How To Make The Best Southern Sweet Tea
Let's talk about Southern sweet tea! Maybe you have a picnic or party coming up, perhaps you're looking to make a gallon to keep in your Emerald Isle vacation rental, or maybe you just want a refreshing taste of the South year round. Southern sweet tea is the quintessential thirst-quenching drink that is a favorite of those below the Mason-Dixon line. It is not the iced tea of the North, okay? They are very different entities, so please don't get them confused.
So what makes Southern sweet tea so epic? It's the perfect blend of tea, water and sugar served at the perfect temperature. It's light, sweet, refreshing and totally addictive. Let's delve into exactly what goes into the best Southern sweet tea and we'll even give you our favorite recipe at the end of this blog. Let's break it down!
Choose Your Tea WiselyThis can be a point of contention, but choosing your brand of tea is pretty important. In the South, Luzianne brand tea ranks high with sweet tea drinkers. Did you know that Luzianne specially selects tea leaves that are tailored toward the flavors of iced tea as opposed to hot tea? They do. So, maybe that's the difference. Lipton Tea comes in a close second as far as Southern sweet tea goes and is arguably the most popular brand nationwide.
At the end of the day (and end of the glass), what really matters is what you like and prefer. If you have a brand that is close to your heart and your tastebuds, then by all means use that one. We're using the traditional black tea for the best Southern sweet tea, but if you want to get crazy and experiment with different types of tea bags or blends, by all means, go for it.
Method MattersOkay, we're going to break from tradition here. It's common practice to boil your water first then steep your tea bags. Nope, we disagree! We find that using hot tap water sufficient to dissolve the sugar is all that's really necessary. Our way of steeping the tea is actually closer to a cold-brew method because it gently brings out the flavors of the tea bag over time without any sharp notes or bitterness, resulting in an overall smoother flavor and finish. Cold-brew teas (and coffees) are all the rage these days, and these are just a few of the reasons why.
It's actually easier to cold-brew the tea bags than mess with having to boil water anyway. Once the sugar dissolves in the hot water, you just add the tea bags and let them work their magic in the fridge. We like a ratio of 6 regular size tea bags per gallon of water.
Yes, it takes a little more time to cold-brew it, but you'll reap the benefits in the flavor. The tea usually takes at least 3-4 hours to reach its optimal "cold state" which is ideal since the flavors change until that point. You can taste as you go from there, removing the tea bags when you like the flavor. We usually leave ours in for a maximum of 8 hours.
Sugar, Yes Please
We're talking about Southern sweet tea here, so of course there's a lot of sugar. If you're not used to it, it may taste sweeter than you expect it to taste. But that's part of the legacy of sweet tea here in the South. It's very sweet and never bitter.
We think the best Southern sweet tea has a cup-and-a-third of sugar per gallon. It seems to be the right balance between not quite sweet enough and cloyingly sweet. Of course you can adjust per your flavor preference, but for us this is spot on.
Ice, Ice BabyIt's always best to serve Southern sweet tea in a tall glass filled to the brim with ice, especially during those hot summer months. The clanking of the ice cubes as the tea fills the glass is all part of the sweet tea experience. You don't really have to worry about it getting watered down because it rarely lasts long enough in your glass for that to even happen. Before you know it, you're back at the fridge for seconds.
Finish it off with whatever garnish you choose: lemon slices, sprigs of mint, or nothing at all. Then all that's left to do is sit back, sip (or gulp), and enjoy this Southern favorite. You'll find that it is a crowd pleaser that goes quickly. Maybe you should go ahead and make two gallons...
Ready for the best Southern sweet tea recipe? Here you go!
Best Southern Sweet Tea Recipe
Ingredients:6 of your favorite regular tea bags; Luzianne or Lipton highly recommended
1 gallon of hot tap water; you can boil it first if you prefer (but we didn't)
1 and 1/3 cups of granulated sugar
1. Hold and line up tea bags so they're even, pull off paper and staples from the top of the bags, then loop and knot all the strings of the tea bags together. Set aside.
2. Fill a gallon jug or pitcher with very hot water then pour in the sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
3. Add the tea bags to the pitcher and dunk a few times until they're saturated. Cover and refrigerate.
4. Wait for at least 3-4 hours until the tea has reached the cold state. Tea bags can be left in for up to 8 hours or removed whenever you desire.
5. Pour over ice for extra refreshment and garnish with lemon or mint. Drink and enjoy. Cheers!
*Recipe adapted from Food.com
Where have you had the best Southern sweet tea?