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Southern Sweet Tea

I need a recipe for sweet tea. My husband and daughter love the sweet tea served in the south, but can't find it where we live. DH has tried to make it, but it just doesn't taste the same.

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  1. I think it has to do with the brand of tea that is used. If you can find it you should use:
    Luzianne Tea Bags

    1. Quick story:
      when I lived in Houston a friend from TN visited and discovered the hot tea that she had loved in England. So she loaded up on tea bags, took them home to TN, and found that different water makes very different tasting tea.

      Our water is well water from limestone caverns. Luzianne tea bags make a great iced tea in my water. (My water is so hard that ice cubes have precipitates.)
      For two quarts of iced tea, one large tea bag, about four to six packs of Sweet and Lo and three to four four-inch long sprigs of fresh mint.

      Purists make a sugar syrup. And pour the tea over ice to cool it after the sugar is added.

      Our version is lower cal and really refreshing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: shallots

        You are so right, Shallots. I am an avid hot tea drinker and I live in NC. When we travel up North I make my tea w/ bottled water b/c when I make it w/ tap water up there it just doesn't taste right. Now, I love the water up north, just not for my tea.

        Down here, I don't think the tea bag means as much as the fact that you must use simple syrup to sweeten it. But Luzianne, Lipton, whatever will work fine.

      2. I'll second the Luzianne brand... I have also heard conflicting methodology about adding the sugar. some say it has to been simple syrup added to the cold tea... but I have also heard some say you actually cook the sugar in the boiling water before you make the tea.

        maybe you could post a notice on some of the southern boards... I know you can't request recipes on there... but you could probably post a heads up that you are looking for recipes and please respond to home cooking.

        1. After 20 years of living in NC, I still can't get used to the syrupy, thick liquid that they call sweet tea down here, but here's how my southern belle friends make it:

          Steep 6-7 teabags in 1 quart of boiling water (bring water to boil, then remove from heat and add tea bags). Let steep for about 5 to 10 minutes

          Pour steeped tea into 1 quart of room temperature water. Adding the pre-steeped tea to room temp plain water seems to keep the tea from getting cloudy.

          Make a simple syrup by mixing 3 cups water with 5 cups sugar in a saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves. Cool slightly and add to steeped tea/water mixture to taste.

          I've never heard of any brand preference for tea but I believe Luzianne is black oolong and Lipton is orange pekoe - just keep experimenting until you find a brand you like.

          You can also add the simple syrup to brewed sun tea


          1. My family wasn't blessed with good cooks.
            And summer's main drink was water with the occassional RC cola.
            I remember my first 'real' iced tea. At a first grade birthday party in early June. (I do remember which friend's birthday it was.)
            It was sparkling clear with lots of ice and lots of sweetness. I have no idea what kind of cake was served, but that iced tea was my first glimpse that there were cooking skills out there beyond my family efforts.

            1. If you think NC tea is sweet, you've never been to the deep South, aka Georgia. Here's how it's made by my mother, grandmother and all the old church ladies:

              For one gallon of tea place 4 family size teabags in a pot of boiled water and let steep for about 5 minutes. Too long and the tea will be bitter. I switched from Lipton to Luzianne about 5 years ago. Add one heaping cup of sugar to a one gallon pitcher and pour in the hot tea concentrate, stir to dissolve. Bring to volume with water. Serve over ice.

              Granted, making the tea without sugar and using simple syrup at the table is a good way to go for those who can't/won't do the sweet thing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: bkhuna

                I can top yours for sweetness. lol I grew up in the Vidalia, Georgia area. Here's how my mother made it.

                For one gallon of tea, place 10 regular sized tea bags or 3 family size bags in a pot with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and turn off. Let steep for 5-10 minutes according to personal taste. Put 2 cups of sugar into a gallon pitcher and pour the tea into it. Stir and continue filling with cold water from the faucet. Stir to ensure the sugar is dissolved, then serve over ice.

                My mom's tea was always the first to go at potlucks or family reunions.
                We always used Tetley tea. It's hard to find now so I alternate between it, Lipton, and Luzianne. Tetley is still my favorite. I use 1 1/2 cups of sugar instead of the 2 cups and would use less but my family gets upset when I reduce it more.

                1. re: alliedawn_98

                  My kin are from Glennville (still ticked off about the whole onion thing ) :)

                  Gotta love Georgia sweet tea!

              2. Simple syrup is all well and good if you're going to make plain iced tea and sweeten it to taste. But if you're making sweet tea, it's an unnecessary step.

                Here's how I've been making tea lately. Credit for the modern innovation goes to my mother, who lives in Tuscaloosa and hates to heat up the kitchen during the summer as much as I do. Put a quart of water in a large Pyrex measuring cup and pop it in the microwave until it boils, then take it out and steep two family-sized bags of Lipton (Luzianne and Red Rose are also favorites) for 4-5 minutes. After removing the tea bags, pour the steeped tea over one-quarter to half a cup of sugar in the bottom of a half-gallon pitcher, stir to dissolve, fill the pitcher with ice, and add water to fill out the half gallon.

                10 Replies
                1. re: alanbarnes

                  They use simple syrup to sweeten the sweetest of sweet tea here in NCand other parts of the south. The only benefit over just adding table sugar is that it's already dissolved. Thus, no annoying layer of sugar at the bottom of your pitcher. The restos I've worked in down here have always used simple syrup.

