Sweet Tea: The Elixir Of The South


Nothing, I mean nothing, is more Southern than sweet tea. We drink it at almost every meal (yes, iced tea for breakfast is quite good, actually), we make it daily, and we even put it in our baby’s bottles.

Dr. Phil once jokingly mentioned that Southerners started drinking sweet tea at age three, but Mama and I looked at each other in complete confusion as we knew perfectly well all of us had started on it by age one!

Go to any southerners home and the first question they ask after sitting down is “Ya wan’ some tea?” These days I make my sweet tea with Splenda, but it tastes just as good. Sweet Tea just makes the meal. Mama did these photos for me so you get to see more of her beautiful sun room. I’m also including the email she sent me where she put some writing ideas for the post!

Mama Says, “The drink that puts the drawl in our speech and the pep in our step. It has been known to be fed to our babies in their bottles as soon as they can have something other than formula. Do you remember when you came back from Gusty’s and was so surprised that they served milk at supper??? You had never seen anything other than tea served at suppertime. Just thought I would give you a few things to write about.”

She’s right. I was sixteen the first time I had dinner at a friend’s house and they served glasses of milk with their supper. I had never seen nor heard of such a thing in all of my life. To my sixteen year old self, they could have just as well had walked right out of a flying saucer and started playing the bagpipes and it wouldn’t have been any stranger than seeing milk on a dinner table!

You’ll need tea bags, sugar (or Splenda), water, and either a small sauce pot or a coffeemaker. There are many tea brands on the market. Mama prefers Luzianne but I usually use Tetley or Red Diamond. Just make sure you get a general blend or “Orange Pekoe” tea. Orange Pekoe is a generic term for a basic, medium grade black tea.

METHOD 1There are two popular ways of brewing tea. The one Mama and I use the most right now (this may change when the wind changes direction) is the saucepot method. For a half gallon of tea, put five regular sized tea bags in a pot. Cover with water. You want about three inches of water in your pot.

You don’t have to worry over taking the tea bag labels off as Mama says In a pot, bring tea just to a boil and then remove from heat and turn off eye.

Your tea is now ready to be mixed.


The other thing you can do is place your 5 tea bags INSIDE your coffee pot and just run a cycle of water through the coffeemaker. Once the cycle goes through, your tea is done and ready to be mixed.

Be careful if you do this, though, to remember to remove the coffee grounds from your basket. Many times growing up Mama would have supper on the table looking all wonderful and we’d take a sip and discover we were having “Coffee-Tea”. Hehe, we always had fun with her when that happened!

No matter which method you choose, in a matter of minutes you will have brewed, concentrated tea.

Take your pitcher and fill it about 1/2 of the way full with cold water, add your sugar (or splenda). This is a VERY important step because if you add your sugar to the hot tea, it will scorch the sugar and you’ll have terribly bitter tea.
So, we want to put some cold water in and place the sugar in there BEFORE adding our tea. .
The hot tea being added will then warm the water enough that the sugar will easily dissolve.
Add hot tea.


Serve over ice!

Mama adds:We always drink the tea fresh.  It can be kept in the refrigerator but  southern people prefer their tea fresh.  I always throw out the leftovers and start fresh the next day.  I don’t personally like lemon in my tea.  If I add anything, it is a slice of orange.”

Sweet Tea

5 tea bags

3/4 cup sugar

Makes 2 quarts

Place tea bags in sauce pot or coffee maker (down in the coffee pot). If using coffee pot, run a cycle of water through to make tea. If using a sauce pot, fill about three inches and bring just to a boil, then remove from heat.

Fill pitcher 1/2 of the way with cool water and add sugar. Stir. Add hot tea, stir. Add more water, if neccesary, to make two quarts. Serve over ice.

Sweet Tea: The Elixir Of The South
  • 5 tea bags
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Makes 2 quarts
  1. Place tea bags in sauce pot or coffee maker (down in the coffee pot). If using coffee pot, run a cycle of water through to make tea. If using a sauce pot, fill about three inches and bring just to a boil, then remove from heat.
  2. Fill pitcher ½ of the way with cool water and add sugar. Stir. Add hot tea, stir. Add more water, if neccesary, to make two quarts. Serve over ice.

Thank you for reading Southern Plate!! Have a GREAT Day!


I use Luzianne tea because I hate to take all the little envelopes off the tea bags.  I even leave the tags on them when I brew the tea.  It hasn’t killed me yet.  I guess it adds fiber.”


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  1. says

    I read most of the comments and I did not see a recipe for my version of sweet tea. I fill a gallon size glass jar almost all the way up. Leave a little room for the sugar. Fill the jar with cold water. Add 3 family size tea bags and screw the lid on. Set it out in a safe place in the full sun. Leave it for oh about 4 hours or so give or take an hour. Bring it in, throw away the tea bags and immediately, while tea is still warm, add 1 and 1/2 cups sugar or to taste. Refrigerate. So good. Clear and not bitter. Please try it. BTW I live in East Tennessee. Anyone else make it this way?

  2. Becky says

    I am the first southerner in my family marry a Yankee (I just couldn’t help thatIfell madly in love!) and was SHOCKED that his whole family drank milk – at every meal!! I now make my own whenever we visit Upstate New York and don’t even have to share!

