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Steep Progress

Tea has never been hotter in North America, but it often comes at a high price for laborers

At the end of a recent feast at Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans, I ordered a cup of hot tea and was presented with an elegant silver kettle filled with an intoxicatingly aromatic lemon meritage brew. Another notable meal enjoyed not long ago at Fixe in Austin began with a tableside steeping of their house iced tea, a black tea and fruit blend customized for them by a local “tea guru.”

Tea has been a cherished beverage in the Eastern Hemisphere since the third millennium B.C., but didn’t make its way to the U.K. until late in the 17th century, where it enjoyed immediate popularity. Another two centuries later, Southerners in the United States began drinking theirs sweet and iced, but not until recently has tea appreciation started to spread throughout the rest of North America. These days, it’s not uncommon to find Earl Grey in your cocktail or learn that your fried chicken was brined in the stuff.

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