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Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea

April 13, 2018
Shanika | Orchids + Sweet Tea
Indulge in Southern nostalgia with this Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea recipe. The perfect marriage of refreshing coolness and delightful sweetness that brings a taste of tradition to every satisfying sip.

Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea

This Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea recipe is a refreshing home-brewed sweet tea made from black tea and boasts hints of lemon goodness and a whole lot of sweetness---just like they like it down south! The perfect drink for the sunniest of days regardless of the season! A true Southern staple, where conversations cannot exist without a good glass of sweet tea.

Tall glass of Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea.

Why Southern Iced Sweet Tea?

Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea. One of the few sweet drinks that I can't live without---honestly. Haha. I've been so excited to share this recipe with you guys! If you've been following Orchids + Sweet Tea, then you know that I'm a Southern girl at heart (born + raised), so this cup of goodness brings back so many great memories and fun-in-the-sun moments.

For those of you that are in the South, I do hope that this recipe makes you proud! Haha. I have created a few variations based on this recipe, Southern Strawberry Iced Sweet Tea for little fruity goodness + Southern Peach Iced Tea because it's just such a classic flavor combo!

As you may know, we Southerners usually go big or go home when it comes to food and flavor. This Crispy Oven Fried ChickenBEST Southern Baked Mac and Cheese, and My Grandma's Baked Southern Banana Pudding are great examples of this...We aren't afraid of flavor, AND in fact, we can't live without it. And this recipe for Sweet Tea is no exception. 

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Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea in tall glasses.

What is Southern Sweet Tea?

Much like Lemonade (for many people), this sweet tea is the epitome of a Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter----- an all-around MUST-HAVE in the South. Yes, ya'll---it's that serious!

For those of you who aren't familiar, a Sweet Tea recipe is not just sugar and water with a tea bag. I know. CRAZY! There's a specific process that has to happen:

  • Steep (the longer the stronger the flavor).
  • Mix in sugar for a complete dissolve.
  • Add to pitcher, add lemons for added taste, and CHILL COMPLETELY before serving it with ice.
  • Add your favorite liquor or bourbon for a bit of pizazz (Adults-only)!

So you see, there's a complete science to this stuff, especially with the chilling of it since Sweet Tea MUST BE COLD for it to be considered the true Southern staple! Haha. Sorry if this sounds dramatic, but us Southerners are serious about our sweets------cakes, pies, banana pudding, sweet tea---you name it.

Why Is Sweet Tea A Southern Thing?

Considered a staple in Southern cuisine, sweet tea's "birthplace" is believed to have come about in St. Louis. It was here, at the World's Fair in 1904, that the oh-so-sweet southern-style sweet tea was born. And it is no surprise that Southerners grasped ahold of this sweet delicacy and mastered the recipe to transform it into a household staple. 

Why Add Baking Soda to Sweet Tea?

OK, so I know that this must be a shocker, but yes---you do add baking soda to sweet tea. Why? Whelp, although it seems super weird to do so, adding baking soda to your sweet tea prevents it from getting cloudy and bitter. If you've ever tried leaving your leftover sweet tea in the refrigerator for a few days, only to find out that after a day or so, it's bitter and not as enjoyable----then know that adding a small amount of baking soda does the trick!

In addition, just know that baking soda has health benefits as well, so it won't harm you! For one, baking soda is great for helping with indigestion and acid reflux. Also, it's great for keeping your mouth healthy among other benefits. So, the next time you add a pinch of baking soda to your sweet tea, just know that you're not adding something harmful to this glass of goodness!

Two tall glasses of Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea.

What Brand Of Tea Should I Use?

While you can use any brand of black tea that you prefer, I find that the Lipton brand of tea serves the best variation of sweet tea, in my opinion. Oh and they actually have an organic version which makes things even better for me since I'm all about eating healthier and living a healthier lifestyle.

I remember growing up and seeing my Grandma and other relatives use the Lipton brand, so I guess that it's a staple at this point-----a staple for me anyway. 

Generally, when drinking black tea, whether to make my homemade chai tea latte or drink black tea regularly, I always stick with my go-to brand, Bigelow tea.

Homemade Sweet Tea vs. Store-bought.

When searching for a big box of Lipton tea bags, I did notice that there were a ton of options available these days when it comes to flavor. They even have the Southern Sweet Tea mix, which makes things a lot easier for those who may not have want to make it from scratch or just need a quick fix without the time.

However, I wanted to make this classic sweet tea recipe fully homemade because I'm just a believer that sometimes homemade is just best. So, I chose to brew my tea bags myself and add in the other ingredients. Plus, homemade always gives you the option of mixing and matching ingredients for your own liking----you know.

