Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Solving For 'T'

The debate again turned ugly:
How much sugar is in the cafeteria's sweet tea?
I shared the picture late last year.
I've since had to actually set that image as the background on my phone since it is regularly submitted as evidence that there is "too damn much" sugar in the tea.
It is important to note that I do not drink the tea, anyway.
However, the row of cubicles I sit on is completely polarized by the issue.
If there was a project number associated with a heated debate about the amount of sugar per ounce in the sweet tea in the cafeteria, I would have had to bill at least six hours to working the issue last week.
We made a trip over to the building where the photo was taken and measured the shelf where the pitcher was sitting in an attempt to calculate the volume of the container.
And we did research into altitude's effects on sugar saturation in relation to the temperature of the tea in the photo. Freshly brewed, tea is hot. There have been unconfirmed reports, however which lead us to believe that this tea is actually from concentrate, which throws any attempt at math into the realm of pure conjecture. If the temperature of a saturated solution is lowered, the solution will become supersaturated and will tend to throw out the excess of sugar above the saturation point until the sugar solution reaches a new saturation point. Conversely, if the temperature of a saturated sugar solution is raised, the solution becomes undersaturated and will dissolve additional sugar until it becomes saturated again. When a certain amount of water is removed from the saturated sugar solution by evaporation, the solution becomes supersaturated, and the excess of sugar above the saturation point will crystallize, provided the conditions are appropriate. Such conditions are either a footing of crystal sugar or a degree of supersaturation sufficient to establish the grain spontaneously. Above the saturation point of sugar solutions, there are three zones; the metastable, the intermediate, and the labile zone. In the metastable zone, existing crystals grow but no new ones are formed. In the intermediate zone, new crystals are formed in the presence of existing crystals. In the labile zone, crystals are formed spontaneously without the presence of others.
My position has always been that the tea is super-heated before the dry sugar is added. The mixture is then added to an opaque container where it cools. The bottom of this container is, according to my theory, a forest of sugar crystals which grows larger with every batch of tea, slowly decreasing the amount of liquid which this container can hold.
We contacted the managers of both cafeterias to inquire about the amount of sugar in the tea.
While they work for different companies and from different cookbooks, the answer in both cases was "two cups of sugar per gallon of tea."
I refuse to argue over whether or not two cups per gallon is too much sugar in the tea. My case has always been that the volume of the tea container is shrinking due to the presence of tea-flavored rock candy in the bottoms of the carafes, while the sugar amount added with every fresh batch has remained constant with no regard to the relation to the factory-standard liquid volume of said containers.
Additionally, I maintain that the "two cups" added to the mixture every batch is, in reality, 16 ounces with no distinction made for the difference between liquid and troy ounces. Their two cups, converted back and forth from ounces, comes out to ~2.015 cups. This isn't scientific at all.
The tea-crafting process employs a technique which is repeatable at first glance, but impossible upon closer examination due to the ever decreasing volume within the sweet tea urn.
Most importantly, any argument at work which forces me to bring the science is a completely repeatable recipe for disaster.

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