Sweet Tea

We’d been living in our new home just a week, but I was already itching to have company. Growing up in a family that had exercised hospitality frequently and lavishly from fancy dinner parties to pancake breakfast for two dozen, I always felt that a house wasn’t home until I’d had someone over. 

Problem: we’d only just barely got the two sides of our double wide glued together, and still didn’t have some important systems (like flush toilets) working well yet. Hospitality would have to wait. 

Then I heard a knock on the bottom of my door. (We didn’t have porch steps yet, either.)

I opened the laundry room door and looked down to see Joe, the trailer park handyman.

“Ya’ got any ice for ma’ tea cup?”

He held up a tall, blue plastic cup, the type you get the super sized sodas in. It was faded pale in spots and had dark brown grime in every crevice. 

“Do you want me to wash it first?”

“Woman! Don’t you dare warsh ma’ tea cup–I’ll whip yo’ rear end! That’s wheya the flava’ is!”

This was the beginning of my understanding of Joe’s religious passion for sweet tea. 

I first met Joe (not his real name) when we were visiting my in-law’s trailer park last summer. He is a rather worn out, scruffy character with a lot of curly, salt and pepper hair covering his head, his face and his tattoos. He had more gaps than teeth and such a strong, southern twang it required weeks of practice before I could get even the gist of what he said. He lived part time in lot twelve with his sister and her boyfriend and part time with his ex-wife and her husband.

Joe isn’t picky about his accommodations, as long as there is sweet tea. 

Joe doesn’t have a regular job because he hates working for stupid people (his words) and also because the US government has deemed him unworthy of a driver’s license. But these facts don’t do Joe justice. He’s a hard worker, diligent and very intelligent. He just doesn’t put any stock in trying to impress people. Joe is Joe, take him or leave him. 

Some days, with the aroma of hand-rolled cigarettes always about him, and his spicy vocabulary, it would be easier to leave him. But somewhere along the way, he must have decided he liked us just a little bit, because he began working for the park in an unofficial capacity, helping with plumbing and electric and getting the old backhoe to stop spewing hydraulic liquid. And like it or not, this gave me many opportunities to offer Joe hospitality.

Turns out he is one of the easiest guests I’ve ever had. I don’t have to issue an invitation–he just shows up at dinner time. I don’t have to tidy up or cook anything fancy–he’d literally chew me out if I went to extra trouble for him. All I have to do is share what we have…and learn how to make sweet tea. 

Sweet Tea Quote

Sweet tea is Joe’s fuel. He gave up alcohol years ago, and literally doesn’t drink water. He consumes three to four quarts of sweet tea a day, poured over ice in his sacred tea cup. The amount of sugar and caffeine in a batch of tea made to his specifications is an affront to all I have learned about nutrition. But I’m realizing that blessing a guest in my home is not about forcing on them what I think is best, but on learning to serve them where they are at. 

Making tea for Joe is hospitality stripped of all its pretenses and ulterior motives. There’s no satisfaction to my personal passion for nourishing the bodies that come to my table. There’s no acclaim to be gained from impressing Joe–we are his only friends. And I don’t even have the pleasure of joining him in a cool sip because caffeine keeps me awake.

Hospitality in its simplest form convicts and inspires me. I am moved to examine my motives for grand gestures and memorable presentations, even as I look for more small, simple ways to offer a cold drink to a stranger. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be a blessing. 

Joe's Sweet Tea
Yields 1
Joe's method for brewing tea would make my British grandmother roll in her grave. But the result is a whole gallon of strong, sweet tea that most southerners would give their left eye tooth for.Ā 
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Prep Time
3 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
3 min
Cook Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 8 bags black tea
  2. 1 gallon water
  3. 1 cup plus one teaspoon sugar
Make the tea concentrate
  1. Place 8 tea bags into a 3-4 quart saucepan with 2 quarts of cold water.
  2. Heat pan on high to bring to a boil.
  3. Once the water has reached a boil, shut off heat and add sugar, stirring till dissolved.
Make the tea
  1. Pour tea concentrate into a gallon container, then add two more quarts of cold water to the tea bags in the saucepan.
  2. Swish the water through the tea bags, and squeeze them with the back of a spoon to get all the flavor out.
  3. Throw away the tea bags and pour the tea water into the tea concentrate. Stir to combine.
  4. Cool on counter until room temperature, then transfer to fridge to finish cooling.
  5. To enjoy right away, pour tea over a tall glass of ice.
Notes
  1. Tea keeps for 4-5 days in the fridge. Joe says that extra teaspoon of sugar makes all the difference and don't you dare leave it out.
Adapted from Joe's Instructions
Adapted from Joe's Instructions
Grace Table http://gracetable.org/

 

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Trina Holden / Posts / Blog
Trina Holden is a modern-day gypsy, currently parked in Alabama where she and her husband encourage families to thrive through real food cookbooks, classes, and consulting. Together they homeschool their four children, drink gallons of raw milk, and dream of their next road trip.
  • Avatar
    Beth
    http://withlove-simplybeth.blogspot.com/

    You all are blessing me in mighty ways with what God places on your heart to share with us. So perfectly timed (God’s timing) with our desire to open our doors more. And first to go will be thinking I know what’s best for those that walk through my doors. Beautiful post! Blessings.

    December 17th, 2014 2:23
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    • Avatar
      Trina Holden
      http://www.trinaholden.com/

      Beth, thanks for joining us here!

