world…and for us sweet tea drinkers …we are utterly stunned by the very insulting question: “Sweet or unsweet?”

“Sweet or unsweet?” sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to those raised on the words of a steel magnolia: “Be sweet.”


A couple of years ago I was eating at the Barony House one Sunday with some friends and I couldn’t help but overhear a heated argument going on between a husband and wife sitting adjacent to me.

The waiter had asked both of them what they wanted to drink and the woman replied” Iced water” and the man declared “Sweet tea” and keep it coming…he was thirsty.

The wife immediately interjected that her husband would have unsweet tea and went on to give the poor waiter his whole health history ending with his latest diagnosis of diabetes 2.

The husband’s face started turning as red as a beet from 1) embarrassment and 2) mounting anger at his wife’s “big mouth” as he later addressed her.

The waiter parroted “iced water and unsweet tea” but gave the angry husband a sympathetic glance and whispered that there were real sugar packets mixed in with the “fake” stuff on the table.

The husband sighed at the waiter….“Yeah…but if you don’t sweeten it while it’s hot…it’s never the same.” The waiter nodded sadly in agreement and departed.

The husband then turned his attention back to his wife who was simmering too….”You know, Harold, the doctor told you to cut out sugar…you could lose a limb over your sweet tooth.”

Harold pounded the table and muttered “I will be glad to sacrifice my big toe to the southern cause if you will just stop telling everyone my business and let me drink my sweet tea in peace woman!”

The wife’s eyes glistened with tears and she excused herself to go to the restroom…the husband immediately signaled the waiter to make it sweet and bring it quick…the waiter winked and the drinks were served by the time the rather subdued wife took her place back at the table.

Harold apologized to his wife (while gulping down his sweet tea) peace ensued… and all was right with the world again…none  the wiser.


Lately I’ve been taking the middle road when it comes to tea drinking… which would make Aristotle quite happy: “Moderation in all things.” I ask for half and half with a lemon…and then usually whisper…”If you don’t mind…put the sweet on top.”

This worked fine until I had a male waiter one day who leered at me upon hearing my usual request…“So you like it sweet on top do you”…an easy accommodation I assure you.” He winked and leered again….while I fell out of my chair laughing…a southern man can turn any conversation back to sex…even a sweet tea conversation!

One “tea’ anecdote I heard recently was pretty funny and it was about tea tasting funny.

“When someone told my great-grandmother her tea tasted funny, she said, “Well then, drink it and laugh.”

Someone else remembered: “At Christmas, my mother would fancy up her iced tea by adding some pineapple juice.” (It was the only time it was allowed to be “tampered” with…)

…That anecdote reminded me of an incident that happened a couple of weeks ago to me at Mr. K’s Piggly Wiggly in Knightsville. I ordered  lunch to take with me from the deli and then I added that I would also like to get some half & half tea (with lemon) to go.

While the server was making the tea I was checking off my ‘to do’ list and not paying any attention. After I checked out and got back to my car I took a sip of my tea and slammed on brakes…what was this I was drinking?

I went back inside carrying the large styrofoam cup and asked the woman behind the deli counter what she had put in my half & half tea I ordered.

Why half tea and half lemonade…like you wanted…half & half.” 

I tried not to laugh…as she went on to tell me that ‘half & half” was her favorite drink too. Weren’t it good?

Actually it was…while still sipping away I had just come to that conclusion…that, not only was it not half bad, it actually was pretty refreshing. We learn something new every day.



* I now have one whole shelf, in my Happy Room, dedicated to Summerville and its ‘sweet tea’ history…I figured it was the least I could do to show my town pride.




…And I even added the historical coasters to my table setting.









If any one missed the CBS Sunday Morning special segment- a couple of weeks ago- on (‘Summerville winning a “coveted” award in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest sweet tea container)…I am including a link to it. It is a fun segment with lots of laughs. It made me proud to call Summerville my home.

​Let’s raise a glass to iced tea – CBS News

* Every time I look at this picture of Rutledge tasting his first sweet tea (and that tea was super-duper sweet) I have to laugh…so much sugar entered his bloodstream so fast his eyes were soon rolling back in his head. He had ‘died and gone to heaven.’

…And nobody was taking his container from him…as far as he was concerned he had won the Willy Wonka gold medallion! That tea must have tasted like the sweet tea served in the Governor’s Mansion …once described by an invited guest as:

“I’ve sipped tea from a stemmed glass at the South Carolina governor’s mansion, where it is famously so sweet a spoon stands straight up in it.”


So until tomorrow….When in doubt always choose “to be sweet“…because we make the world sweeter by doing so.

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

old-village-post-house-inn-44206* A big shout-out birthday wish to Ben and Vikki today…they both share  the same birthday! We are having a family Sunday brunch gathering at the Old Village Post House…always a great breakfast and good company.

* Tomorrow we will go back and address some of your wonderful comments about nature and shapes…round vs. square…they were great!



About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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2 Responses to Sweet or Unsweet?

  1. Johnny Johnson says:

    I love my sweet tea! I was born in St. Francis Hospital and have been here all my life and sweet tea is just a part of life in my family!


  2. Becky Dingle says:

    I agree…there are just too many memories associated with that drink to give it up entirely.


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