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.
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.”