In the South, when I grew up, dinner always included our house wine, sweet tea. It could be found in every refrigerator that I opened growing up, except for my aunt’s house, who hates sweet tea and had sodas like Chex, Winn Dixie’s brand of sodas, or Dr. Pepper. I think she was swapped at the hospital at birth. They used to knock women out to have babies. My grandmother was probably asleep and woke up to a baby that was birthed by some Midwestern woman that was down South visiting relatives and went into labor at the same exact time. Oh well, I still love her even if she hates sweet tea, and belongs to some unknown family from Missouri that prefers “pop” to sweet tea or coke.
Sweet tea is one of the first things that I learned to “cook” because not a dinner went by that we didn’t fill our cups up with it. Milk at dinner, no. That stuff was for cereal. Baby bottles all around the South were filled with watered down sweet tea, and decaf wasn’t a thing. The good news is that we all survived, and most of us still have all of our original teeth thanks to the fluoride in our water.
The difference in the sweet tea that I drink now, compared to the sweet tea that I grew up drinking is about 1 cup less sugar per gallon. I moved away from the South and stopped drinking sweet tea on a daily basis so now when I have it at restaurants when I visit my family, it literally makes my teeth hurt. I used to think that people were joking when they said that until I traveled back home this past summer and after the first sip of sweet tea from a local fast food restaurant, my teeth were aching.
Now, when I make a gallon of tea at home, I reduce the amount of sugar, and when visiting my old sweet tea stops around the South, I fill my cup with half unsweetened tea. If you’re not a sweet tea drinker but you want to try this recipe, I would try less sugar at first. Just know that you don’t add sugar to plain tea that’s poured in a cup full of ice. It’s a sin, check the New Testament of the King James Bible. Plus, it doesn’t dissolve like it does when the tea is just freshly brewed.
If you love sweet tea that’s strong and super sweet then use two cups of sugar for a gallon of tea rather than one cup. I’ve wimped out now and use half as much as what I grew up with but I don’t know that I’ll ever officially give up my sweet tea.
I like dark brewed sweet tea. Don’t serve me sweet tea that’s the color of apple juice. At times, my grandmother would brew her tea in a coffee maker or a tea maker. I don’t do either, I just let my tea bags steep in a pot on the stove anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. I have learned over the years that by adding a pinch of baking soda to your tea you help to eliminate the bitter flavor that it sometimes has. A pinch for those of you who like measurement terms is about 1/8 of a teaspoon.
I often have a cup of sweet tea for breakfast rather than coffee so don’t limit yourself to only drinking it at night. For me, I need to allow my body plenty of time to process the caffeine and sugar or I will have insomnia, so I enjoy it earlier in the day and sleep better at night.
Tea must be refrigerated. If you leave it out on the counter overnight it sours. Once you’ve tasted soured tea you will never forget the rancid flavor. Restaurants will often forget to put their tea away at night as part of their closing procedures. If you have tried to drink sweet tea and it tasted awful it was probably left sitting out on the counter overnight.
Use whatever brand of tea that you like, so long as you use the orange pekoe variety. Luzianne and Lipton are popular down South, but I’ve even bought the store brand from Walmart in regular and decaf and they tasted great. Remember that serving hot tea over ice will water it down a bit. For that reason, I like to make my tea, let it cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate it before serving it, that way it has all of the strong tea flavor that I expect. Happy brewing!
Fill your pitcher with 2 cups of sugar (1 cup if you prefer a less sweet tea) and a pinch of baking soda. Add about 4 cups of warm water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Fill a large sauce pan with water (4-6 cups). Bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and place the tea bags in the water and allow to steep for 15 minutes (or longer for stronger tea – I’ve steeped mine up to an hour).
Remove the tea bags from the pan and pour the tea into the pitcher. Add more water if needed to equal one gallon of sweet tea. Allow to cool and place in the refrigerator. Serve over ice. Store in the refrigerator at all times, not on the counter, in order to avoid spoiled tea.
Note** My family places the tea bags into the pan with the water, brings the tea bags and water up to a boil, and then turns off the heat and steeps the tea for 15 minutes. To heat the tea bags or not to heat them. I’ve done both, but I find that I have less tea grains at the bottom of the pitcher when I don’t add them before the water boils.