Southern Sweet Tea

Southern sweet tea is something you’re going to want to make by the gallon. Here’s how to make it cold brew tea bags of any sort, whether Lipton or any other brand.

Two large glass bottles filled with Southern sweet tea.

Southern sweet tea. Also known as “the house wine of the South.” Nothing slakes thirst, quells worries, and comes together with quite as much ease. Rest assured, it’s divine any way you serve it, whether on the front porch or resting somewhere blessed by air condition.–Renee Schettler

Sweet Tea

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 5 M
  • 40 M
  • Makes 12 (1-cup) servings
4.7/5 - 3 reviews
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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.

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.

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.) Originally published July 1, 2010.

Print RecipeBuy the Screen Doors and Sweet Tea cookbook

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Recipe Testers' Tips

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 3 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 3 cups of fresh mint leaves, which would roughly translate to 1 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!!


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  1. I found the “Hanging Iced Tea Spoons” at They are about $10.00 for six. Hope these are the ones you are looking for..:)

    they are less than $10.00 for six..

  2. I like Arnold Palmer ice tea!! In restaurants, I ask for “unsweetened” ice tea and lemonade and let the lemonade sweeten the tea for me. Can I assume to use this recipe without the sugar to make a good unsweetened ice tea??

    1. Mark, we haven’t tried this recipe without the sugar so I can’t say for certain but it certainly seems as if it should work as an unsweetened tea recipe. Kindly let us know what you think!

  3. If Ms. Foose still lives in Greenwood, I’m just twenty minutes down highway 82 west in Indianola, Mississippi. My recipe is a streamlined version that may be quickly made even with several young children hanging about one’s skirts.
    Place 2 family-sized bags Lipton tea in a large pitcher with a scant cup of sugar.
    Pour one gallon of boiling water over this and steep for 6 minutes.
    Remove tea bags, add 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice and four sprigs of mint from your garden. Stir vigorously until sugar melts. Cool for fifteen minutes before pouring over ice. You want strong tea as the melting ice will dilute it.

  4. I for one could never see the need for a teaspoon. The sugar (1 cup per gallon, I am from South Georgia, ya’ know) is melted by the hot tea before the addition of water so what needs a spoon?

    Lemon you say? I’m not making lemonade. :)

  5. I can’t remember a single day of my life when there wasn’t a pitcher of sweet, iced tea in the refrigerator. In many southern households, it’s served as the default beverage at every meal with the exception of breakfast. It’s also used to soothe an unsettled tummy and in bottles to quiet fussy babies. And we use it unsweetened to reduce eyelid puffiness after an evening of over indulgences and to ease the pain of a sunburn. Oh, and p.s. – yes, I do have a set of iced tea spoons. Got them as a wedding gift. Doesn’t everyone?

  6. Sorry, I think the sweet tea of the south is disgustingly…sweet! Probably as healthy as Coca Cola! And why would anyone pay $2-3+ for sweetened water in a restaurant? Equal to the coffee travesty called “Starbucks.” Put the money from your sweet tea and mocha latte something into a jar and fly to Paris first class in 12 months.

  7. 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.

    1. 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….

              1. Renee, I ordered them July 24th, and received a message today, Aug. 21st, that they are discontinued. These spoons are elusive I do believe!

                1. Oh Lin, I’m so sorry to hear that! Damn, they are elusive! But I appreciate you letting us know. Okay, so back to square one. Anyone know where to find sweet tea spoons?

                  1. Not sure if these are exactly the spoons everyone is looking for, and I’m only about a year late on the response, but I just found these online and thought someone may enjoy it. They seem quite reasonably priced, 12 for only $20 in 6, 7 or 8 inches. Hope this helps!

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

  9. 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.


    1. 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!

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

  10. 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

    1. 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!

  11. 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!

      1. 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.

            1. Renee,
              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.

                  1. 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.

                1. 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.

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