I'm not much of a flag waver, except during the iced tea season.
In the summer when the ice cubes hit the tea, I am proud to be an American.
The United States of America leads the world in guzzling iced tea. Last year we, as one nation under Arthur Godfrey, washed down about 34 billion glasses of iced tea.
When you divide 34 billion glasses of tea by the number of people in America, 247,818,000, and then divide that number by 365 days a year, you come with, with . . . well, with more iced tea than they drink in China. Or Japan, or even Ireland.
Ireland leads the league of nations in hot tea consumption. Frankly, I think there is no hope that we tea-chugging Americans will ever catch the Irish in the hot tea stats.
Having been to Ireland, I know there are three reasons why the Irish drink so much hot tea.
Reason No. 1: It is always either cold or cool in Ireland, never hot. One sunny day on the Emerald Isle, I heard an Irishmen tell the tale of how just a few weeks before I arrived it was 80 degrees. This temperature, he said, was "terrible hot." And he told how everyone pulled off their wool sweaters and fled to the "strand," which is Irish for beach.
Naturally, when the weather is chilly, you want to drink a warm beverage, which gets us to reason No. 2 of why the Irish drink so much hot tea. Namely, the coffee there is generally awful. It tastes watery, as if it were made for Jack Benny, the tightwad comedian who would instruct his butler, Rochester, to make a "fresh" pot of coffee with the old coffee grounds.
The third reason the Irish drink so much hot tea is that loose tea leaves help them predict the future. After my Irish grandmother had finished drinking her tea, she used to stare at the leaves in the bottom of her cup and tell the grandchildren gathered around her that "A tall visitor is coming."
I try to carry on my family's tea-reading tradition. At the end of the month, I stare at the leaves in the bottom of my tea cup and predict "A fat credit card bill is coming."
I make iced tea from loose tea. This summer I began making iced tea with Black Currant tea. This is a tip I picked up from Marie Rama, a member of the Tea Council's propaganda squad.
The tea group is one of a number of food and beverage hit squads that roam the country descending on members of the eating press. The squads come armed with packets of information about their product, and have a pattern of attack.
First there was the lobbing of the fresh statistics. When the tea squad, for instance, tossed out the news that total U.S. iced tea consumption, including iced tea sold in vending machines, had climbed 3 or 4 percent from 1990, I wrote it down. I had never seen iced tea in a vending machine. But I wrote the stat down anyway. It was "fresh."
Then there was the "passing of insider information." The tea people told me that the correct way to pronounce "pekoe," as in orange pekoe tea leaves, is to rhyme "pekoe" with "echo." If you pronounce "pekoe" so that it rhymes with "Chico," then you are certainly not chic.
The tea propaganda squad also told me that if I wanted to make a non-traditional type of iced tea, I could use a "fruited" tea like black currant. Black currant is a blend of China and Darjeeling teas to which black currants have been added.
Two other bits of insider info: First use about 50 percent more tea when making iced tea than you would when making hot tea. If you don't, the ice cubes are going to dilute the flavor. This makes sense to me.
Bit No. 2: Iced tea was invented in St. Louis at a sweltering session of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The staff of the Far East Tea House couldn't get anyone to sample their tea until they put ice cubes in it. This makes sense to anyone who has ever sweltered in St. Louis.
A recent addition to the routine of the food and beverage hit squads has been the "dance around the health issue." Lately almost every food and beverage from grape jelly to green tea has been reported in some research somewhere as lowering blood cholesterol. Maybe.
Officially, members of the food and beverage hit squads are very careful not to make any health claims for their product and to agree that "more research needs to be done." Privately, their reaction to any question about the alleged health benefits of eating or drinking their product is "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!"
As for me, I drink homemade iced tea, brewed with loose tea, for several reasons, none of them having to do with health.
I drink it only in the summer, because the hotter the weather, the better the iced tea tastes.
I drink iced tea because when I make it and see the tea leaves in the pot, it reminds me of my Irish grandmother.
And I drink it to increase our national iced tea consumption average. Call me a patriot, call me old-fashioned. But when my country calls, I am willing to guzzle.