  3. Anita says

    Being from the south myself, I relish my sweet tea and make it similarly. I, however, make 2 gallons almost every day (4 sons & their friends). I like to get my large saucepan filled with water up to a full rolling boil I then turn off the heat and drop in 4 family sized Luzianne tea bags then throw on the lid to allow tea to steep…usually for an hour even more sometimes. I always put 2 cups of sugar in my gallon pitchers pour half the steeped tea into each pitcher stir well and fill with cold water. From there it goes into the fridge and we really prefer it the next day because we like it cold and often we don’t use ice (well, some of us do don’t we honey?). I also never knew anything else was served at any meal other than iced tea. Did I ever get the rude awakening in Wisconsin some years ago when I requested a glass and the waitress told me without a blinking, “it’s not summer?” Even then, it was serve unsweetened…LOL. Thank heavens McDonald’s serves sweet tea now and when we go North, I always have to get my ‘fix’ there. My inlaws only have soft drinks or water in the fridge and their water makes the worst tea of any kind…..LOL.

    • Lynn D. says

      Anita…I recently moved to Greenville, SC from Michigan and I am addicted to sweet tea and I am back visiting family in MI and was going through withdrawals, lol…I asked my Hubby to please try McDonalds for sweet tea…YAY!!! they have it here in MI too…I am making my own today though!!!

  4. Lana says

    Anita is right, the water here (I’m in Madison, WI) turns the tea black but I found a recipe that called for boiling your water, pouring it over the tea bags in a glass measuring cup or pitcher (not metal!), with 1/4 tsp of baking soda, let steep for 5 minutes then add sugar and cold water. FINALLY I got tea as good as it was down south! Pretty and clear! Also, I find Northerners don’t seem to be able to handle the sweet in their tea nearly as well as southerners can!

  5. Carol says

    I always put the sugar in with the hot water because it makes the tea sweeter, not bitter. Hot water inverts the sugar (sucrose) to become glucose and fructose, which makes sugar taste sweeter.

  6. Rita Ann Williamson says

    Christy, How many teabags would you use for a gallon of tea? They fuss about my tea and I cant remember. Also, how much coffee do I put in a coffeepot for strong coffee, they say mine taste like water? I really need these refresher courses as I am tired of the complaints. Thank you!

  7. Jennifer says

    I was raised on sweet tea, being raised in the South, as was my son. He got his first encounter with Northerners when we went to OR and ate at a restaurant. They asked what he wanted to drink, he replied “sweet tea”. They looked at him like he was from another planet, and told him we have sugar on the table. He didn’t understand….I had to explain to him “we are up north, they don’t know what sweet tea is”!

    • AJ says

      OMG! I know right! I grew up in the country side of Missouri. When I was a teen we moved into the suburban areas and every where we all they had was unsweet tea. I about had a cardiac. TRYING to mix sugar into a cold glass just does not work! Don’t even get me started about when I joined the military and got stationed in DC!

    • AJ says

      I LOVE honey in my lemonade. Don’t care much for it in my tea though. We tried that earlier this summer. Have to make to different batches because my partner loves honey tea.

  8. Rachael K. says

    I have to say you don’t have to live in the South or be from the South to love Sweet Tea. I am from Chicago area and always loved Sweet Tea. There is always a pitcher of it in my refrigerator.

  9. Sherry says

    One of the teachers I work with was born and raised in New York. She and her family moved here to Tennessee a few years ago and they are now hooked on sweet southern tea. While they were visiting New York for several weeks this summer, she emailed me for a recipe for sweet tea. They were having withdrawals. I sent her my recipe which is almost exactly the one you posted. I use Luzianne only. I must say good old sweet tea is hard to beat.

  10. Helga says

    The only thing I can’t understand and hate to hell about it all is the tea BAGS!!! No good tea tradition can be started without good loose tea! D’you know what is in the bags? Fannings , which are tea production leftovers (or simply, the dust).

  11. Kay E. says

    I make a gallon of “sun tea” every other day, for my youngest son, who likes unsweetened tea. using 6 teabags. I also make myself, and everyone else, sweet tea. I use the stove method and I boil the tea for 5 minutes, let cool down, remove tea bags and add the sugar to it. Then I pour it in the pitcher of cold water. Never had scorched taste n I been making it that way for 40 years. Tea is much sweeter, believe me.

  12. Daniel says

    Whenever I made it with a saucepan like this, I alway put the sugar in the pan too. I never really thought of it as tasting bitter. But I tried putting it in the ice water instead, and it does actually taste different. I can see where one might consider the other method tasting bitter, though I think most people are just used to it. It tastes better when I used plain old Lipton. I might try it with something better. One thing though.. the sugar can dissolve really well in the ice water. It’s not quite the same thing as mixing the hot and cold water, and then mixing the sugar. If you pour the sugar into the ice water and mix it well with a spoon, then by the time you add the hot water, it will still completely dissolve.

  13. Daniel M says

    Hello everyone, I live in florida and I been making my own sweet tea for years now. And since I am the only one in my house that drinks it. I make a gallon at a time. I am trying to figure out if I use Splenda instead of sugar, do I use the same amount of Splenda?

  14. Ellen says

    I make my tea without sugar…Mom drinks hers that way, I swing from sweet to not sweet, and my husband and the boys like theirs as sweet as you can get it. I make up some sugar syrup and keep it in the fridge and everyone can add as much or as little as they like, it mixes well with even cold tea, and I go through a lot less sugar that way (no pile of unmixed sugar sitting at the bottom of the glasses).

  15. says


    I love your site, and this how to recipe is just great! Loving the pictures showing each step and the depth of information included.

    I own a company that custom crafts our own Loose Leaf Tea blends, so I’ve learned a few things about Sweet Tea over the years, and you’ve absolutely got it right when you say there is nothing more Southern than Sweet Tea! Keep up with the posts!

  16. Cheryl says

    I remember my redheaded, redneck uncle was visiting my aunt who lived in Southern California. In his best southern drawl, he asked the waitress for “sweet tea, please.” This was before McDonald’s had come out with sweet tea, so she had no idea what he was talking about. My aunt had to explain they serve tea unsweetened around these parts.


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