Southern Sweet Tea or Sugar Coma Lollipops?

Dec 16, 2019 | Food

Can’t Complain

Don’t get me wrong: I love Popeye’s Chicken. I don’t love it when my neighborhood Popeyes restaurant gets my drive-thru order wrong, which they do about 70% of the time. It’s rarely so wrong it’s worth calling to complain or driving back to the store while the rest of the meal gets cold, but it’s not a great customer experience.

It was fairly late when I pulled up to the drive-thru. Definitely not rush hour.  I ordered a three-piece combo with unsweet tea. You have to say “unsweet” down here in the south, and clearly enunciate the “UN” – because “sweet tea” is the regional drink (debatably, it’s “Coke-Cola” or Southern Comfort, but nowhere else in the world do you have to say “Iced tea, no sugar!”) I should have tasted the tea the second they handed it to me, but the order-taker had confirmed over the speaker: “UN-sweet?” I took his understanding on faith.

The chicken was good, but not especially hot or flavorful. The corn overcooked; a bit chewy. And the “unsweet” tea – well, I’m not sure they could’ve dissolved another spoonful of sugar in it. Granted, southern sweet tea probably always tastes like that, and connoisseurs of the stuff can’t imagine drinking it any other way. Expecting unsweet tea, though, and getting a mouthful of slightly tea-flavored sugar water was a shock.

Popeyes Pops!

I wondered if I could make candy out of my iced tea. My husband suggested I use the lollipop molds I got last spring. Research suggests that a normal sized lollipop would contain about two or three teaspoons of sugar. I wondered what the yield would be from a single 20-oz Popeyes sweet tea.

I dumped the tea, ice and all, into a small sauce pot and turned the heat on high.

I let it boil while I ate my dinner. In the name of science, I added nothing at all to the sweet tea in the pot. After a while, it came to a boil and started to darken, slightly.

I am no expert at candy-making. I did not let it boil much past the soft ball stage, and I did not bother using a candy thermometer. I just let it go until I could rake the spatula across the bottom of the pot and see the thick, sugary syrup slowly fill in the gap.

I poured it into the lollipop molds, and let it cool. (I hastened things along with about 10 minutes in the freezer, so that I could more easily pull the pops out of the silicone mold:

The only thing that surprised me was the yield; I’d expected only about three or four lollipops. My husband guessed four. It might have been as low as four or five, had I let the solution boil a minute or two longer. But that’s still about one tablespoon of sugar per ounce of tea, if we don’t count melting ice.

The lollipops weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible, either. They were reminiscent of molasses. I’d reach for one of those before I’d reach for a full glass of southern sweet tea.

Sorry, Popeyes – it’s not you, it’s me. I don’t drink soda pop, either. But next time someone says “unsweet,” please make sure it’s from the pot that says, “Damned Yankees.”

 

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

17 Comments

  1. Mitchell Allen

    Oh my god. This hits so many nails on the head: customer service; repurposing junk food; over-cooked corn…chicken. Also Sweet tea.

    I remember the first–and last!–time I ever bought a bright yellow serving of corn on the cob from a fast food chicken joint called Church’s. I bit into it and felt as if I had shoved a mouthful of creamed corn down my throat. My reaction was similar to what you experienced upon tasting sugar in your tea.

    Customer service is horrible for my family. However, I don’t blame them, because we typically order for 5 to 7 people at once and I always manage to mix things up. Like trying to get a Whopper at McDonald’s! Add in the fact that we get all three flavors of shakes, two of the three sizes for fries and even I don’t remember what we ordered. Until I get home and someone asks, “where’s my Big Mac?”

    By far, my favorite thing about McDonald’s is the first bite of the Quarter Pounder, followed by a gulp of sweet tea. The second favorite thing is that I swore off that junk food, forever. I hate how my stomach feels after eating the whole sandwich.

    As for chicken, do you have Bojangles in Texas? Popeye’s was my favorite until I tasted Bojangles. Now, the only thing I want from Popeye’s is that lovely red beans and rice.

    High-five for making lollipops. I thought that was some cool kitchen science, right there!

    Cheers,

    Mitch
    Mitchell Allen recently posted…The World-wide EruvMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Just glad I didn’t hit my thumb with the hammer while multi-smacking nails for amusement of the board. It’s much less gory than killing two birds on one spit, or spitting on two birds in one oven.

      I love corn on the cob, and I’m lazy. I’ve decided that the best way to make corn on the cob is one serving at a time: rub a fresh, raw ear with butter, then roll up in parchment paper like a Christmas cracker and stick it in the microwave. Nuke on high for three minutes – no more, no less. Unwrap, salt and pepper to taste, and devour. It is piping hot, tender enough to eat, but retains a nice firm crunch.

      I have also ordered the wrong brand of fast food in the wrong restaurant. But when they’re all trying to outdo themselves to insist on me “having it my way,” I don’t see why they can’t walk across the damned street and get me the other guy’s special. They could tack on an upcharge. I wouldn’t blame them for that. And I hear you on that first bite of a Quarter Pounder! Lasts about three, for me, and the other seven or so are less enticing. The Whopper is the only thing I’ll eat that’s got mayonnaise on it, unless that Costco rotisserie chicken chicken salad – OMG, if that’s mayo, don’t tell me. I’d have gotten Sonic last night, too, if they hadn’t quit making Malts. A Chocolate malt is NOT the same as a regular Chocolate shake. If I’m going to drink a day’s worth of calories, at least make it GOOD.

