The hottest cold drink this summer may surprise you because it isn’t the usual fruit juice, soft drink or lemonade. Its iced tea and its growing popularity at home as well as at full service and fast food restaurants is evidenced by consumers’ thirst-quenching preference for fresh-brewed, flavored, exotic and specialty teas over more traditional beverage choices.

In the past decade, more varieties of iced tea have become increasingly available and consumers have been experimenting with the wide array of choices. For some, tea opens up a new world of flavors where creativity has no bounds, fueling the tea trend and allowing consumers to find tea in unexpected and exciting new places. Helping to fuel the iced tea explosion are expanding supermarket and menu offerings that include flavored teas that are made with spices, juice, fruit or other flavorings that are served up in creative, eye-appealing ways.

We all know the story of how iced tea came to be. Richard Blechynden, a young Englishman, had traveled from Calcutta, India to exhibit teas from the Far East at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. But the weather was stifling hot, and fairgoers were uninterested in the hot tea that Mr. Blechynden was peddling. Pure desperation led him to experiment by pouring the tea over ice, and by the end of the fair, iced tea had become very popular.

America is unique in its tea consumption habits in that approximately 40 billion of the 50 billion cups – or 80 percent — consumed in the United States each year are over ice. Tea is the second most commonly consumed beverage in the world next to water. In the Southern states, residents enjoy what they call “sweet tea” as part of Southern hospitality.

June is National Iced Tea Month, which makes it an ideal time to raise a glass in celebration of this cool, versatile, calorie-free beverage. So whether your taste buds prefer sweetened, flavored, spiced or just plain brewed, enjoy the delicious, refreshing taste of iced tea as the perfect summertime drink.