Tall glass of Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea with a metal straw.

Why You Will LOVE This Southern Iced Sweet Tea Recipe

  • Classic Southern charm in every authentic, sweet sip.
  • Sweet + totally refreshing
  • The perfect cool-down drink
  • Crowd-pleasing + kid friendly
  • Easy to make + simple ingredients
  • Goes with everything!

Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea in a glass with lemon slices.

What About the Sugar?

Yes, so the major question here is----what about all of that sugar? Firstly, I'll start by saying, there are plenty of sugar substitutes that can work for this recipe without compromising taste! 

To start, you can use organic brown sugar or organic pure cane sugar instead of regular white sugar to keep things healthier. Also, you can substitute sugar for stevia or allulose for an even healthier option. While I haven't tried this recipe with maple syrup (because I believe that the overall taste would change), I do think that using Agave might work as a great option as well.

Metal straw and lemon slices in a tall glass of Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea.

Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea Q + A's

How to store?

Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator, tightly covered in your pitcher, or in a sealed mason jar (for smaller leftover amounts). Best if consumed within a few days.

Can I adjust the sweetness according to my taste?

Absolutely! This recipe lets you fine-tune the sweetness to your preference, ensuring a customized delight.

Can I add alcohol?

Absolutely! Incorporating alcohol can add a delightful twist to your Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea. Vodka, bourbon, or even a splash of rum can elevate the flavors. Just remember to balance the alcohol amount to achieve the desired taste and potency.

How do I serve sweet tea?

To serve, pour the chilled sweet tea over ice, letting its refreshing flavors shine. For an extra touch, consider adding optional garnishes like citrus slices or mint sprigs either directly into the pitcher or to each glass upon serving.

More Southern Recipes To Try!

MADE OUR RECIPE(S)?

If you make this Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea, tag @orchidsnsweettea_ on Instagram and hashtag it #orchidsandsweettea

Tall glass of Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea.

Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea

April 13, 2018
4.73 from 11 votes
This Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea is a refreshing home-brewed sweet tea made from black tea and boasts of great hints of lemon and a whole lot of sweetness---just like they like it down south! The perfect drink for the sunniest of days regardless of the season! A true Southern staple, where conversations cannot exist without a good glass of sweet tea.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves: 8 servings

Ingredients

SWEET TEA:

  • 2 quarts filtered water, divided
  • 8 organic black tea bags (You can use 8 tsps of loose tea, if desired)
  • 1 cup organic brown sugar (See Notes!)
  • l lemon, freshly-squeezed (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda (See Notes!)

GARNISH:

  • Lemons slices or halved

Instructions

BREW THE BLACK TEA:

  • Start by adding 1 quart of water to a large pot over high heat and bringing it to a boil. Add your tea bags to the boiling water and let it continue to boil for another 1-2 minutes. Turn off heat and let tea bags continue to steep for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. NOTE: The longer that the tea bags steep, the stronger the flavor. You can let them steep up to 30 minutes before it begins to get bitter. Discard the tea bags.
  • Let the mixture cool completely, about 1 hour or so.

ASSEMBLE + CHILL:

  • In a pitcher, add steeped tea mixture, lemon juice, baking soda, remaining water, stirring together until combined. Next, refrigerate immediately to keep it cold, about 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Once sweet tea has chilled considerably, serve by pouring sweet tea into prepared glass(es) filled with ice and adding lemon slices or halves, if desired.
  • Sip and enjoy!

Tips & Tricks

  • STORAGE: Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator, tightly covered in your pitcher or in a sealed mason jar (for smaller leftover amounts). Best if consumed within a few days.
  • SWEETENER: You can always use pure cane sugar, allulose, stevia, or honey instead of brown sugar.
  • BAKING SODA: Adding baking soda to your sweet tea prevents it from getting cloudy and bitter. If you've ever tried leaving your leftover sweet tea in the refrigerator for a few days, only to find out that after a day or so, it's bitter and not as enjoyable----then know that adding a small amount of baking soda does the trick!

Nutrition

Calories: 105kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 0.03g | Sodium: 54mg | Potassium: 37mg | Sugar: 27g | Calcium: 30mg | Iron: 0.2mg

DID YOU MAKE THIS recipe?

Tag @orchidsnsweettea_ on Instagram and hashtag it #orchidsandsweettea

Xx, Shanika in script writing

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  1. Delicious Recipe, drinking this tea during the hot summer season would be a refreshing and delicious one gonna try.

  2. Top off the pitchers with water. Add 3 more quarts of water to the tea base to make a gallon of sweet tea and stir to combine.

  3. There's nothing better than a glass of refreshing tea during the summer and this one hits the spot! We've always been a huge Lipton fan!