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How To Make Sweet Tea Like A True Southerner

If you’re wondering how to make sweet tea, you’re definitely in the right place!

For a drink that only has a couple of ingredients, there’s definitely a science in making the perfect glass of southern sweet tea.

What is Sweet Tea?

For those of you from the South, you probably think this is a stupid question.  So if you’re from a Southern state, skip to the next segment. 🙂

But for the rest of the country, here you go:

Sweet tea is a popular style of iced tea in the United States, but it’s super popular and common in the Southern states.

Sweet tea in restaurants is usually made from black tea. 

After the tea has been brewed, and while it’s still hot, it’s sweetened with sugar or simple syrup. Sometimes it’s made with artificial sweeteners, like sweet n low as well. 

It can be flavored with lemon, peach, raspberry or mint.  It can even be served spiked with vodka and other alcohol.  

It’s served in a tall glass over ice and is a big sip of cool deliciousness on a hot day.

If you find yourself in a restaurant that doesn’t serve sweet tea, you’re probably not in the South!

two mason jars filled with sweet tea recipe and lemons

Sweet Tea vs. Iced Tea

Having spent most of my life on the West Coast, I had no idea there was a difference between iced tea and sweet tea.  

I thought that sweet tea was just iced tea that you sweetened with a couple packets of sugar. 

Imagine my surprise when I started spending time in North Carolina and found out sweet tea is really another drink entirely.  

And sweet tea lovers, take their sweet tea seriously, y’all!

Ask your favorite Southerner and they will have their own family recipe for sweet tea.

Both beverages are served over ice, and the only real difference is sugar is added to sweet tea.  

But, the sugar is added before the tea cools, so it’s mixed in perfectly.

Without the pesky sugar grains on the bottom of your glass that you get when you try to mix sugar into cold tea. 

Iced tea is more popular in northern parts of the country, while sweet tea is the drink of choice during meals for many southerners.

Southern Sweet Tea History

Southern sweet tea used to be considered a luxury, only available to the very rich.

In the hot summers of yesteryear, ice used to be a rare and expensive commodity.  

Before ice makers and electricity, blocks of ice had to be shipped from cold regions far away. 

Sweet tea began appearing in cookbooks as more of a spiked tea punch in the early 1800s.  The earliest written sweet tea recipe was published in 1879 in a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree.  Even today, sweet tea cocktails and spiked iced tea recipes are a delicious addition to a picnic or dinner party.

The earliest written sweet tea recipe was published in 1879 in a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree.  

What’s the Best Sugar for Sweet Tea?

Gone are the days when sugar was the only sweetener available.  Today there are many different ways to sweeten your tea. The best sweetener for iced tea or sweet tea comes down to personal preference.

If you’re not a sweet tea purist, you’ll find there are many options to sweeten your tea. Experiment before you commit to a whole pitcher of tea though since many of these will produce a different taste than traditional sweet tea.

White Sugar

Traditional sweet tea is sweetened with plain white sugar.  Since it’s added to hot tea, it dissolves easily.   White sugar is hands-down the most loved sweetener for sweet tea.

Sweet Tea with Brown Sugar

Brown sugar sweet tea is my favorite sort of sweet tea. Brown sugar has a richer flavor than white sugar because it contains molasses (which gives it a brown color). Brown sugar also has more moisture than white sugar so it dissolves faster.

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup made from white sugar is a great option to sweeten your tea.  Not only can you keep it on hand already mixed up in your refrigerator, but you can add other flavors to it like vanilla, citrus, fruit, etc.

Here’s my favorite recipe for Simple Syrup. I always make a batch and keep it on hand to sweeten tea, coffee, and cocktails. Simple syrup is great if you want to add more sweetener to your cold tea since it mixes right in.

Brown Sugar Simple Syrup

Just like regular simple syrup, this is a mixture of sugar and water. Here’s my easy brown sugar syrup recipe that you can make ahead and keep on hand for unexpected guests who like their sweet tea extra sweet.


Honey is a great sweetener, especially if you’re experimenting with your sweet tea and making it from green tea or other fruity herbal tea mixes.

Low-Calorie Sweeteners

If you love your sweet tea but know you should be on a low glycemic, low carb or low-calorie diet, there are several options. 

They don’t taste exactly like sugar, but they will satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier way if you need to avoid sugar.

