iced tea

How to Make Perfect Iced Tea (plus Southern Sweet Tea Recipe)

The only thing more comforting than a big, tall glass of iced tea on a hot summer day is knowing how to make that perfect iced tea yourself. With confidence. Just pennies per serving.

Iced tea

Proper Iced Tea

My dear mother-in-law, a very proper Canadian, taught me the difference between proper iced tea and the “swill” most restaurants pour, which in her opinion was, at best, a very poor facsimile. And trust me, she knew her stuff—including the six rules for proper iced tea:

Rule 1

Use plenty of tea

The flavor of tea served cold is not as intense as when served hot. That means it must be brewed stronger, so use more tea bags. Use two regular-size tea bags for every 3 cups of water.

Rule 2

Do not over steep

Allowing the tea to over steep—releases the tannins in the tea, which can make it bitter. If you want it weaker, reduce the steeping time, not the number of teabags.

Rule 3

Cool first

Once you remove the teabags, allow to cool before you pour it over ice but do not put it in the refrigerator to cool. Doing so will make your tea cloudy.

Rule 4

Do not add sugar to ice-cold tea

If you prefer your tea sweet, add the sugar to the hot water so it dissolves first before introducing ice. If your guests prefer to sweeten after the ice is added, provide simple syrup rather than granulated sugar.

Simple Syrup: To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup boiling water in a large measuring cup. Whisk until clear and the sugar is dissolved. Yield: 1 1/2 cups simple syrup.

Rule 5

Keep it real

Only use real, fresh squeezed lemon juice from fresh lemons for the very best outcome.

Rule 6

Make it fresh

Iced tea tastes best when it is freshly made. Make only what you will drink in two or three days and keep it covered in the refrigerator.

How to

The basic method for making proper iced tea:

  1. Boil cold water. If your tap water is highly chlorinated, use filtered or bottled water. The amount depends on how much tea you’re making.
  2. Turn off the heat and immediately add the tea bags.
  3. Steep tea. Pour the correct amount of boiling water over the tea bags (3 cups for every 2 teabags). Cover. Allow steeping for 3 to 5 minutes maximum.
  4. Remove tea bags, or strain if you used loose tea.
  5. Add sugar to taste, optional.
  6. Cool. On the counter. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate.

To use

  1. Fill a glass, mug, or jar with fresh ice.
  2. Pour cold, prepared tea over the ice.
  3. Add slices of fresh lemon, if desired.
  4. Enjoy!

Iced tea

Southern Sweet Tea

I’m a northerner, as was my mother-in-law, so of course, we thought the difference between iced tea and sweet tea was about 2 cups of sugar. And endless stirring to get that sugar to dissolve, which as you may know is nearly impossible.

Yes, that’s what I thought until I met food blogger extraordinaire, Wendi Spraker. Wow! I had no idea there is a specific method and recipe for Southern Sweet Tea. But there is, and trust me on this: Wendi is the authority on authentic southern cooking and she’s telling her secrets at LoavesAndDishes.net.

According to Wendi, “There is NOTHING more comforting than a big tall glass of my mama’s southern sweet tea. It tastes EXACTLY like home…”

  1. Heat 2 quarts fresh cold water in a medium pan on the stovetop.
  2. When the water is near simmer, turn the heat off.
  3. Add 1 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved.
  4. Add 4 regular-size tea bags (or 1 gallon-size tea bag) to the water and place the lid on the saucepan.
  5. Allow to come to room temperature.
  6. Remove the tea bags and gently squeeze to remove any remaining tea. Or strain loose tea. Discard tea bags.
  7. Pour the tea concentrate into a gallon size tea pitcher and add 2 quarts of fresh, cool water.
  8. Serve over a full glass of ice.

Notes:

You will want to use the best quality tea that you can afford, advises Wendi. She prefers Luzianne or Lipton. Look for gallon-size tea bags (sometimes called “family size”). This allows you to use a single tea bag in this recipe instead of 4 little ones.

Use the BEST water you can for your tea. If you are using tap water, Wendi says to pour it from the tap the day before you make the tea and let it sit. This allows some of the chlorine to expel from the water

Never boil the water with the tea bag in it. You want the hot water to steep the tea from the leaves. Boiling is far too rough.


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Wendi’s Pro Tip

Sugar is a highly variable taste for most people. If you have people in your family who prefer more or less sugar, I suggest leaving the sugar out altogether and making Simple Syrup instead. Then your family can add the amount of Simple Syrup they prefer to their own beverage.

