My Sweet Tea recipe uses a special secret ingredient for the BEST flavor! It comes together in just 15 minutes and can be enjoyed right away–no waiting required. Recipe includes a how-to video!
An Ice-Cold Glass of Sunshine
Sweet tea is a quintessential summer drink in the north and a year-round, staple beverage in the south. While you can find it in pretty much any restaurant or easily make it at home, a truly excellent sweet tea can be hard to come by. I did lots of testing to come up with the BEST sweet tea recipe, and all of my taste testers agreed–this is it!
Many recipes have you stir the sugar in at the end, but I’ve found that creating a simple syrup first and then steeping the tea in the hot (not boiling) syrup not only creates a better, more even flavor, but it also saves time (and dishes!). I still recommend stirring the tea before pouring, but you now won’t have to worry about undissolved sugar granules.
Serve this at your next cookout alongside some cornbread and deviled eggs and you’ll have a little slice of the south in your own backyard! 😎
Why You’ll Love My Recipe:
- Can be poured over ice immediately–no waiting required!
- Uses a “secret” ingredient that enhances the flavor (you probably already use it if you’re from the south!).
- Is perfectly sweet without being knock-you-in-the-face-make-you-sick sweet, like some versions are.
- Makes a half-gallon of tea, but can easily be doubled to make more!
What You Need
My sweet tea recipe has an incredible flavor despite being uncomplicated. Here’s what you need to make it:
- Baking soda. I know, I know–it may seem weird to add baking soda to iced tea, but trust me! Baking soda gives the tea a deeper, smoother, more rounded flavor. Some people will say it makes no difference or is merely added for aesthetic reasons (to keep the tea from getting cloudy), but that is absolutely not the case! Baking soda changes the flavor in such a profound way that my little sister (and biggest sweet tea aficionado that I know) exclaimed “This is the best sweet tea I’ve ever tasted!” when trying a sip. The majority of my blind taste-testers agreed; the pitcher made with baking soda simply tasted better and “more like sweet tea” than the one without. If you really must leave it out, you can, but I can promise your tea won’t taste nearly as good.
- Black tea. Use a regular-sized (not the large ones for iced tea), unflavored black tea bags, like Lipton, Tetley, or Red Rose. I recommend steeping the tea bags for a maximum of 10 minutes; steeping for longer will produce a stronger tea, but can also make it bitter. You also don’t want to squeeze the tea bags for the same reason.
- Sugar. You can’t have sweet tea without sugar! My recipe involves dissolving the sugar to create a simple syrup instead of just adding it in at the end; this ensures a tea that is smoother and more evenly flavored.
- Lemon juice. Adding lemon juice is optional, but I highly recommend it. It makes for a more flavorful tea with just the right amount of tart to balance the sweetness.
SAM’S TIP: Make sure the pitcher you’re using is heat-safe! Some glass pitchers will shatter with hot liquids, and since the tea is still very warm when we add it to the pitcher, you want to be sure yours can handle it.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make It
- Bring 3 cups of water, sugar, and baking soda to a boil over medium high heat, then remove from the heat.
- Add your tea bags to the pot and let them steep for 10 minutes before discarding (do not squeeze them!).
- Pour your tea into a large, heat-proof pitcher, then add the lemon juice and remaining water.
- Stir well, pour over ice, and enjoy!
SAM’S TIP: Don’t add the tea bags to the boiling water; you can burn the tea and create a bad flavor. Instead, remove the syrup from the heat and let the boiling stop (this should happen immediately), then add your tea bags.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some people add baking soda for clarity, but I add it for flavor. Just as in my tomato soup, baking soda helps neutralize the acidity of the tea to give it a smooth, rounded flavor. This is a classic ingredient in southern recipes, and I highly recommend including it for best results–it’s just a tiny amount!
Lemon slices, orange slices, mint leaves, or even frozen raspberries or peaches are all great additions to iced tea. Or, you can make an Arnold Palmer by mixing your tea with lemonade!
First thing’s first, it’s hot in the southern United States, and iced tea is extremely refreshing. All obvious notions aside, the south is home to the largest commercial tea plantation in the US, so it’s no surprise that southerners like their tea. Iced tea in particular is said to have become popular during prohibition, when punches that would typically include tea and alcohol could no longer be spiked. Clearly consumers still find tea refreshing on its own, long after booze made its comeback!