      The desire to nutritionally convert my guests to natural sweeteners and the like is a passion of mine, but one I’ve had to set aside in order to answer the call to be hospitable. But I’m learning I can trust God for their nutritional needs as well as their souls, and I don’t have to ‘save’ them in either area. Such freedom when I let that go! Praying for you as you step out. The rewards of obedience are great.

      December 17th, 2014 14:15
      Reply
      02
  • Avatar
    Leah Adams
    http://www.leahadams.org/

    What a lovely post! I adore how you look beyond the exterior to the heart of Joe. Such a poignant reminder to me to do the same. Grace and peace.

    December 17th, 2014 12:41
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    03
    • Avatar
      Trina Holden
      http://www.trinaholden.com/

      Leah, Joe has taught me so much. I wish you could meet him–he really is a diamond in the rough. He’s helping me learn to see the heart behind the roughest exteriors we come across.

      December 17th, 2014 14:10
      Reply
      04
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    Robin Dance
    http://www.pensieve.me/

    I LOVE THIS, TRINA!!! LOVE IT! The *true* heart of hospitality is considering the heart of your guests–and Joe has taught you that very thing.

    “…blessing a guest in my home is not about forcing on them what I think is best, but on learning to serve them where they are at.”

    THAT will preach, friend :).

    (And get this…when I’m making tea for my people, I add even more sugar than Joe’s version. Mercy…it’s why I don’t drink it anymore…!)

    December 17th, 2014 13:14
    Reply
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    • Avatar
      Trina Holden
      http://www.trinaholden.com/

      You gave up tea, Robin????!!! LOL

      I’m new to the south, but I think I’m catching on. Thanks for your encouragement!

      December 17th, 2014 14:08
      Reply
      06
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    Sarah

    Thanks for sharing this story, Trina! I’m taking this message with me today: “Iā€™m realizing that blessing a guest in my home is not about forcing on them what I think is best, but on learning to serve them where they are.”

    December 17th, 2014 13:20
    Reply
    07
    • Avatar
      Trina Holden
      http://www.trinaholden.com/

      Sarah, it was a humbling lesson for me to learn, but it’s a joy to be able to share it with you. Blessings!

      December 17th, 2014 14:15
      Reply
      08
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    Linda@Creekside
    http://www.creeksideministries.blogspot.com/

    I am just loving each and every visit to this sweet site … I leave this table filled, satisfied, smiling.

    December 17th, 2014 15:37
    Reply
    09
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    Kris Camealy
    http://kriscamealy.com/

    Trina, I love this article. I’m so grateful for how you share this story of learning hospitality that serves your guests, in all its unfancy glory. This is beautiful friend. You are teaching me too.

    December 17th, 2014 17:54
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    10
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      Trina Holden
      http://www.trinaholden.com/

      Such a treat to share stories at this virtual table you have set for us, Kris.

      December 18th, 2014 14:30
      Reply
      11
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    Shelly Miller
    http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

    I love this story and the way you told it Trina. You have communicated the true heart of hospitality here. I couldn’t help but think of Si(gh) on Duck Dynasty and the way he carries his tea cup everywhere and doesn’t wash it. And I live in the land of sweet tea so I get this, I do.

    December 17th, 2014 21:09
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    12
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      Trina Holden
      http://www.trinaholden.com/

      Shelly, your mentioning Uncle Si made me laugh–for that is exactly who Joe reminds us of, right down to the exaggerated war stories and tea cup. Who needs TV? lol

      December 18th, 2014 14:29
      Reply
      13
      • Avatar
        Traci Rhoades
        http://www.tracesoffaith.com/

        Totally thought of Si too. Joe could really cash in if they ended up being relation šŸ™‚

        December 18th, 2014 16:17
        Reply
        14
  • Avatar
    Claire Printz (LemonJellyCake)
    http://lemonjellycake.com/

    Oh my! Your description of “Joe” brings to mind SEVERAL guests my parents have had over the years, most of them frequently repeating guests. They were the kind who would come at all hours, leave restaurant leftovers in our refrigerator, stay for what seemed like weeks. We were never a dinner party and invitations kind of family. šŸ˜‰ Loved this post!

    December 17th, 2014 23:35
    Reply
    15
  • Avatar
    Traci Rhoades
    http://www.tracesoffaith.com/

    I. Love. Joe. And we subscribe to the same mantra: It doesn’t have to be fancy to be a blessing. Thank you for blessing me with this article today, Trina.

    December 18th, 2014 16:16
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    16
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    Becky Daye

    Love this so very much, Trina!!! Thank you!!!

    December 18th, 2014 20:49
    Reply
    17
  • Avatar
    Deb Anderson Weaver

    I love this wise, simple truth: “Iā€™m realizing that blessing a guest in my home is not about forcing on them what I think is best, but on learning to serve them where they are at. “

    December 18th, 2014 22:25
    Reply
    18
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    Natasha Metzler
    http://www.natashametzler.com/

    Love this, Trina. And you. And sweet tea. šŸ˜‰

    December 19th, 2014 15:14
    Reply
    19
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    Nancy Smith
    http://wordsfromthehomefront.com/

    Trina, that’s exactly the way we made it when I was a kid with a mother from tennessee, but living in texas i learned to drink it without sugar- simply because sugar does not dissolve in cold iced tea. But I agree with Joe, it’s that extra teaspoon of sugar…. your ability to be hospitable is to be praised. Hospitality is not one of my gifts- i love to have people but i become obsessed with being perfect… thus lessening the experience for all. (unless it’s my kids- then they get what they get!) šŸ˜‰

    December 19th, 2014 20:02
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