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How to Make Southern Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea
There’s sweet tea, then there’s southern sweet tea.
If you want authentic southern-style sweet tea, all you need is a pot of boiling water, tea bags and lots of sugar. Anything else just isn’t the real deal.

Nix the powdered junk. Pitch the iced tea brewer. If you want real sweet tea, you need a pot of boiling water, tea bags and plenty of sugar. Anything less just isn’t real sweet tea. Ask any Southerner how to make sweet tea and this is more or less the process they’ll walk you through.

What Tea Bags Should I Use?

What kind of tea you use is important, as sweet tea is not rocket science. However, if you ask most Southerners what tea they recommend, most will tell you the best sweet tea brand is Luzianne because it’s made specifically for iced tea. There are, however, lots of other brands are creating cold brew-ready products, like Lipton and Twinnings. It’s important to use the cold brew variety of tea bags, because the taste will end up smoother and not so bitter as it would with regular black tea bags.

If you don’t have iced tea-ready bags at the ready, you can still have a glass of refreshing southern sweet tea. If family-size regular black tea bags are available, substitute 2 family-size bags for the 6 regular-sized iced tea bags.

Brew, Don’t Bruise

It’s tempting to just throw the tea bags in a pot of water and put it on the stove to boil. Don’t do it! Never, ever boil water with tea bags in it. At the very least, you may singe the tea and make it bitter. At the worst, the tea bags will split or burst, creating a nasty mess. Instead, place a medium pot of water on to boil alone.

Once the water reaches a low boil, remove it from the heat. Place the tea bags in to steep and cover. Let the tea bags steep for roughly 15-20 minutes. The longer you steep, the stronger the finished tea. However, over-steeping makes bitter tea. By steeping for 15-20 minutes, you’ll create an overly strong tea that will get watered down after the sugar has been added.

How to Make Decaf Sweet Tea

If you want to make decaf tea, you can buy decaf tea bags, or simply decaffeinate regular tea. To do this, boil two pots of water. Steep the tea bags for less than a minute in the first pot of water. Remove the bags and discard the water. Steep the tea bags in the second pot of water as normal. The result is 90-95% caffeine-free tea.

The Final Mix

Once the tea steeps long enough to reach the desired strength, remove the tea bags and add in the sugar, stirring until dissolved. After the sugar has disappeared, add an equal amount of cold water to the hot tea. Serve cold with ice and a lemon wedge on the rim.

How to Make Southern Sweet Tea

Here’s the breakdown on how to make classic southern-style sweet tea.


  • 8 cups of water
  • 6 cold brew tea bags
  • 1 ½ cups sugar

Step 1: Heat four of the eight cups to a low boil. Remove from heat, then add the tea bags and cover. Let steep for 15-20 minutes.

Step 2: Remove the tea bags and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Add the remaining water, and chill before serving.

Traditional sweet tea is a southern staple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with flavor. Adding mint sprigs, flavored syrups and throwing in some flavored tea bags during steeping are just a few ways to add variety.

Looking for a snack to pair with your southern sweet drink? Check out our favorite recipes from south of the Mason-Dixon line.