How to make Southern-style Sweet Tea

In the South, we have a saying: We like tea with our sugar.

If there is one thing Southerners take seriously, it’s sweet tea. In Georgia, for instance, the legislature once proposed a bill that restaurants could only serve sweet tea, not iced. The bill was a joke, but the main proponents said they “wouldn’t mind” if it became law.

How to make sweet tea; Chai Tea Chick; sweet tea recipe
Photo by enigmachck1 / CC-BY 2.0 

Although I’m from Florida, my family comes from all parts of the South, and a family gathering is not complete without my grandma’s sweet tea. Whatever the holiday—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July— sweet tea will be part of it. My grandma’s from Mobile, Alabama, and nothing shows her Southern hospitality more than sweet tea.

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Here is one of said family gatherings. My grandma is at the front. Can you tell were Gators fans?

Now, I’m going to pass on the secrets to you. Northerners, be warned, this tea is really sweet.

1. Get tea bags.

For once, I’m telling you to not go with loose-leaf tea. Traditional sweet tea uses black tea bags. Don’t buy a specific blend, like Earl Grey or Spiced Chai, but a generic black tea. My grandma generally uses Lipton or PG Tips tea bags.

2. Boil water and add bags.

Bring 3-4 cups of water to a boil. Then, take the water off the stove and add 7-8 tea bags. Cover the pot and let the tea brew for 10-15 minutes. The longer you brew the tea, the stronger it will taste.

3. Dissolve sugar and stir.

Once the tea is finished brewing, pour it into a pitcher. Then, begin the most important step: adding sugar. My grandma has no exact measurement. It’s just a matter of putting more and more sugar in. For real “sweet” tea, you’ll want to add at least 2 cups of sugar, but that’s a bare minimum. Keep adding until the tea tastes sweet.

4. Let the tea cool.

Do NOT immediately add ice to the sweet tea and serve. The ice will melt and just create a weak tea. Allow the tea to cool down to about room temperature.

5. Serve tea.

After cooling, you can either serve the tea then or put it in the fridge and serve later. Again, do not add ice to the sweet tea. Instead, when you serve the tea, add ice to individual cups and pour the tea over. Make sure to add a lot of ice because it will dissolve quickly.

How to make sweet tea; Chai Tea Chick; sweet tea recipe
Photo by Connie Ma /  CC-BY-SA 2.0

You’re sweet tea will now be ready! Add a lemon wedge and enjoy your tea with family, friends, and a big, homemade meal.

Now, go out there, get your tea bags and sugar, and let me know how it goes.

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