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Sweet tea has always been the nectar of the South

Plopped down in a restaurant in the supposedly Southern city of Charlotte, N.C., the proclamation came as a shock to me.

"Sweet tea, please," I said to the waitress taking our order.

"We don't have sweet tea," she replied briskly, glancing up from her pad with a defiant look.

"Excuse me," I said, in that tone of voice that strongly indicates I am about to become a smart aleck. "You don't serve sweet tea? In Charlotte?"

Though I learned in acting class not to overact, I did. In great exaggeration of my dismay, I stretched my neck, dropped my mouth and widened my eyes. Then I punctuated the scene with a crazed shake of my head.

The waitress was immediately and visibly chagrined by my tone and drama. She raised an eyebrow indignantly and straightened her shoulders. She pushed a wisp of hair behind an ear and then she spoke.

"No, we don't." She narrowed her eyes. "I'm not from the South so I don't understand what the big deal is about tea with sugar in it."

It was my turn to be indignant. I lifted an eyebrow and straightened my shoulders. Dramatically, I replied, "It is the nectar of our people."

Right then and there, I just about came undone. I mean, I've come to expect tart, unsweetened tea in New York, Los Angeles and even in Dallas, but not in North Carolina.

I tilted my head and smiled smugly, my friend silently cheering me on. "I betcha get asked for it a lot." I winked. A smug wink, to be sure.

She tried to lie but I caught that look, the one that flickers across the pupils of someone's eyes as they prepare to unleash an untruth. "Not really."

She looked away. A liar never looks you in the eye immediately after the untruths are released.

I laughed. "Aw, c'mon. I know better than that. North Carolina is the barbecue capital of the world." This I know because I have a friend who was once crowned Miss Pork Barbecue. "Everybody knows you can't have barbecue without sweet tea."

She glared. I knew I had won the argument. "Do you want unsweetened tea?"

I lifted both eyebrows. "No." It was a firm negative. "I'll have water with lemon." A smirk sneaked across my face. "You do have lemon, don't you?"

She glared meaner. "Yes. And we have water, too." She flipped around and stomped off.

Now, I may be a bit of a wisecracker at times, but I'm also quite reasonable. So it occurred to me that if there was one eatery in Charlotte not serving sweet tea then maybe Southerners - at least some of us - are pushing back the ol' sugar bowl.

I decided to do an experiment of my own. At the next family gathering at my house, I prepared a pitcher of sweet tea as well as a pitcher of unsweetened. I even convinced myself that it was a gracious hostess gesture. After all, half of my family is always on a diet and two are diabetic. I should be considerate of that.

Here's what happened: Not one drop of unsweetened tea was swallowed. Not one drop. A complete waste of tea bags.

Scientific tests like this, though, need a backup. The next time the divas gathered for a gala luncheon was at Diva Tammy's house. She, too, had prepared a pitcher of both.

"Good!" I exclaimed, clapping my hands together and explaining about my scientific experiment. "Let me know how many drink unsweetened tea."

When the luncheon ended, Tammy lifted the pitcher, still brimming full. "Here's your answer. No one drank the unsweetened tea."

I know my people. I know them well. And, as I told that non-Southern waitress in Charlotte, "Sweet tea is the nectar of our people."

That's a scientific fact.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" and "The Town That Came A-Courtin'."