Sweet Tea Recipe

Sweet Tea Recipe

Sweet tea or unsweet tea? That is the question waitresses across the southeastern United States pose as a greeting to diners. As Dolly Parton proclaimed in her role as Truvy in the movie based on the play Steel Magnolias, it’s the “house wine of the South.”

The summer Mockingbird Bakery opened, Delta magazine, our regional Vanity Fair, bestowed upon us the honor of “Best Sweet Tea.” We had ordered dozens and dozens of those crooked-neck spoons that can hang on the side of an iced tea glass. In the following 18 months, the spoons had almost all disappeared. I could not imagine they were getting thrown away. I even installed a magnetized trash can cover to catch them. I had scoured the place looking for them. Then one day, in the middle of the lunch rush, I spied a woman deftly swipe her tea spoon into her expensive handbag. As she was a regular customer and well regarded in the community, I decided to let her get away with the petty theft. I was, at the very least, glad that the mystery of the disappearing spoons had been solved. Several days later she returned with her usual luncheon coterie. I’ll have you know that when the table was bussed, there was not a single crooked-neck spoon to be found. The next time she lunched with us, the spoons were left behind when she departed. I do not think she had reformed her ways; I think she simply had acquired a service for eight. The rest of the spoons must have been absconded with by similar crooks.–Martha Hall Foose

LC House Wine Of The South Note

Nothing slakes thirst, quells worries, and comes together with quite as much ease as Southern sweet tea. Rest assured, it divine any way you serve it, whether with or without a crooked neck spoon with which to stir it.

Sweet Tea Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 40 M
  • Makes 3 quarts


  • 4 pitcher-size cold-brew tea bags, or 6 tablespoons orange pekoe tea leaves in a diffuser
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Ice cubes
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • Mint sprig (optional)


  • 1. Place the tea bags in a large pitcher. Pour in 3 quarts (12 cups) of cold water and let steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • 2. Meanwhile, bring 1 cup of cold water and the sugar to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and turns into what’s known as a sugar syrup.
  • 3. Remove and discard the tea bags from the pitcher. Add the sugar syrup to the tea and stir. Serve the tea over ice, with lemon and mint, if desired. If you’re serving the sweet tea with lemon slices, pass them on the side so that the juice can be squeezed into the tea and the lemon discarded. (If the pith is left to wallow in the glass, its bitterness will infuse the tea.)
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Recipe Testers Reviews

Recipe Testers Reviews
Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Jul 01, 2010

I made two batches of this sweet tea recipe for a large summer dinner, and both easily qualify as a Testers’ Choice. The first I made with the orange pekoe tea. I steeped for precisely the 30 minutes specified and used precisely the 3/4 cup sugar and three quarts (or 12 cups) of water for the sugar syrup. I generously infused the fresh mint from our garden into the finished Sweet Tea before serving, and provided lemons on the side. Delicious and refreshing! I felt I could have used less tea or more water, since the resulting tea was strong. I like that, but not everyone does. Greater dilution would be wise for anyone concerned about their evening caffeine intake — this was very strong black tea! Since we had so much mint in the garden, I made the second batch solely with mint, and no black tea, creating a Sweet Mint Tea, reminiscent of the tea that’s ceremoniously poured at all the couscous restaurants in Paris, for example, and at some Middle Eastern restaurants here in the States as well. To get a flavorful Sweet Mint Tea with fresh leaves, I used three cups of fresh mint leaves, which would roughly translate to one cup of dried (or slightly more than three times the amount of mint as black tea) for full mint flavor. Nonetheless, I used the same amount of steeping time, and quantities of sugar and water as with the orange pekoe batch. Again, delicious and refreshing!!

  1. pattyk says:

    Could Martha tell me where to purchase crooked neck spoons that hang on the side of a tea glass. I would love to have a set of 8 too. Thanks!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We’ve asked Martha and will let you know as soon as we hear. You’re not the only one who now covets a set of those crooked-neck spoons…

      • pattyk says:

        Thank you so much for asking Martha for a source. I’ve checked around but haven’t found them yet, so she may be our only hope. I have been making her sweet tea and love it, but it seems to be missing something without the spoon.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

          You’re very welcome, Patty. I understand exactly what you mean about those spoons, and will let you know as soon as I hear from Martha (or otherwise suss out a source!). Or perhaps someone else has a crooked-neck spoon connection…?

          • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

            PattyK, I just happened upon long “ice cream spoons” by accident and thought of you…they’re not the same and don’t have the crooked neck, but just in case these sort of suffice until we come up with the right ones…

            • pattyk says:

              Thanks so much for thinking of me. They would serve the purpose even if they lack the charm. I was just looking through Martha’s book yesterday and I’m feeling the urge for more sweet tea.

              • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

                You’re very welcome. And she has a new book coming out shortly…called Southerly Courses.

                • Natalie W says:

                  I found these curved handle iced tea spoons. Hope it helps.

                  • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

                    Some say curved handle, others say crooked neck. All the same! These are perfect, Natalie! A triumph! Thank you. PattyK, did you hear? It’s a shame our order won’t be here in time for the long weekend, but I dare say our sweet tea will taste all the sweeter knowing that these spoons do, in fact, still exist. Natalie, you have our most sincere gratitude.

                • Patty K says:

                  Thanks from me, too, Natalie. Our weather is so hot, a tall glass of iced tea with a crooked neck spoon will hit the spot.

  2. Denise Gee says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Martha tells such great stories!

  3. Paris Smith says:

    I would like to share a recipe for “Blanche’s Mint Iced Tea”; Blanche being my grandmother’s cook circa 1930’s until the 1960’s. Blanche’s kitchen was in Bay City, Texas, and many, if not most, of the cooking was “Old South”, albeit with a Texas influence.

    Fresh mint (about 1 doz. sprigs or more)
    Two lemons, plus more for garnish
    Six teabags or equivalent

    1. Combine the mint, juice of two lemons, and tea bags in a pan. Pour 1 1/2 quarts of boiling water over the top and let stand for about an hour.

    2. Boil 1 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar that’s been dissolved in the water for 3 minutes. Let cool.

    3. Pour the sugar-water mixture into tall iced tea glasses, fill with ice, and then pour the tea mixture into the glasses through a strainer to capture the mint.

    4.) Stir with long (preferably sterling) iced tea spoons, add lemon slices that are split halfway on the edge of each glass, and enjoy.

    Absolutely spectacular!

    Paris E. Smith
    Alkmaar, The Netherlands

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      What a charming story and compelling recipe, Paris! We always appreciate hearing of new—or new to us—recipes, but the weather this past week makes this one particularly welcome. Thank you.

    • Penny says:

      Boiling water is our way as well! I think it’s a bit more robust but one should taste tea with the sweet. I have switched to neighbor’s honey as my sweetener when I have it.
      Blanche lives on!

  4. pattyk says:

    Hi Renee,

    I’m checking in concerning the iced tea spoons. I guess you didn’t hear anything from Martha about a source. I have purchased her book and have enjoyed reading it and planning which recipes to try.

    I’m still hoping Martha can help us find the spoons somewhere. Thanks for trying.


    • Allison Parker says:

      PattyK, I just noticed: Natalie W, in the comment thread up above, has posted a link to some spoons (Renee commented there as well). Looks like there will be some very happy tea drinkers soon. And I must say, right now I’d do just about anything for a glass of this. Cheers!

    • MARLENE says:

      There are not crooked iced tea spoons, but there are curved iced tea spoons, which I think are the same thing.

  5. Beth Price, LC Recipe Testing Director says:

    Nothing better on a hot summer day than a cold glass of sweet tea. Off to make a batch right now.

  6. Lin says:

    I have long ice tea spoons….( I am a southern girl) but they do not hang on the glasses. I clicked on the link, but it said there were no products found. I sure would like to see what they look like and where to purchase them! I loved the story and recipe.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Lin, the link worked back when we first posted it, but the company must be temporarily out of stock or (heaven forbid) must have discontinued carrying those particular spoons. We’re researching what happened and seeking an alternate source and will be back in touch….

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