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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 54 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

YouTube 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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70 Comments

  1. Anonymous- baking soda helps to take out any bitterness in the tea. 🙂
    Jeanette – I am just so happy to hear that. You know, I hesitated to share this as a recipe because I thought everyone is so picky about how they make their tea and no one wants another tea recipe. But then I had a couple of friends ask me how I make mine, I realized that some folks might want to know but don't always think to ask. So that's why I shared. I am so happy it turned out good for you! ~Brandie

  2. I've made this a few times now, in fact I'm making some right now 🙂 I grew up in Michigan and was not aware of sweet tea, but fell in love with it when I went on vacation to the South. Thank you for posting the recipe so that I can make it myself 🙂

  3. I use this same recipe to make Sweet Tea. I am not from the south, but we lived in Georgia for a few years where my kids learned to love sweet tea. They were always begging me to make it so I found this same recipe on food.com

    One day I had a friend over (a life-long Georgian) made fun of me because I had to follow a recipe to make sweet tea and then said it was the best tea she'd ever had!

  4. 'Just wanted to check back in and let you know I made the sweet tea today!
    I used 5 regular Lipton hot tea bags and 1 cup of sugar (I only have a 2-quart container).
    HUGE hit! Mommy group loved it, and so does my husband.
    Many, many thanks. I have a feeling I will be making it again and again.
    :0)

  5. Hi Bree It really depends on the brand of tea you are using. Different types of teas come in different strength levels. If you are using regular-sized Luzianne tea bags, I would say use about 5 regular-sized bags. But keep in mind, not all brands are made alike. Some are a bit weaker in taste than others. I'm not usually real brand-loyal with most products but with tea – you want a good full-flavor. So if you can't find Luzianne, I would suggest Lipton tea bags that are made for iced tea (not the cool brew bags) but the ones specially made for iced tea. Hope that helps! 🙂

  6. What if one does not have "family sized" tea bags?
    About how many regular tea bags would I need to use to get the same result?

    My husband LOVES sweet tea, but I have never even thought of making it myself. I am anxious to try this!
    Thanks!

  7. Luzianne tea is sooooooo much better than Lipton! I made the change over about 5 years ago and I still have family members (that are devout Lipton users) comment how good my sweet tea is. I'm going to try the baking soda in my next pot of tea this evening and see if anyone notices. I've never done that before but I'm always open to change!

  8. I'm from Georgia and now live in NC so sweet tea is included as one of our food groups. I've never tried the baking soda but will give that one a try.
    Thanks
    Martha

  9. I don't remember seeing this post before and I Love sweet tea I have to say that we make it the same way except for the baking soda which I will be using for sure!
    I grew up on this tea It's a staple:)
    Thanks so much!!
    Love you blog:)

  10. Renee – thank you so much for coming back and letting me know that you enjoyed it! It is SO nice to hear that recipes I'm posting are being enjoyed – it makes it all worth it :o)

  11. Your tea looks so good….wish I had some right now! Just a note ~ I have put baking soda in my coffee before to take out the bitter taste!

  12. oh My grandmother used to add baking soda and had the clearest sweet tea around! another trick to non bitter tea is dont scorch the sugar , let the tea cool down some before adding the sugar and it wont be bitter or scorched.

  13. Yum! I love iced tea. I never heard about the baking soda addition. This afternoon I will try it when I make a batch. Your website looks great by the way. You have come a long way.

  14. Wow, you just started your blog? It looks fantastic and so many recipes already. I started mine in December and it still doesn't look so great and I'm always working on it. It IS a TON of work and I'm so busy with my teenagers it's hard to keep up. I haven't written something about why I'm blogging yet, but want to and hopefully will soon. Anyway . . . I love the background! Looking forward to sharing with you.

  15. Gosh, I didn't realize you were such a new blogger! You're doing great (and for a non-techy, I'm impressed that you have your name on your photos!). Looking forward to many more years of your posts 🙂

  16. Thank you so much Becky and little j. I have to say everyone's comments (especially from other bloggers) has been so kind and supportive. I really feel fortunate to be connecting with people through food.

  17. Congratulations on your blog. Looks like you are off to a great start. I must say that blogging is a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun, and you "meet" the most amazing, caring people:)

  18. I have always wanted to try some sweet tea! I'll definitely give this recipe a try. Looks like your blog is off to a great start!! 🙂

    1. Nothing any better then sitting on front porch in a swing in the evening ,sipping sweet tea and talking about the day ……That is what the world needs is more porches ,swings and sweet tea ! !Be a beautiful world it would be…..????

      1. I’m a Texas girl living in California and I just put up my porch swing. Getting ready to make this recipe and excited to get back to those southern memories.

  19. Wow, I have never heard of adding baking soda! My mom taught me to add a few cloves when you are steeping the tea, I have no idea where she learned to do that! I have learned that well water equals clear sweet tea while city water equals cloudy. Filtering the water makes all the difference! Good luck with your blog, it can be overwhelming but you'll figure it out!