  • Monk fruit
  • Coconut sugar
  • Stevia
  • Xylitol
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Saccharin (Sweet n Low)
  • Aspartame (Equal)

How To Make Sweet Tea

If you’re tired of constantly having to call your best friend in South Carolina because you can’t remember how to make sweet tea, here is all you need to know to mix up a batch yourself.

Here is what you need to do to make a half-gallon of sweet tea:

1. Start by boiling water.

  • In a saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a boil
  • Remove from heat

2. Add the super-secret ingredient that will keep your tea clear and cut the bitterness.

  • Add a pinch of baking soda to the hot water (1/16 to 1/8 of a teaspoon).

2. Add tea bags and let steep for 15 minutes.

  • Open up 6 single tea bags
  • Tie them all together and make sure the paper tags are out of the water.
  • Sink them so they’re under the hot water.
  • After 15 minutes, remove the tea bags.

3. Stir sugar into hot tea.

  • For sweet tea that a Southern girl would be proud of, stir in 3/4 cup of white sugar.
  • Brown sugar sweet tea is also delicious and tastes nearly the same!
  • You can add less if you like, and adjust with some simple syrup before drinking as well.

4. Pour into a heatproof pitcher and add more water

  • Make sure your tea is not hot enough to shatter a glass pitcher.
  • Pour your sweetened brewed tea into a pitcher.
  • Add 6 cups of water

My Favorite Slim Iced Tea Pitcher

This is my favorite iced tea pitcher. I used to have a gallon pitcher, but this 2-quart version fits so well in the refrigerator door that I've switched over.

5. Refrigerate until icy cold.

6. Serve over ice.

  • Fill a tall iced tea glass with ice.
  • Pour in your perfect Southern sweet tea

7. Call your best friend in South Carolina and tell her you finally figured out how to make sweet tea!

two mason jars filled with sweet tea recipe and lemons

Southern Sweet Tea

Yield: 8 servings
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes

This Southern Sweet tea is the perfect refreshing drink on a hot day. Mix it up as directed, or adjust the sweetness with simple syrup.


  • 2 cups of water
  • Pinch of Baking Soda
  • 6 single-serving tea bags
  • 3/4 cup white sugar or brown sugar
  • 6 cups of water


  1. Boil 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in a pinch of baking soda.
  3. Open tea bags, remove any paper tags and tie them all up together.
  4. Submerge tea bags in hot water.
  5. Steep tea for 15 minutes and remove bags.
  6. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar.
  7. Pour brewed, sweetened tea into a 2-quart pitcher.
  8. Add 6 cups of water.
  9. Refrigerate until well chilled.
  10. Serve over ice.


Adjust sweetness as desired by adding additional simple syrup to the chilled tea.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 servings Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 74Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 19mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 0gSugar: 19gProtein: 0g

Nutrition information is based on using 3/4 cup of white sugar.

How to Use Sweeteners Other than Sugar in Sweet Tea

If you are trying to stay away from sugar, here are some guidelines for using non-sugar sweeteners. Always take a look at the packaging if buying these sweeteners in bulk, because some manufacturers use different ratios.

Sweet Tea with Sweet n Low

It takes about 24 packets, or 8 teaspoons of Sweet’N Low to make one cup of sugar. So you’d need about 18 packets, or 6 teaspoons of Sweet n low to make this sweet tea recipe.

Sweet Tea with Splenda

It takes about 24 packets of Splenda to make up the sweetness of one cup of sugar. For this recipe, you’ll need about 18 packets of Splenda to make sweet tea.

Sweet Tea with Equal

It also takes about 24 packets of Equal to make up the sweetness of one cup of sugar. For this recipe, you’ll need about 18 packets of Equal to make sweet tea.

Sweet Tea with Monk Fruit

When using monk fruit powder, use about 1/2 teaspoons to replace 3/4 cup of sugar in this recipe. For liquid monk fruit sweetener, use about 216 drops.

Sweet Tea with Liquid Stevia

When making sweet tea with liquid Stevia, use about 1 1/2 teaspoons of liquid stevia to replace 3/4 cup sugar in this recipe.

If you love tea as much as I do, pin this to your favorite tea-loving Pinterest board and pass it on for others to enjoy! Pinkies up!

mason jars filled with the best sweet tea recipe along with lemon slices
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