      I have never heard of Bojangles. I’ll have to check. Nearest one to me is four states over – Alabama. Don’t think so, not when I have Churches, Popeyes, or Kroger’s (which, don’t laugh, maybe the best of the bunch when it comes to fried chicken your mama didn’t make). I have two culinary aspirations to fulfill this week: a gingerbread house, and authentic, homemade, not cornstarch-laden hot and sour soup. And I am soooooo procrastinating, on both counts. I really need to go out and do some shopping. I hate to go out and shop!

      The gingerbread house is the most bloggable. Not sure if you remember the one I made a few years ago, where I forgot which pieces were walls and which ones were roofing, but it really didn’t matter and I just pretended my stained glass windows were meant to be stained glass skylights? That was fun. Okay, off to find meringue powder. Or not. Screw it – pasteurized egg whites. I am not going on the annual futile search for meringue powder, now that I know egg whites will work just FINE.

      I will never be a great chef, but I wonder if it isn’t time we resurrect the ol’ Pinterest Fail?

      Reply
      • Mitchell Allen

        LOL at the thought of a McDonald’s employee “DoorDashing” across the street to get your Whopper. I’ve had supermarket fried chicken and, yes, it can be quite tasty. And cheaper than Bojangles!

        Have fun with your gingerbread house. I don’t remember the old one, though. Maybe you can post pictures of both?

        Cheers,

        Mitch
        Mitchell Allen recently posted…The World-wide EruvMy Profile

        Reply
  2. Linda husser

    I’m from north central Texas I didn’t learn about sweet tea until I moved to Louisiana. But I do as the Romans do I order it 1/2 and 1/2 like it sweet, but I don’t like it to take the roof off my head.. Have a merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Given Popeyes is from Louisiana, I’m not surprised it’s more of a Louisiana thing, but given I’m from all over, I don’t know where the Sweet Tea Line is! Never heard of the Sweet Tea Line? I hadn’t either, till a friend commented on Facebook with this link: https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/sweet-tea-line/ (Well worth a read, and will have you in stitches, especially if you’re #TeamUnsweet )

      Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      And hi. 🙂 It’s nice to see you over here, too, Linda!

      Reply
  3. Pat Stoltey

    Loved this post, Holly! I also cannot drink sweet tea, preferring my iced tea all year round to be flavored with a bit of peppermint but no sweetener of any kind. Not in a million years would I have thought of making lollipops from sweet tea though. Ingenious.

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Lemon (or lime!) and fresh mint are wonderful with tea.

      And thank you – the lollies started out life as a defense against anyone claiming my original draft of “enough sugar to gag a horse” was hyperbolic. 😉

      Reply
  4. Marian Allen

    Sweet tea! YUM! And I love, love, LOVE your nail polish! Color-changing, yes? I just ordered some from Live Love Polish. ANYWAY, I think it’s brilliant, to make lollipops to demonstrate the sugar content. I wouldn’t think tea lollies would be very tasty, though. Maybe GREEN tea. But you be you. Happy solstice, and happy Anti-Hot Solemnities!

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      They’re a lot like molasses with a hint of tea. Better that sugar water trying to pass for tea! Hmmm… Green tea and honey lollies could be tasty. So could the gingerbread house that’s actually next on my list of holiday experiments. Do wish you lived closer, we could make a play date of it!

      Yes, the mail polish is color changing. DND, something beige to cool grey. The beige is about the only shade of pink I can stand, and I’m a little hooked on it at the moment. I’ve temporarily given up the purple in favor of something more demure. It’s a gel, so I can’t do it myself.

      Happy Solstice and Happy Anti-Hot Solemnities to you, also!

      Reply
  5. Rajlakshmi

    You are a very patient woman. Messing up order is the worst. Mostly because I take so much time to order something. Like frustratingly long time 😅
    Love your creativity in making lollipops out of sweet tea. People are very conscious of their sugar intake these days. If they keep messing up I wonder how long they will be in market.
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…Musings under a dystopian sunMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Popeyes is very popular. They can mess up a few times, as long as they keep making great fried chicken and are nice about it. It’s just frustrating, but then I mess up, too. Don’t we all? It’s a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things. Might be the one tiny grain of sand that finally gets in your shoe and has you rip it off to empty it out, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen in a day (if it is, count that as a GREAT day!) My culinary experiment over the last two days has been a total bust, so there’s that to keep me humble! Fortunately, I don’t have small kids to disappoint, and I’m still blogging it. (Runs to see if the old pinterestfail domain’s still up for grabs!)

      Reply
  6. Shinjini

    I always imagine sweet iced tea to simply – well, cold tea with some sugar. But slightly tea-flavored sugar water – yikes!! Now I know what never to order if I ever find myself in that part of America!
    Shinjini recently posted…The Visioning workbook is here!My Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      I just don’t like sugar in my tea at all – not hot, not iced. I rarely drink sodas (can’t resist those new “mix your own” dispensers that are popping up in theatres, though – seriously, raspberry-vanilla-orange-ginger ale should be a thing.

      Reply
  7. Shalzmojo

    Slightly tea flavored sugar water sounds terrible to a tea love and I empathize wholeheartedly with your plight. Hats off to you for thinking to make lollypops out of it – I would have just chucked it away!!
    Shalzmojo recently posted…#BookReview-Tin Man by Sarah WinmanMy Profile

    Reply
  8. Corinne Rodrigues

    Oh sweet Lord! 😉 No one but you would do this experiment, Holly! I wonder if you can get this post sent to Popeye’s and see what they have to say.

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      I think I tagged them with it on Twitter. No response. What can they say? Clever use of our tea? Pretty sure all sweet tea has this much sugar in it (I was surprised, since I never drink the stuff, but no one who does was surprised and most guessed a HIGHER lollipop yield! They know, and they still drink it.) But yeah, this experiment and post is so… me. LOL I should thank them for dropping this opportunity in my lap.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…Culmination of the Quest (Part Two)My Profile

      Reply

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