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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.


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.


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.


  • 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.


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.


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


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


  • 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.


YouTube video


  • 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


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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Recipe Rating


  1. This isn’t that sweet…. I followed this recipe exactly how it said and the people saying it is super sweet or overly sweet clearly aren’t from the south!

  2. 5 stars
    I give this sweet tea recipe 5 stars because it is good, but too sweet for my taste (my husband and I have been cutting back on our sugar so we are not used to sweet drinks). I will just cut back on the sugar a bit. But I think the baking soda was a great idea. The tea flavor is wonderful and not bitter at all. My grandmother was British and she served sweet tea (which she called Iced tea) all the time when I was growing up. It brings back sweet memories. Thanks for your recipe.

    1. I think sweet tea is definitely one of those things that you have to adjust the sugar to what you enjoy. I compare this sweet tea to the kind you get at Chick-fil-A to help explain the level of sweetness. And I think if you’ve really cut back on sugar, I can see how it would come across as very sweet for sure. I am so happy you enjoyed it and thanks so much for sharing the sweet memory of your Grandmother. I lived in Britain for 3 years myself and they would nearly gag when I brought in my cold sweet tea to work. Ha! I eventually convinced a couple of them to try and they (very slowly) learned to enjoy it 🙂

  3. Before I go too crazy drinking the tea, is the 33gms of sugar for the entire gallon or for one glass? Since I am only allowed 25gms per day, I need to know. Thanks.

    1. Hi Rosemary! The nutritional calculator on here calculates these recipes automatically. I would not use it for health and dietary purposes. I would use your own trusted nutritional calculator for that. I believe it is showing 33 grams for a cup and half (so about 12 ounces).

  4. Hi Brandie, I listen to videos of Brenda Gant, who is a southern Alabama cook in FB. She is always making and talking about sweet tea, so I decided to make some. I found your recipe and just trying it for the first time. I happen to have Luzianne teabags, which here in Michigan can be found at Meijer. Two cups of sugar seems awful sweet, but I will do it. Will let you know how it turns out. Thanks!

  5. I tried this with about 1¼ cups of Equal Sugarly. Came out very sweet. I’ll tone this batch by adding a couple single tea bags. When I go to make my next batch, I’ll make it with ¾ cup of Equal Sugarly and see how it goes. Thanks for the great recipe. TTFN

  6. First, I’m a northerner and have never tryed this. I guess I might as well be from Britian. Anyway, I only have one question, what kind of tea? Do you use any brand of black tea? I favorite cuppa tea is Earl Grey which is a black tea. Would that do? What do you suggest?

    1. Hi Don! Good question! You definitely don’t want to use Earl Grey. While it’s a great, warm sipping tea, it doesn’t translate well to being served cold. The best way to make this is the simplest, get Lipton family sized bags or Luzianne family sized tea bags. Lipton is pretty much available everywhere in the US and is a black tea and Luzianne is a little harder to find outside of the south & is orange pekoe tea. I hope that helps!

    2. 5 stars
      Don – I make my tea using Brandie’s recipe – but I also add 2 Earl Grey tea bags to the family size tea bags while steeping and it is really good!

  7. 5 stars
    I live in South Mississippi and have been trying for at least 20 years to make really good Sweet tea and have failed every time.. Tried your recipe and its amazing!! My kids and husband will drink it now lol.. Thank you so much!!!! ♥ ♥ ♥

    1. 5 stars
      my mom taught us at a very young age , around 6 r 7 to make Sweet tea. her recipe is pretty much dead on to this one! everyone l8ved her sweet tea, it’s hard fir me to give Virginia credit over Mississippi! cause I feel we have the best sweet tea in the world! yes, lessen the sugar if your diabetic or if it doesn’t suit your sweet taste buds:

  8. 5 stars
    I was raised in the Deep South but live in a city now, haven’t had sweet tea in years. That’s not saying a lot considering I’m only 24 though, lol!
    Found this recipe and was amazed. It’s so good, and brings back so many memories of better and simpler times living in the middle of nowhere with most of my family in our huge family home. Hot summer days, packing lunch to go to the river, family dinners… I could go on. Amazing how flavors trigger specific parts of our brain and bring back floods of memories. Thank you for the recipe <3

  9. 5 stars
    This tea is the best I have ever made. It is perfectly sweet and has such a good flavor. Definitely will be making this again! Thank you for posting it!


  11. 5 stars
    I have often added a sprig of fresh mint when brewing ice tea for a mild minty fresh flavor. You don't need much. For a gallon, perhaps 2 or 3. The mint wilts, but it doesn't disintegrate, so you can pick it right out.

  12. 5 stars
    Thanks for the great tips about baking soda – that was one I had never heard of.before. I definitely plan on using it in beans too as you suggested. Thanks again.

  13. 5 stars
    I didn’t know about the baking soda thing, I will have to try to it! I also use my coffee pot to make the tea to speed up the process!

  14. I am 50 years old and have never used baking soda in my tea. My husband doesn’t like “fresh” tea. He says it’s better the next day. He can always tell if it’s newly made. My question is… Does Baking soda remedy this? We live in North Carolina and I make close to 6 gallons of sweetened iced tea weekly. BTW I only use 1.5 cups of sugar and 2 family sized teabags. I also use your method of boiling 1/2 of the gallon but I add the sugar and tea bags to the water while it’s boiling. I let it sit for about 1/2 hour before removing the bags and then add it to the rest of the gallon.

    1. Hi Laura! For me, sweet tea is only really good for about 3 days (max) but the baking soda takes out that bitterness that sometimes occurs after the first day you make it. When you add the tea bags to the water while it’s boiling – that can also make it go bitter even faster since it’s hard on the tea leaves. Hope that helps! 🙂

  15. While very unusual, I am a Canadian who has loved southern sweet tea from a young age. After making this recipe with 3/4 cup sugar, it is fantastic – just sweet enough – and it brings back memories of some of my favourite US vacations. Thanks so much!!

    1. That is wonderful! Funny how things that are so simple bring back so many wonderful memories. So glad it turned out well for you.

  16. Would this work with sun tea? Rather than boiling the water, letting it sit in the sun all day, then adding the baking soda? Think I will give it a try next summer, but for now (December) & I will give this a try
    D. Ruthart

  17. My husband and I are sweet tea drinkers, I make mine with 2 Lipton family size tea bags, I am trying it with baking soda. Thank you for the tip.