Sweet Tea: Literally Everything You Need To Know In One Place

Hey sweeties, ready to talk about sweet tea? 

This one’s going to be a doozy because there’s a lot to go over. Let’s get all the basic stuff out of the way quickly so that we can dive into the deep end of sweet tea where we’ll be talking about different ways to sweeten your tea, some unique twists on the popular Southern beverage, and even sharing some famous recipes.

Here’s how to make a tasty variation on Southern sweet tea:

Two big, frosty cups of sweet tea, waiting for you to enjoy them.

So, what exactly is “sweet tea”, anyways?

The name itself really gives it away, doesn’t it? It’s tea… that is sweet. But there’s a little more to it than that. Not just any tea with sweetener gets to wear the official sweet tea crown, and the criteria will vary depending on who you’re asking, but generally speaking:

  • It’s made with water.
  • It’s made with black tea bags.
  • It’s made with sugar.
  • And more sugar. (It’s not uncommon for people to drink it with upwards of twice the sugar of a Coca-Cola can, so be careful when you’re ordering this at restaurants and trying to cut back on your sugar intake.) 
  • And ice.

The recipe is basically to add as much as you want of each ingredient, to suit your own personal taste. Want a stronger tea taste? Use more tea bags. Want a tea that’s not as sweet? Use less sugar. (Don’t worry, we’ll give you a much more specific recipe, along with all sorts of modifications you can make to make it your own.)

Some recipes will call for simple syrup, which basically just means you’re mixing the sugar with some of the water beforehand. The ingredients are the same, the process is a bit different. Speaking of which, let’s quickly go over some of the various sweetening options.

There are a lot of different ways to sweeten tea, and you’ll need to adjust your recipe accordingly if you’re using an alternative sweetener to sugar. Most sweeteners will give you an idea how much of them it takes to equal 1tbsp of sugar, so use those same guidelines to adjust whichever recipe you use to make your sweetened iced tea. Here are some popular choices:

  • Xylitol
  • Stevia
  • Maple syrup/maple sugar
  • Coconut sugar

We’re going a lot more in-depth on the topic of sweetening your tea with an upcoming article, once it’s posted I’ll add a link to it right here.

The origins of this sweet, satisfying drink

Sweet tea wasn’t always made with black tea in America. It used to be made with green tea, mainly from Japan, but around World War II the supplies were cut off so the green tea was replaced with black tea from India.

The first cookbook known to reference a recipe for this drink is called Housekeeping in Old Virginia and was written/compiled at Marion Cabell Tyree. This was a community cookbook, but we have a feeling that people were making some variation of sweet tea long before that.

In the early ‘1900s, sweet tea was considered as a luxury item but not because of fancy sugars or rare tea leaves… it was the difficulty of transporting ice, and the lack of refrigeration, that made a cup of tea filled to the brim with ice an item of extreme luxury. Thankfully, nowadays, it’s a lot more readily available and won’t cost you an arm and a leg (Unless, of course, you use way too much sugar and lose your limbs to diabetes, so be carful!)

Interesting sweet teas from around the world

In Japan, they have a drink called Amacha. It is made from fermented Hydrangea leaves, contains no caffeine, and is sweetened with Phyllodulcina sweetener that is 800 times as potent as normal sugar.

How to sweeten your tea, pirate style.

Pirates — the kind that used to sail around in boats — also used to drink something called Tortuga, a non-alcoholic cocktail used when they were celebrating their pirating-ways. It was made with iced tea, brown sugar, and garnished with cinnamon and a lime wedge.

Alright, you’ve made it this far…

Still looking for a solid recipe for sweet tea? 

I won’t tease you any longer. Here’s an excellent recipe for the drink-of-the-hour. This is our take on the classic, common recipe, that makes just the right amount for a sunny weekend.

  • 1-2 pinches of baking soda
  • 4 cups of boiling water
  • 16 tea bags
  • 1.5 cups of sugar (or alternative sweeter, as the case may be. Remember to adjust this measurement based on how strong your sweetener of choice is.)
  • 12 cups of cool water.
  • Ice.

Sounds easy enough, right? It is! Here’s how to put it all together: 

  1. All you need to do is add the tea bags and the baking soda into a large enough container (Or feel free to cut the recipe in half, if you don’t want as much or don’t have a big enough container.)
  2. Then pour the boiling water into your container (We strongly recommend going with glass, because plastic doesn’t always handle the hear very well.)
  3. Let the tea bags steep in the hot water for 5-6 minutes. Some recipes recommend steeping the tea bags for upwards of 15 minutes, but I prefer to use more tea bags and to not steep for quite as long to avoid bitterness.
  4. After removing the tea bags, stir in the sugar and mix until it’s dissolved.
  5. Add the rest of the cold water, and place your container in the fridge until it’s cold and ready to be enjoyed. Or just add ice.
  6. That’s it! But you can definitely jazz it up, if you want to…

Other versions of sweet tea to try

Here are some awesome variations that you can make to the classic drink. We don’t need to include recipes for every single one of these because frankly, it’s pretty straight forward.

Add citrus. This one’s easy enough. Whether it’s a squeeze of orange, lemon, lime, or using them as garnish… a little zest never hurt anybody, did it?

Add mint. Mint juleps, anybody? The perfect combination of two classic Southern drinks.

Add lava. Don’t actually do this, I’m just checking who is still paying attention ;).

Add ginger and honey. Another great twist on a classic.

Add peach slices. This is how they do it “Governor’s Mansion” style, if you’re into that sort of thing.


Do be a dear and leave a comment with some of your own ideas and suggestions for making a perfect summer iced tea.