November 11, 2004

Taste Matters

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St. Louis, 1904. An English tea plantation owner and merchant named Richard Blechynden sampled his product to the public. But the St. Lunatics and or Nelly were probably around, which made the city dirty and hot, and consequently hot tea undesirable. So using a recipe he’d seen in some cookbooks, Blechynden found some ice, dropped it in the tea, and introduced America to iced tea. Soon, Americans began to drink gallons of it to suit their ancestrally English palates, and feel relief from the heat, especially in the Southern United States. Iced tea thus serves as a strong example of cultural adaptability, in juxtaposition to our other stereotypical habits like deep-frying everything. You can add what you like — Snapple does. But at the core, iced tea is always brewed from real leaves, and remains pure. So what does Long Island do with such a magnificent representation of our culinary history?

While the rest of us were content with tea, ice and maybe some lemon, those pesky Lawng Islanders were not satisfied with going to the beach, driving convertibles and wearing upside down headbands. They also needed to be drunk. So, what better way to make it look like you are a bunch of alcoholic tanning salon bums than to dump as much liquor as possible into one glass, add ice and call it iced tea? Beats me. Whether you live in the luxury of the North Shore (or Gold Coast, as the natives call it) or the poverty of the South Shore (or Hair Gel Coast), you can’t say no to your only contribution to the mainland besides Lindsay Lohan and her fantabulous rack. The beauty of Lindsay Lohan’s chest … I mean of Long Island Iced Teas is that despite having enough liquor to kill a small child, they more or less taste like iced tea. They’re also cheap compared with other, less alcoholic drinks. What more could you want? How about another one? Or two? I’m not buying, so knock yourself out.

I decided to do some more arduous fieldwork to establish myself as a true journalist, so I sampled one Long Island iced tea from each of our trendy bars in Collegetown. My findings come out next week in part two because after my second research sample, I became sidetracked. I don’t know if it was the air or the ten shots entering my bloodstream, but I found myself speaking with one of my drinks.

The Long Island sat in a glass by Dolce and Gabana, cocktail umbrella by Gucci, and a Burberry straw. “Forgive me, I look like shit,” said the drink. “I was wauking my dawg with a cup of cawfee, and my bf cawlled, so I totally had to tawk, oh my god, shut up!” “I’m sorry,” I replied, “I couldn’t understand a word of that.”

Me: Anyway, I’d like to start by asking, where were you born?

Long Island Iced Tea: Strong Island, duh.

Me: Thank you, but where specifically?

LIIT: It was in West Hampton. A bartender nicknamed “Bud” birthed me.

Me: Ahh. Did you have any siblings? Or were you an only child?

LIIT: I actually had two brothas: One was Long Island Water, which was vodka in a Poland Spring bottle, and the other was Long Island Apple Juice, which was a joke the bartender played on his friend.

Me: That’s a funny joke.

LIIT: Yeah, I laughed. His friend didn’t though.

Me: So, did you have a tough time growing up in a town with so many yachts and rich, white people?

LIIT: It was hard adjusting I guess. I mean, there were times when all of the other drinks would go and have fun with the customers, and I had to stay home because no one wanted me.

Me: I’m sorry. What other kinds of drinks are you referring to?

LIIT: Well, the ones that fit into the mold of high society: martinis, mimosas, gin and tonics, daiquiris, etc. And I was this tall, awkward concoction of cheap liquor. It was embarrassing. I cried a lot.

Me: So how did you cope with that kind of stress at such an early age?

LIIT: I ran away from home one night to find people that would appreciate me more I guess.

Me: But you’re a talking beverage. How did you move anywhere? You are liquid in a glass.

LIIT: Word of mouth, smart ass. (I then tried to take a sip, but the drink slapped me.)

Me: Touch