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How to Make Southern Sweet Tea and other Iced Tea Recipes

Have you ever wondered how to make southern sweet tea? It’s not that hard, but there are a few tips and tricks to make sure it tastes just so.

I’ve talked before about infused water drinks, which make for refreshing summertime beverages and a nice change from the standards, because you can get so creative with them.

This time, I thought I’d go a little more traditional and talk about southern sweet tea recipes. Turns out you can do a lot more with it than you might think.

Southern sweet tea in glasses with mint garnish

Basic Southern Sweet Tea Recipes

Sweet tea is definitely a Southern “thang.” Unless you’ve spent time there, you may never really have had good glass of southern sweet iced tea.

Lots of great recipes exist, and different people prefer different methods. But there are a few basic rules that apply no matter what.

  • Use orange pekoe to be traditional. Twinings or Lipton will do – you don’t need expensive tea.
  • Plastic pitchers can affect the flavor, so for best results, use glass pitchers.
  • Serve it chilled. If you pour warm tea over ice cubes, they’ll melt and dilute it. Pour chilled tea from the fridge over ice cubes, and the drink will stay cool without getting diluted in the time it takes most people to finish a glass.
  • How much sweetener you like is up to you – there’s no hard and fast rule about this, even among Southerners.
  • If you find brewed tea bitter, add a pinch of baking soda. Yes, you read that right.
Southern sweet tea in glasses with lemons

A word about sweeteners: there’s a reason southern restaurants offer both sweetened and unsweetened tea.

When you add sugar to unsweetened tea that’s already chilled, it doesn’t dissolve well. Both sugar and sugar substitutes melt much better when the tea is still hot.

You don’t have to use regular white table sugar. You can use brown sugar, turbinado or other forms of raw sugar (which in my opinion have a better flavor).

If you want to serve the tea unsweetened, there are some fantastic liquid sweeteners to offer guests: apple juice is my favorite (more on this later). Just pour apple juice into an already-poured glass of tea, and the flavor is phenomenal.

And yes, you can use just about any other fruit juice this way: grape juice, cranberry blend, orange juice, etc. Honey and agave nectar also blend nicely.

If you use artificial sweeteners, saccharin (Sweet ‘n’ Low) will dissolve best, but some people think it has a bitter taste.

Instructions

  1. Boil two quarts of water in a pot on the stove. (This is where you would add the baking soda mentioned above, if desired.)
  2. After the water has boiled, put 10-16 regular size tea bags in. (You’re going to dilute this later, which is why it’s so strong at this point.)
  3. Remove the pot from heat and let steep for about 5 minutes – definitely no more than 10. (This is when you should add any dry sweeteners such as sugar or Stevia, unless you’re planning to serve it unsweetened.)
  4. Fill a gallon pitcher halfway with cold water.
  5. Pour the hot tea into the half-filled pitcher.
  6. Let it sit in the fridge until it’s chilled (overnight is good).
  7. It’s preferable to serve it as soon as it’s chilled. The longer it sits beyond that point, the more the flavor changes, and it can become bitter.

It’s also better to make fresh tea every day, but I find every other day is okay, too.

Getting creative

Flavored tea bags jazz up this summertime staple. Just be sure to include plenty of black tea in the mix if you want it to still essentially taste like traditional iced tea.

Sweetening with fruit juice. One of the very best iced tea recipes I’ve ever tasted was simple orange pekoe iced tea sweetened with apple juice. Try pear juice, too.

Orange juice or lemonade affect the flavor more than apple, but in a delicious way. Raspberry or pomegranate juice also work well.

Vanilla extract. Put in a few drops of vanilla extract, to taste.

Coffee extract. It may sound weird, but a touch of coffee extract – seriously, just a very few drops to a gallon, not enough to overwhelm – adds a bold, roasted quality to the flavor of iced tea.

Butterscotch extract. A few drops of butterscotch extract add a rich, sweet flavor like butter caramels to your tea.

Brew with cinnamon sticks. Toss cinnamon sticks – 5 or 6 for bold flavor, or 3 if you want it subtle – into the boiled water at the same time as you put the tea bags in.

Remove them when you pour the hot water in with the cold, or leave them longer if you want a really strong cinnamon flavor.

Mint. Adding mint sprigs gives iced tea a wonderful flavor. Put them in when you pour the hot concentrated tea in with the cold water (Step 5).

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