Wendi’s Simple Syrup

Heat equal amounts of water and granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate for up to 30 days.

iced tea
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5 from 2 votes

Southern Sweet Tea

There is NOTHING more comforting than a big tall glass of my mama's southern sweet tea. It tastes EXACTLY like home...
Prep Time7 mins
Total Time7 mins
Course: Beverages
Cuisine: American
Servings: 16
Calories: 48kcal
Cost: .50

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts fresh water
  • 1 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 4 regular size tea bags OR 1 family or "gallon" size

Instructions

  • Heat 2 quarts fresh cold water in a medium pan on the stovetop.
  • When the water is near simmer, turn the heat off.
  • Add 1 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved.
  • Add 4 regular-size tea bags (or 1 gallon-size tea bag) to the water and place the lid on the saucepan.
  • Allow to come to room temperature.
  • Remove the tea bags and gently squeeze to remove any remaining tea. Or strain loose tea. Discard tea bags.
  • Pour the tea concentrate into a gallon size tea pitcher and add 2 quarts of fresh, cool water. 
  • Serve over a full glass of ice.

Notes

Note 1: You will want to use the best quality tea that you can afford. She prefers Luzianne or Lipton. Look for gallon-size tea bags (sometimes called "family size"). This allows you to use a single tea bag in this recipe instead of 4 little ones.
Note 2: Use the BEST water you can for your tea. If you are using tap water pour it from the tap the day before you make the tea and let it sit. This allows some of the chlorine to expel from the water.
Note 3: Never boil the water with the tea bag in it. You want the hot water to steep the tea from the leaves. Boiling is far too rough.

Nutrition

Calories: 48kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Sodium: 6mg | Sugar: 12g | Calcium: 4mg

This post originally appeared on the pages of Everyday Cheapskate on 6-30-19. Updated with recipe card 6-12-20


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9 replies
  1. Kim says:

    5 stars
    I like to make my iced tea in the fridge, I just put the tea bags (Twinings Irish Breakfast!) in cold water (3 in a mason jar), put it in the fridge, and leave it overnight. It’s really delicious, lighter in color and taste, it’s super easy and doesn’t heat up the kitchen at all. However, I do forget sometimes, and Mary’s way works perfectly too. It does make slightly stronger tea, both in color and taste (and caffeine?), it just takes time to wait for it to cool! So I’ve tried filling the jar up halfway or so with boiling water, letting it cool some, and then adding cold water to cool it faster. I love my tea in my Yeti tumbler, it stays cold, or hot, for hours!

    I also highly recommend trying herbal tea for variety, and they’re naturally caffeine free. Ginger, licorice, fruit flavors, there are so many! Celestial Seasoning’s Watermelon Lime Zinger is my favorite for iced tea, either by itself, or I just add a bag or two to my black tea, and it gives it a refreshing summery flavor!!

    Reply
  2. Lorena Janzen Severson says:

    We make sun tea. The flavor is unlike anything you have described. Filtered water in a half gallon jar. Four regular tea bags. Put the lid on tight. Put outside where it gets the full sun for a couple of hours. Remove the bags. Add the sugar. Put in the fridge to get cold. Never gets cloudy. Add lemon to taste, cuz we are in Canada, eh?

    Reply
  3. Wanda L Huff says:

    I learned a long time ago to NEVER squeeze a tea bag as it releases tannins and causes the tea to become cloudy. Instead, dip them in the clear water you plan to add to your brewed tea until you get the tea out of the bags. (I pour the brewed tea in a pitcher, add clear water to the tea bags and dip the bags in and out.). If I want it sweet, I pour the hot tea into the pitcher that has the amount of sugar to sweeten the tea, swirl it around to dissolve the sugar before adding the clear water. The tea never gets cloudy and everyone loves my tea.

    Reply
    • I make my tea like that too, except I don't dip bag (I use gallon sized Lipton) in clear water. I put sugar in pitcher & swirl hot tea around until sugar resolved. Then I fill up with clear water. I can't keep tea in my house. says:

      Good

      Reply
  4. Don says:

    Anybody want to tell us how to make sun tea? Does it taste better than stove top tea? When I lived in Southern California, I saw a lot of gallon jars sitting outside during the summer, brewing tea. I don’t like tea, but my wife and son-in-law do.

    Reply
    • Mary says:

      The old-fashioned way of making iced tea is very popular in the summertime. You just place a few tea bags in a big jar of water and let them slowly steep in the hot sun. Technally, this method is not strictly safe. My research shows that the 130°F or so that the water reaches using this method is an ideal temperature for harboring (and growing) the bacteria commonly found in tap water. Without a boiling session to kill off this bacteria, there is the chance that they will grow in the sun tea. The caffeine in black tea does inhibit bacterial growth somewhat. (Herbal tea should never be used to make sun tea.)

      Ultimately, will brewing sun tea definitely make you sick? No. In fact, it probably won’t, but the risk is there, and it’s up to you to evaluate that. On the other hand, it’s just as simple to just add tea to cold water and put it in the fridge all night. This will yield excellent iced tea, and it will already be cold.

      Reply
  5. Carol Wood says:

    You used to recommend making tea in a Mr. Coffee iced tea maker and I have done so for years. Still makes great tea.

    Reply

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