Southern-style Sweet Tea for Summertime

Picture of Southern-style Sweet Tea for Summertime
When I moved to Boston from South Carolina, I would on occasion go into otherwise-reputable restaurants and order sweet tea, just on principle. Most of the time, the server would give me a confused look and say, "I can bring you sugar with your iced tea..." and I would then explain how proper sweet tea is made.
It's dead-simple: make tea and put the sugar in while it's hot, then cool and ice it. That's all. Maybe some mint, maybe a bit of lemon.

But some sort of magic happens, and you end up with a pitcher of this beverage about which poems are written, which brings to mind slow lazy sitting-on-the-porch days and gracefully sprawling oak trees, which prompted legislators in Georgia to try to pass a law decreeing that any restaurant that offered iced tea on the menu had to offer sweet tea.

God rested on the seventh day, but early in the morning,
before the sun strained into the Southern sky,
she made sweet tea from scratch. She boiled the water
in a black kettle, put in the orange pekoe bags
and let them stand as the water perked, and then
she did what gods know what to do: she heaped in the Dixie
Crystal sugar while the brew was still warm as the day.

- From "Sweet Tea", by John Lane
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iggy1124 years ago
Made this for the first time tonight; filled up 3 mason jars with it, but one of them is only half a jarful at this point. :D Thanks for the 'ible!
Wesley6664 years ago
In Canada, we just call this iced tea. There is no such thing as iced tea without sugar, it always has sugar. But I always forget when I go to the US for vacation! Cool Ible though! :)
Project D4 years ago
My girlfriend would love you for this. She's from Florida, and we had the whole discussion about sweet tea vs. sweetened iced tea. On a visit back to FL, she got a sweet tea and handed it to me, saying "Here, *THIS* is sweet tea!" I remember taking a sip, handing it back and saying, "You're right, this isn't sweetened iced tea, this is sugary s%&t in a cup that dentists created to drum up business." I like my sweets, but DAMN this stuff is like sugar water!

GREAT story, though.
hogey744 years ago
We largely missed out of this whole iced tea thing in Australia until recently. Which is kind of surprising because tea is popular and the weather is hot. Now you can buy it in bottles but like iced coffee, I bet you can make your own better than the bottled stuff. I am going to give this a try! Then I am going to sit out on the verandah (porch to you guys), sip iced tea and talk like forrest gump. Lol.
As much as I love sweet tea, and thank you for this instructable, I must now label you as one of ~those~ jerks. :p

I worked at a restaurant in Maryland, just south enough that our more southern customers liked sweet tea, just north enough that we didn't have any. I absolutely hated when customers asked for this. IT IS NOT ON THE MENU! "Fresh Brewed Iced Tea." Like exactly every other cr@ppy restaurant, it was brewed just warm enough to become tea. What makes a customer think we have it, or that it's even possible for something that needs to be brewed and sweetened while still boiling, and then cooled? Even our hot tea was served as hot water with a tea bag. Still not as bad as the assumption that we had raspberry ice tea (plus I have the same problem with that as people who get diet coke, thinking it's better for them). At least I understood the difference and instead of "I can bring you sugar with it," I said "we only have unsweetened; the best I can do is..."

Still not gonna stop me from making a whole gallon of this ;) Made a jar of this the other day. Better than the McDonald's stuff, or worse, the Arizona stuff.
reno_dakota (author)  LilithAvalon4 years ago
*laugh* I won't argue; that's totally me. I did try not to do it too much, at least. Just when I was feeling homesick. :)
Ah, ok. At least you have the excuse of being several states away, lol.
Awesome! I was just thinking to myself "I wonder if there's an Instructable for sweet tea..."

I have a whole box of tea (20 bags?) that I got from the USO for free. It's been pretty warm lately so I didn't want to drink it hot.
I'll definitely try this.

