For decades, whenever someone ordered an iconic root beer float, the question arose: Drink the root beer and eat the ice cream separately, or stir it all together into a smooth, fizzy mix?
Ann Higgins now hears the same question at her Sweet Tea Bar, located at the back of Scout Southern Market in historic Beaufort – and yes, you heard that right: a bar that features that most Southern of beverages, sweet tea, into which she will plop generous scoops of lemon, peach, strawberry or mango sorbet.
“I’d say 60 percent mix it together,” she says, laughing, “and 40 percent drink the tea and eat the sorbet.”
However one consumes it, the result is sweet, frosty and delicious – and, judging by its popularity with customers, an ongoing hit among Southerners and visitors alike. Although, Higgins says, many have questions.
“They say, ‘What are you doing to sweet tea?’” she says. “Or, ‘I never heard of that.’ And I tell them, ‘We (she and husband Corey) thought it up.’”
Higgins, a California native, moved from the West Coast with her husband, an advertising executive, and two children in 2013. “I’d had a store in San Francisco,” she says, and knew she wanted to open an all-things-Southern shop. “I embrace it all: the culture, the hospitality,” she says.
Her love affair with the South dates back two decades ago, when she drove across country from California to Savannah. “I had read ‘Beach Music’ (by SC author Pat Conroy),” she says. “I looked on a map and saw Beaufort was so close … and here we are.”
Looking for a way to stand out among other downtown Beaufort businesses, the Higginses started The Sweet Tea Bar inside their Scout Southern Market. “I knew I wanted a sweet tea bar, and we were trying to think of something unique,” she says. “At first we thought about infused teas, but then a friend (Kristin Gummier, also from California) said, ‘How about sorbet?’”
The bar stocks a variety of snacks, from sweets – macaroons, cookies, peanut bars and the like – to savory (pimento cheese and crackers, pickles), with plenty of “grab and go” items. But, she says, many customers “come only for the sweet tea. And a lot of locals bring their visitors.”
Scout Southern Market offers up not just tea drinks and foods, but other Southern-themed merchandise, too. Furniture, artwork, note cards, candles, home decor items and more – “from light fixtures to dill pickles,” Higgins says. She also caters children’s parties, serving up a special dessert bar for kids.
If it’s Southern, it’s here: peanuts, specialty paper products, throw pillows, plus an impressive collection of Southern cookbooks. There’s even a mobile of a pink-paper sailing ship hanging in the middle of the spacious store.
Still, what you want to know is: what about that sweet tea float? Well, a first taste presents tea’s sweet/tannic mix (order sweet, half-sweet or unsweetened tea), and then the creaminess of the sorbet kicks in. The sound of straws sucking up the last bit is a common one.
And what does Higgins' California family think? “They get it now,” she says. Her teenage son is into fishing – “he’s a Southern boy now,” she says – and her daughter also loves their new home.
And there’s the Higgins’ own contribution to the South, the sweet tea float. No matter how you drink it – separately or stirred and blended – it’s a treat that keeps folks coming back.
709 Bay Street, Beaufort