Southern Sweet Tea
Southern sweet tea is a tradition throughout the South, but you don’t have to go to the drive-thru to enjoy it! Here’s how to make your own Southern sweet tea at home—with a secret ingredient to make it smooth and delicious.
Is there anything more refreshing than a tall glass of iced tea on a hot day? While any variety of iced tea will hit the spot when you’re feeling parched, there’s definitely something special about Southern sweet tea.
Southern sweet tea is, well, sweet. But it also has a smoother, less bitter flavour than other varieties. You might think the only way to enjoy it is by ordering it at a restaurant or buying a jug at the grocery store, but you can easily make sweet tea at home.
The secret to making perfect Southern sweet tea isn’t as elusive as you may think. With a few simple ingredients and some patience, you can have a pitcher of delicious sweet tea ready to enjoy in no time. Sip on it alongside other Southern favourites like Buttermilk Pie or Biscuits and Gravy!
Why You’ll Love This Southern Sweet Tea Recipe
Here’s what makes this Southern sweet tea such a classic:
- Budget-friendly. Buying bottles of iced tea at the store can add up, especially if you drink it regularly. Making your own sweet tea at home is not only cost-effective, but it also allows you to adjust the sweetness and strength to your liking.
- Simple ingredients. You probably already have most of the ingredients for this recipe in your pantry—no need for any fancy or hard-to-find items.
- Smooth and delicious. If you’re not a fan of the bitterness of regular iced tea, you’ll appreciate that Southern sweet tea is much smoother.
Notes on Ingredients
Scroll down to the recipe card to find the ingredient quantities and recipe instructions.
- Black tea – You’ll need the large family-sized bags.
- Water – I recommend using filtered water for the best taste.
- Sugar – Adjust the amount according to your taste preferences. For a restaurant-style sweet tea, use 2 cups of sugar per gallon.
- Baking soda – Our secret ingredient!
- Ice and lemon wedges – For serving.
What Does Baking Soda Do in Iced Tea?
The addition of baking soda is a crucial step in this Southern sweet tea recipe. Baking soda is alkaline and helps balance the pH level of the tea by neutralizing the tannins in the tea leaves. Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that give tea its characteristic bitter taste, so balancing them creates a smoother and less bitter flavour.
How to Make Southern Sweet Tea
Here’s how easy it is to make your own Southern sweet tea at home!
- Boil the water. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Steep. Once the water is boiling, remove the pot from the heat and add the tea bags. Steep for 10 minutes.
- Add the next 2 ingredients. Pour the sugar and baking soda into a pitcher, then discard the tea bags and pour the tea concentrate into the pitcher. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Add more water. Fill the pitcher with additional water and refrigerate.
- Serve. Pour the sweet tea over ice with lemon slices to serve.
Tips for Success
Follow these simple tips for perfect Southern sweet tea:
- Seriously, don’t skip the baking soda. It may sound strange, but trust me, it really does make all the difference.
- Don’t over-steep your tea. Leaving the tea bags in the hot water for too long can result in a bitter, overly strong flavour.
- Adjust the sweetness and strength to your liking. If you prefer sweeter tea, feel free to add more sugar. You can also adjust the strength of your tea by using more or fewer tea bags.
You can use this method to make any tea, whether it’s decaf black tea, green tea, Earl Grey, or mint tea. For a fruity twist, you can add a splash of pomegranate or orange juice to your sweet tea.
Southern sweet tea is best enjoyed over ice with a squeeze of lemon. You can also add sprigs of fresh herbs like mint for extra flavour.
For an elevated experience, try making sweet tea ice cubes to avoid watering down your drink as the ice melts. Simply freeze some of the brewed tea in an ice cube tray and use these to chill your tea without diluting it.
How to Store
Southern sweet tea can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You may need to stir or shake the tea before serving, as some settling may occur.
Can I Freeze This Recipe?
Yes, you can freeze Southern sweet tea. Simply pour the cooled tea into freezer-safe containers or ice cube trays and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy it, allow the tea to thaw in the refrigerator before serving.
More Refreshing Drink Recipes
Enjoy friends! If you make this Southern sweet tea recipe, please snap a photo and tag #jessicainthekitchen on Instagram! We’d also love it if you would leave a comment below, and give the recipe a rating! Thanks so much!
Southern Sweet Tea
- 4 family sized bags black tea
- 1 gallon water
- 1-2 cups sugar *to taste, 200-400 grams
- ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- Ice and lemons to serve
- Add 4 cups of water to a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, remove the pot from heat and add the tea bags. Allow to steep for 10 minutes.
- Add the sugar and baking soda to your pitcher.
- Remove the tea bags from the water and discard.
- Pour the tea concentrate into the pitcher. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Fill the pitcher with cold water.
- Chill before serving over ice with lemon slices.
- For Southern sweet tea like they serve at McDonalds, use 2 cups of sugar per gallon of tea.
- To store: Southern sweet tea can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You may need to stir or shake the tea before serving, as some settling may occur.
- To freeze: Pour the cooled tea into freezer-safe containers or ice cube trays and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy it, allow the tea to thaw in the refrigerator before serving.
Disclaimer: Although jessicainthekitchen.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Jessicainthekitchen.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.