Some of my earliest memories are of drinking sweet iced tea. I come from a family of iced tea drinkers, and whether it's hot or cold, no matter the season, I always have a pitcher of iced tea in my refrigerator. In fact, it's my preferred summer beverage, even beating out fresh squeezed lemonade. My favorite is Southern sweet iced tea, which is about as Southern as you can get, ranking right up there with fried chicken, barbecue, and biscuits and gravy. I love the strong, sweet tea that my grandmother makes, and I've enjoyed many glasses of it over the years. Michael, my New York-born husband, had to adapt to many of my foibles when we got married and Southern iced tea was high on the list, but now he enjoys some iced tea occasionally.
I still prefer traditional sweet tea, but I started drinking decaf unsweetened when I was pregnant with my first child and it's what I drink most often now. I've made tea in several different ways, including sun tea, traditional brewed, and even with an iced tea maker. Sun tea is great in the summertime because you can walk away and forget it for a while, and in the winter I use the traditional brewed method.
I use straight tap water, which is what my grandmother used. Tea purists may say that you should use filtered or bottled water, and there are benefits to that if your tap water is very hard or has an off taste. Hard water will make your tea appear cloudy. Water that has an off taste will affect the flavor of your tea, but if you are used to the taste of your tap water then you don't need to bother with filtering.
Traditional Southern iced tea is best sweetened with a simple syrup, or sugar water, because sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold water. You can make the syrup ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator and use it for sweetening other things, such as lemonade or cocktails.
Now for the tea discussion. In my opinion, the best Southern sweet tea is made with Luzianne brand tea bags, but Lipton is an acceptable substitute. I use one family-sized tea bag per quart of water, or you can use two regular-sized tea bags per quart. Use more tea bags if you like strong tea, fewer tea bags if you want to weaken the tea.
I like to flavor my tea every now and then using sprigs of mint, lemon slices, or orange slices. I'm playing around with making fruit syrups such as raspberry for flavoring my tea, and I'll write a post on that sometime soon.
[Updated June 2013.]
Sweet Iced Tea
- small sauce pan
- plastic squeeze bottle
- 2-cup glass measuring cup
- 2 quart/liter pitcher
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 16 ounces water
- 2 family-sized Luzianne tea bags ((or 4 regular-sized tea bags, or Lipton if you can’t find Luzianne))
- ½ cup simple syrup (or less, to taste)
- Bring the water to boil then stir in the sugar. Cook until the sugar dissolves completely, then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Store in the refrigerator in a plastic squeeze bottle for easy dispensing.
- Fill the 16 ounce glass measuring cup with water and microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, or heat the water in a kettle. You want the water to be hot but not boiling.
- Put the tea bags in the hot water and steep for 20 minutes. Remove the tea bags, but do NOT squeeze the bags because that will make the tea taste even more bitter.
- Pour the tea into the pitcher and add ½ cup simple syrup. Stir well, then add water to fill. Serve over ice.