Seeing the mysterious, long-lived camellia sinensis bush up close, and checking out the pole-barn operation that produces “American Classic,” the official tea of the White House for the last 30 years, helped me see this brew in a new light.
The plants at the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, S.C., originally arrived on a shipment from China in 1799. They’ve been transplanted a couple of times, first from a plantation owned by a family that produced a member of the First Continental Congress, a governor, senator, and ambassador to Russia, then to a neighboring plantation run by a biochemist who won first prize for his oolong tea at the 1904 World’s Fair.
What we’ve been drinking since we got back from South Carolina is black tea. But it turns out that green, black and oolong tea all come from the same tea leaves. The only difference is how much time they spend on the oxidation beds.
Scientists attribute different health characteristics to all three types – everything from possible protection against heart disease, certain cancers and dental plaque to an alleged metabolic boost.
But even if turns out that all these health claims are exaggerated, or later proved false, I’d been drinking WAY too much coffee. Time to change things up a bit.
One thing I’m not going to do is take up drinking sweet tea, however. While on Wadmalaw Island, we got a look at a replica of the giant container that was used to mix up the World’s Largest Sweet Tea last summer. The 2,524-gallon drink contained 210 pounds of tea – and 1,700 pounds of sugar, for a total of more than 3 million calories.
Apparently the recipe McDonald’s uses at some of its restaurants uses even more sugar – a pound per gallon, according to several web posts I saw from people claiming to have done time at the Golden Arches. Given that a pound of sugar has 1,775 calories, and a large 32-ounce soft drink is one-fourth of a gallon, that would suggest that a large sweet tea from McDonald’s has 443 calories, rather than the 280 listed on the McDonald’s website.
As my husband the numbers guy pointed out, it’s possible that some restaurant operators set their own sweet tea formula, opting to use more sugar to get more people hooked on their tea. But whichever number is right, that’s an awful lot of calories in a drink that could be healthy, thanks to all those antioxidants.