(I'm from San Diego so the only "sweet tea" I've had has been from McDonald's.)
 i always use my pom glass for my iced teas :o)
lil jon1686 years ago
my stepmoms tea is da best small boiler 4 lipton tea bags 2 cups of DIXE CRYSTAL sugar put in picher add sugar fill up with FILTERD water
o yea u steep on high till boiling
darkinertia6 years ago
i found something that you might like


im about to buy one...its just an awesome idea all around! but i dunno if i have much use for them, i have strict rules with tea that i go by
gingerj1236 years ago
If you add the sugar to the water before it boils the tea will not be cloudy.
hilary0077 years ago
I cheat ''- I put water and heaps of sugar in microwaveable pyrex measuring cup. Microwave - stir - wave until it dissolves. Add to pitcher of tea bags and warm water. (If using a glass pitcher place a metal spoon in first to catch the heat)

Set in sun and when the color is dark enough for you --- add ice. We drink so much in the DEEP SOUTH (Displaced Texan) it makes up quickly!

I love your technique and the love you put into making a truly fine brew.
I wanted to say a big THANK YOU.my wife's grandma passed away in 07 & I have not had a real glass of sweet tea sence.from what I remember that is the way she made it.but I could not think of how to do it,until now.thank you. and grandma B would be happy 2. lol
reno_dakota (author)  hilary0077 years ago
That works too. :) Thanks! It's been neat to see everyone else's recipes and tips for making sweet tea, too.
As a die hard fan of sweet tea I want to share the following tip. Anyone who makes iced tea has noticed that it will cloud up. To prevent clouding the Ph balance needs to be adjusted. Lemon's work fine in this role, if one likes lemon in their tea. I do not and after a great deal of experimentation found that small pinch of baking soda added to the tea will significantly reduce clouding. Also allow the tea to cool to room temperature before refigerating (or just add ice as needed).
HA! and they said AP Chemistry was a bad choice...
Then you'll want to investigate the tannins. They are formed in a condensation reaction as the tea cools including fluctuations in ambient temperature. The latter is why all tea eventually clouds up. The change in the ph balance either by adding lemon or a base such as baking soda significantly inhibits their formation. For reasons which are not well understood the formation of insoluble tannins (which account for the cloudiness and explains why it doesn't really affect the flavor) are also affected by the rate of cooling. The slower the cooling, the less cloudy the tea. This may very well account for the traditional crockery dispenser/.
diajoh7 years ago
There's a Burger King in Saugus, Mass, that has always served sweet tea. For the last 25 years or so, at least. If you like it, fine. I can't handle it. It's like syrup. But I thought if you're in Boston, you might as well know of at least one restaurant that serves it unasked. You can't get normal iced tea there, so it's a shock to non-regulars.
reno_dakota (author)  diajoh7 years ago
Hmm...that's good to know, even if the sweet tea at fast-food-chain places is usually made from scary syrups.
Never heard of fast food chains using syrup, all the ones around here (NW FL) use one of the large brewers, with either bags or filter and loose tea, then stir in the sugar as soon as it's finished brewing. BTW the Florida panhandle is considered by the rest of the state to actually be an extension of southern Alabama and not really part of Florida.
I dont consider south florida part of the south. Even though it's as far south as you can get in the continental US. case in point. I've been to the real south and I live in miami. Totally different. Its kinda sad
I didn't say anything about south Florida...Not arguing with you there.
zascecs6 years ago
I like this! Really cool.
I looooove sweet stuff! =D

By the way, check out my recipe too. Please comment on it.

