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Southern Sweet Tea (+Video)

Homemade Southern Sweet Tea is the house wine of the south. This recipe comes out perfect every single time thanks to a simple tip.

PERFECT SWEET ICED TEA EVERY TIME

Every gal in the south has their own way of making sweet tea. We’re pretty proud about it too. Around my house we like our tea strong and sweet. So if you ever have trouble getting your tea just right each and every time, give this recipe a try!

three small mason jars of sweet tea with lemon slices in them.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Who invented sweet tea?

As a Virginian, I am proud to say that the first known printed version of sweet iced tea was by Marion Tyree who lived not too far from my current hometown. Marion, of Lynchburg, Virginia, printed the recipe for sweet iced tea with lemon in her book, “Housekeeping in Old Virginia”. She initially used green tea and it wouldn’t be until a few years later that black tea would eventually be used. I’m sure many southern towns want to lay claim to sweet tea but she is credited for publishing the first known version of sweet iced tea.

Why is sweet tea popular in the south?

It is a well known fact that many northerners like unsweetened tea and southerners like their tea sweetened. In general, I think it is just part of the culture of each region. Sweet tea took off in the south and became a part of everyday life. It just never took off in the northern regions like it did in the south.

Why do you add baking soda to sweet tea?

You don’t have to add this ingredient if you are going to drink all your sweet day within a day that you made it. Tea only gets a bit bitter if it has been hanging out in the fridge for too long (more than a day) or if you let the tea bags soak for a bit too long. If you aren’t going to drink it that quickly, the baking soda is going to help it from going bitter too quickly if it sits in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.

Why so much sugar?

In our opinion this is perfectly sweetened. It’s what everyone I know loves and my tea pitcher is always empty minutes after I serve it at a BBQ. This recipe is more of a concept on how to make sweet tea so you add as little or as much as you like it. If you’ve ever had Chick-fil-A’s sweet tea then that is the sweetness level of this tea.

Can I substitute the sugar for other sweeteners?

You can substitute Splenda for the sugar, if you prefer.

Can sweet tea go bad?

Yes. It eventually gets a sour taste. The baking soda does help extend the life of the sweet tea but it will eventually “go off.” Sweet Tea is best consumed within the first 48 hours of when you made it. Keep sweet tea stored in the refrigerator.

a small mason jar of sweet tea with slices of lemon in it.

INGREDIENTS NEEDED: (FULL RECIPE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST)

  • family size tea bags – I prefer Luzianne or Lipton but use whatever brand you enjoy.
  • sugar – I have personally never made it with a sugar substitute, but as I said above, I am sure a 1:1 sugar substitute like Splenda would work. Please adjust the sugar to your personal preferences. This is just ours.
  • water – tap water works fine. If you have filtered water – even better!
  • baking soda – see my FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) above on why this is added. It is optional but I prefer to add it.
box of Lipton tea bags, baking soda, water and sugar.

HOW TO MAKE SOUTHERN SWEET TEA:

Boil only ½ gallon of the water on stove. Once water comes to a roiling boil, pour into one gallon pitcher. Add 3 tea bags and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (you don’t need to stir.) Set your kitchen timer (I use my microwave) for 15 minutes.

collage of three photos: boiling water being poured into a pitcher; three large tea bags added to boiling water in pitcher; a small bowl with baking soda being poured into same pitcher.

After 15 minutes, take out tea bags. Do not squish tea bags before taking them out, just let them drip for a minute. If you squeeze, you’re likely to get some tea leaves in your drink. Add sugar and stir.

collage of three photos: tea bags being removed from pitcher; sugar being added to pitcher, a straw stirring the sugar into the tea in the pitcher.

Add the other ½ gallon of cold water to the pitcher and stir again.

collage of two photos: cold water being poured into pitcher with tea; a large metal straw stirring the tea.

Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.

a pitcher of iced tea bring poured into a small mason jar with crushed ice in it.

CRAVING MORE RECIPES?

Originally published: January 2011
Updated photos & republished: July 2023

Southern Sweet Tea recipe from The Country Cook.

Southern Sweet Tea (+Video)

Homemade Southern Sweet Tea is the house wine of the south. This recipe comes out perfect every single time thanks to a simple tip.
4.97 from 53 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 16

Ingredients

  • 3 family size tea bags
  • 2 cups sugar (see notes below)
  • 1 gallon water, divided use
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

  • Boil ½ gallon of the water on stove in a pot. Once water comes to a roiling boil, pour into one gallon pitcher.
  • Add 3 family-size tea bags and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (you don’t need to stir) to the pitcher. Just make sure the bags are submerged in the water.
  • Set your kitchen timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, take out tea bags. Do not squish tea bags before taking them out, just let them drip for a minute.
  • Add sugar and stir.
  • Add the other ½ gallon of cold water to the pitcher and stir again.
  • Chill completely in the refrigerator for several hours then serve in a glass with ice.

Video

Notes

  • We like our tea sweet but you can certainly cut down on the sugar if you prefer.
  • This makes one gallon of sweet tea. 
  • Baking soda takes any of the bitterness out of your tea. It is great for other uses as well. If you are soaking beans overnight and are putting them in a pot to make the next day, add a small dash of baking soda to your pot before cooking. It keeps beans tasting their best.
Course: Beverages
Cuisine: American

Nutrition

Calories: 97kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Sodium: 29mg | Sugar: 25g

Nutritional Disclaimer

“The Country Cook” is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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