Iced Tea at Picnic in Grand Junction, Colorado

How to Make Perfect Iced Tea (Plus Real 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 perfect iced tea yourself. With confidence. For just pennies per serving.

Iced Tea at Picnic in Grand Junction, Colorado

My 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 cooling before you pour the tea 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 days and keep it covered in the refrigerator.

How to:

The basic method for making proper iced tea:

You’ll need

  • pan or kettle to boil the water
  • pitcher, teapot, or another vessel with a lid to brew the tea
  • cold water (3 cups for every 2 regular teabags)
  • teabags
  1. Boil cold water in a kettle or pan, according to how much tea you intend to make. As soon as it comes to a boil, turn off the burner.
  2. In the meantime, place the teabags in the pitcher or teapot.
  3. Carefully, 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.
  5. Add sugar to taste, optional (see above)
  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, a sprig of mint if desired.
  4. Enjoy!

 

Real 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 cooling 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 teabag in it. You want the hot water to steep the tea from the leaves. Boiling is far too rough.

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 in mason jar mugs
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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
Cooling time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 7 mins
Course: Beverages
Cuisine: American
Servings: 16
Calories: 48kcal

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

Updated: 6-10-22


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6 replies
  1. denise says:

    you need four family-size tea bags for a gallon of iced tea, regardless if it’s sweet or not. four one-cup tea bags will not make a gallon of iced tea.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      If you are referring to Wendi Spriker’s Southern Sweet Tea, her recipe makes 2 quarts concentrate, then you can dilute as desired.

  2. Linda D Radosevich says:

    Living in Arizona, ‘sun tea’ was almost inevitably served at friends’ and relatives’ homes, and at our own. Easy to make, but I always got a stomach ache when I drank it…I could always tell it was ‘sun tea’! Darn that bacteria!

  3. Gina Stevens says:

    5 stars
    I’ve been making my tea this way ever since you first posted Gwen’s recipe. This week I made her Peanut Butter Cookies–another winner.

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