Awsome tea!
I was just about to make MY version of sweet tea (all the other versions on this site are no cal, no sugar, Thai, and all that junk) , but I guess you beat me to it! This is almost exactly how I make mine, but I just put three or four teabags (Luzianne preferably) in to a container with about four cups of water, slap a small saucer over it, and put it in the microwave for five minutes and let it sit in the microwave for about 15 minutes, then I discard the teabags and pour the tea into a large pitcher and add the sugar, then add a little more water, stir and viola! Sweet tea south-east Arkansas style! I also agree on your Northern restaurant theory. Whenever I order sweet tea, they just look at me like I'm crazy or something.
I'm a south-western Arkansas gal and we make it the same. LOL I used to put 2 cups of sugar to a gallon, but now I've cut it down to 1 1/2 cups. :) My family of 5 goes through a gallon a day, year round.
wenpherd6 years ago
i like alote i was wandering if you cud make some mesermints on how muck suger to put in it sorry for teh bad spelling

Ice tea anyone I am in Canada and any Tea with ice is sweet.

they even have a powdered instant form

I'm from Canada too, but close to the border and our Canadian iced tea is quite different than Southern sweet tea. I'm very careful to never ask for "iced tea" when in the States - always "sweet tea"! Otherwise I get nasty stuff. =) Thanks to reno_dakota for this recipe! Both my BF and I like sweet tea and have been trying to find a good recipe - I'm going to try this one today!
Even in Texas, that is about what I thought of it. But in the South USA, sweet tea is kind of an artform not designed for diabetics. Kind of a super saturated solution of sugar in a nicely stout tea. ... I like the tea, but do without the sugar.
theophilus6 years ago
I am the 3rd farthest you can be from the south while still being in the US, but I like sweet things, and I like tea(if that doesn't count I'm sorry). I know i've used buckwheat honey to get a toasted grain/fresh bread flavor; it's really good
darkinertia7 years ago
hmm, im gonna have to try this some time, but i dont like any pre packaged teabags, cuz its mostly teadust, ill probably ease up on the sugar too cuz i drink tea with very very low amounts of sugar(stevia when i can)
Oooh, brown sugar? I think I'll have to try that. I tend to be the sort of girl who does the whole "have a little bit of tea with my sugar" thing. I've gotten better, but I occasionally get carried away and put everyone who drinks it into a sugar coma. That's just what I'm used to. Kentucky tends to have REALLY sweet tea. :P
By jove, that stuff should dissolve your teeth like sulfuric acid hitting a snail shell.
reno_dakota (author)  Dungeonbrownies7 years ago
This might possibly be my favorite comment thus far on this project. And, well, at least it's not Coke. ;)
Dee Dee Dee..... have you been to the Deep South? They really need better dental care. Actually as a deterrant to my kids we discuss this phenom at most places that serve carbonated sugar sodas. Sad but effective. LOL While I like sweet tea - I prefer not to drink it for just your reasoning... but sometimes the kids want it and compared to Kool Aide - at least it doesn't have the dyes!! AND we have a wonderful dental plan and visits are sans dental caries. ;-)
fiasco7 years ago
here's my simple quick recipe if you have very very hot tap water: 8-9 single tea bags(or equivalent if you use larger. 2-cups sugar(any will do, or splenda equivalent to 2 cups regular sugar) 1-gallon pitcher(plastic will work fine) put bags in pitcher, fill 1/2 way with very hot tap water. Let sit for 5-10 mins. Gently squeeze out tea bags and remove. Add Sugar, stir and fill with cold tap water up to gallon mark. tips: like less caffeine? most of the caffeine is release within the first min or so. for less caffeine in your tea dump water out after the first min and then refill with hot tap water again(may have to let sit longer though for the strength to build back up). Even plastic pitcher can be used and left out for some hours before being refrigerated(for up to about a day and a half), so don't let not having a glass pitcher hold you back. last tip, to make the simple syrups you in fact can dissolve 2 CUPS of SUGAR into 1 cup of water in saucepan over heat. put flavors in during the process and strain if needed(this can also be put into plain old carbonated soda water for an old tyme soda fountain-esque drink, about 2 tblsp to a glass or to taste) enjoy!
Oh wow, I bet with brown sugar it's just awesome! Great tutorial! I just moved to Kentucky from Texas and I'm amazed that people here don't know how to make proper sweet tea!!
reno_dakota (author)  aliceownsj007 years ago
Kentucky doesn't know how to make sweet tea? I'm surprised. Well, at least you have Waffle House there...
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