I’d love to hear how you like this one (particularly if you’re from the south!)–let me know in the comments below!
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
- 8 cups (1.9 L) water divided
- 6 black tea bags
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice optional (fresh-squeezed preferred)
- Combine 3 cups of water (310ml), sugar, and baking soda in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat.8 cups (1.9 L) water, 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar, ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then immediately remove from heat.
- Add tea bags and steep for 10 minutes. Lift tea bags from the tea and allow them to drip (don’t squeeze), then discard.6 black tea bags
- Pour tea into a large pitcher.
- Add lemon juice, if using, then add remaining 5 cups (1.2L) cold water and stir well.¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice
- Tea may be served immediately poured over ice, or store in the refrigerator for several hours before serving. Always stir before pouring.
Baking SodaWhile the baking soda could be left out, I don’t recommend it. I consider it a key ingredient for a smooth but robustly flavored sweet tea. Just a pinch goes a long way!
StoringStore in a covered pitcher for up to 3-4 days. Good luck getting it to last that long!
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
I made this in my drip coffee pot and it came out fine. It tastes great although i do like my sweet tea a little sweeter but i am trying to drink it with the amount in the recipe. it is still good and prob a better idea not to put as much sugar as i usually do!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much, Sandra! 🙂
I have used these same ingredients for my Sweet Tea for year’s but never have I tried your simple syrup with the tea bags technique. I’m trying it first thing in the morning. I was born & raised in the north but I drink so much sweet tea I have a Southern accent.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We hope you love it, Denise! 🙂
This is perfect! A little sweet for me but gets raves. I’ve made it many times now with varying amounts of sugar depending on my audience. Especially good with some high quality tea bags.
Thank you so much, Sarah! I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much. 🙂
My daughter takes a reusable bottle to school every day now 😊
Hi Sam! Since you published this recipe, I’ve been soooo tea drunk that I forgot to leave a note. It is absolutely delicious!! I make it exactly as written. My husband loves it and he is an ice tea drinker connoisseur (although I question that because. I tried it with bottled lemon juice and didn’t tell him since he would have grunted and turned up his nose. Instead he swilled it down like the prior batches). So if you’re in a pinch you can use the bottled stuff but like you, recommend fresh lemons first. Thank you so much for another awesome recipe!
🤣 I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed it so much, Pat! 🙂
Thanks Sam. I made it with granular Stevia sweetener and it was great. I actually only used 1/2 cup of it. It would have been too sweet with a full cup.
Thanks for the feedback, Linda! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
Sam, I’ve made NUMEROUS recipes of yours, and you’ve never been under a 5-star recipe! My fiance asked for sweet tea a few weeks ago. Magically, of all things, you release a sweet tea recipe! I told her about it, and your secret ingredient. Immediately her nose turned up, but I told her that all of your recipes are tested and work! I just made it using only 6 of a 100 tea bag box of Ceylon orange pekoe & pekoe cut black tea. Her comment, with eyebrows raised? “Pretty good!” Thanks as always!
That is so awesome! Thanks for sharing your story with me! I’m so glad everyone enjoyed it. I like the sound of the tea you used. 🙂
Couldn’t the remaining water be added to the tea in the pot to cool it before pouring into the glass pitcher?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
If your pot is big enough, that should be fine. But it will likely still be pretty warm from heating the syrup and could just end up warming up your cold water.
We really enjoyed this ice tea , I reduced sugar for our likeness, but besides that followed the recipe and it was perfect. Will be making it all summer. Thank you Sam !
I’m so glad everyone enjoyed it so much, Anna! 🙂
I was very glad to see baking soda used. I’m southern, and would drink more iced tea if it didn’t set off reflux and pain. I’ve tried alkaline drops but they ruin the taste. I’ve wondered about using baking soda … and now I know! Thanks very much.
I hope you love it, Karen! 🙂
have you tried to make it with sugar substitutes? I am diabetic an so miss my sweet tea!
Unfortunately, I have not tried it with sugar substitutes, but I’d assume that as long as they dissolve like sugar would then you wouldn’t have an issue. 🙂