                  1. re: lynnlato

                    I think we're in vehement agreement. Those who sweeten the tea while it's still hot and before it gets diluted can get away with using granulated sugar, because the sugar dissolves well in hot liquids. That's the way my mother (and her husband's family, who've been in Alabama since Hector was a pup) do it. On the other hand, those who sweeten their tea once it's room-temperature or cold will indeed end up with an annoying layer of sugar at the bottom of the pitcher. Thus the need for simple syrup.

                    Although, re-reading your post, I wonder if maybe the amount of sugar might come into play as well. When you say "sweetest of sweet tea," how much sugar are you talking about per gallon of tea? I've never gone over a cup; maybe simple sugar is necessary to get more saturated solutions.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Oh, I guess I misunderstood. My bad. I thought you were saying that you couldn't achieve super sweetness w/ syrup.

                      Although I live in the South, I'm an unsweetened tea gal myself. But I think you're right that for those that enjoy the super sweet tea, the best way to achieve it is probably w/ the simple syrup.

                      1. re: lynnlato

                        Honestly, it seems like an unnecessary extra step. Just boil half the amount of water you intend to use, steep, add sugar while very hot, and as soon as it is dissolved, add the rest of the water. Or add it in the form of frozen water, if you need immediate gratification.

                        1. re: danna

                          I wouldn't say unnecessary, but maybe just a matter of preference.

                          My experience w/ the stuff is in the resto biz. People always raved about our tea and we made it w/ syrup. Many restos, do the syrup up ahead of time and chill it. Then servers, who are constantly making tea, can just brew it, pour in the simple syrup and voila - sweet tea. No messing w/ measuring out sugar, water, etc.

                          'Course at home, we keep simple syrup in the fridge for mojitos, not tea!

                          1. re: lynnlato

                            Well, that makes sense! As an aside, I always appreciate when restaurants that don't offer sweet tea DO offer simple syrup. It irritates me to order sweet tea, and be told "we only have unsweetened, but we have sugar!" in that cheery tone ;-) I don't plan to be in the restaurant long enough for sugar to dissolve in cold water, thanks.

                            I keep simple syrup in the fridge at home too...for impromtu limeade, or "enhanced limeades" of various stripes, like mojitos and caipirihnas!

                            1. re: danna

                              Danna, I've never been to or involved w/ a resto that offers simple syrup to sweeten your tea yourself - but what a brilliant idea! As Mr. Barnes pointed out, I'd love to add just a touch of sweetness to unsweet tea w/ syrup.

                              "Enhanced limeades" - nice!

                      2. re: alanbarnes

                        I think the simple syrup is a good way to go because you can control the level of sweetnes... but either way, I agree with previous posters... only so much sugar can dissolve in cooler or cold water (or tea).. the higher the temp, the more sugar will dissolve (to the point of making candy).

                        if you want really sweet tea (without the granules on the bottom) you have to either add sugar when the tea is still hot or make a simple syrup.

                        personally, I like unsweetened tea or a syrup to add just a touch of sweetness... but more "authentic" sweet tea (imho) seems to require heat for the sugar or else it'd be so full of granules you could stand your spoon up in it.

                        1. re: withalonge

                          oh, and another thing for the OP to remember! Southern tea is not only sweet, but strong!! make sure to err on the side of more tea bags.

                  2. I grew up with the stuff. My mom made it with 4-5 family-size tea bags (she likes Lipton), about a quart of cold water. Heat until bubbles start to form (but not boiling), for about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let it steep for a few minutes (no more than 5). Put about 2/3-1 cup of sugar into a gallon tea jar. Add the hot liquid and stir. Finish filling the jar with cold water.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: beth1

                      This is precisely the method that my Mama always used. I grew up in Alabama, and I never heard of using simple syrup until a couple of years ago. I think it's a very considerate thing to do, since not everyone likes the same level of sweetness. At our family gatherings, however, we offered a second pitcher of unsweet tea and sweet n' lo packets in case someone needed an alternative. It was hardly ever touched.

                      I've lived in Florida for almost 20 years now, and up until a few years ago it was pretty rare to be able to get Sweet Tea in a restaurant, and it's kind of hit-or-miss as far as quality, IMO. I remember a while back ordering a glass, and the server looked up nervously from her order pad, and said "About that. I just need to warn you, I mixed up the tea tonight, and I'm from Mississippi." I told her not to worry, I , too, was an "actual" Southerner, and she had my trust.

                      That was probably the best glass of Sweet Tea I've ever had outside my house.

                    2. The one thing I think is most important, is to pour the hot steeped tea over the sugar. And stir and stir. If it isn't sweetened hot, it won't work.

                      Then you pour some of the hot tea over a glass full of ice. Then top off the ice and continue filling with tea.

                      Also you have Sun Tea. I don't make it, but love to drink it.

                      1. I have a southern relation who adds a can of frozen lemonade concentrate to a 1/2 gallon pitcher of tea, thus covering bases for both sugar and lemon.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Querencia

                          Kinda similiar to the Arnold Palmer, which is half sweet tea, half lemonade. Servers LOVE IT when folks order this in restos. Along w/ the request for half sweet tea, half unsweet tea. Always makes it fun to refill drinks (not so much). Ha!

                        2. This is going to sound a little silly, but when I was little, I thought ALL teas were sweetened just because that's the only way it was ever served in my families' homes. When I did get older and found people actually liked it unsweetened, I was a little shocked! However, now I do drink teas unsweetened the majority of the time, and make a good sweet tea once in a while. I love it. My family always used the lipton tea, boiled a few bags, and guessed on the amount of sugar. Whatever tasted good was the amount used.

                          1. I just discovered the existence of a cookbook with an interesting title: "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea". Really sounds interesting, so thought others might like to know about it..........