Southern Sweet Tea

TEA iced in glass 2


Confessions first.  I was bred and born in the north, very near the Mason-Dixon line.  We grew up drinking water and Kool-aid in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter.  This past year marked thirty years of marriage, which means I’ve now lived more years in the south than in the north.  I do make Sweet Tea, even though it’s taken me a long time to overlook the amount of sugar in each gallon.

There are a few essentials, I’ve learned, to making good sweet southern tea.  You always start with cold water.  And, depending on your water flavor, the type of tea you buy is pertinent.  I can’t explain it, but some tea (and coffee) brands taste better with well or city water than others.  You’ll figure it out.

When we were raising our kids, we went through five gallons (or more) in a week. (We are living in the south, you know.)   So I started making tea concentrate to save steps and time.  I still make concentrate but  not as often as I used to.  When some of our kids are going to be here and we’ll be having guests, I mix up a 5-gallon batch.  That’s what I was doing when I took these pictures.

You’ll need sugar – plenty of it.  And, if you like garden (mint) tea, you’ll need some of that, too.  Of course, the best tea is home-grown or from a neighbor, but I’ve used mint tea bags as well.

So let’s get started.  Grab a gallon pitcher, a kettle with a lid, your tea, sugar, and mint. And don’t forget the cold water.

Put your cold water (about a quart) into your kettle.  If you’re adding mint to the mix, add your mix here.  If it’s garden grown, just wash a handful of leaves.  If you’re using a tea bag, you decide if you want more than one bag per gallon.  I mix up 5 gallons at a time, so you’ll see more mint and tea in the photos than you would with one gallon. When I’m done mixing, I pour the tea concentrate into quart jars and then add water to the rest to make that first gallon.

mint collage
mint leaves in the left photo; tea bags on the right

Bring the water to a boil, then add your tea bags.  One family size bag is the equivalent of two regular-sized bags.  (I use six bags.  Some folks in my neck of the woods use eight.)  Take the kettle off the burner and put the lid on, letting the tea steep.  Wait 15-20 minutes, depending on how strong you want your tea.

TEA boiling
remove the kettle from the stove, then place a lid on the kettle.

Set your timer and empty the dishwasher or wipe the counter tops and sweep the floor.  Measure your sugar and get your colander ready.  You’ll need 1.5 cups of sugar per gallon.

TEA sugar in pitcher
my kitchen always looks like this; you’ll just need to look at the picture and ignore the other stuff in the background.

After you are done steeping the tea, pour the bags with water over the colander.  Give it time to run down through and add some extra water to help get all the tea into the pitcher.

TEA over collander
In this photo you’ll see mint bags and regular bags. I love my hemostats; they’re great for grabbing the ends of the strings and keeping them all together.

Stir, stir, and stir that mixture so the sugar gets dissolved.  It will try to hang to the bottom of the pitcher, but don’t let it.  Just keep stirring.

TEA stirring
I usually put the pitcher in the sink when I’m using the colander; I’m not exactly what you’d call “not messy.”

Add water to the gallon line.  If you’re making concentrate, pour the concentrated tea into jars, then finish off your gallon pitcher.

TEA water being poured in

I end up with 2 quarts of concentrate.  Each quart makes 2 gallons of tea.  Well, sometimes it doesn’t; that’s because I have a few kids who like to add more than the allotted 2 cups per gallon so it’s sweeter and stronger than I intended.

TEA jars and pitcher
5 gallons of concentrate: 1 in the pitcher and 2 in each jar.

Let that concentrate cool before you put it into the refrigerator!

TEA in jars with lids
There’s no significance to the lid colors; it’s just what I had on hand.

And it’s ready to serve!

TEA gallon pitcher cropped

At our family reunion a week ago, we served Southern Sweet Tea in a ten-gallon cooler – at least 15 gallons of it.  This little gal (a great-granddaughter) seemed to think it was pretty good stuff.

TEA Emma
Good to the last drop!

This recipe is for one gallon.  You can double or triple it (and etc.) as you like.

Southern Sweet Tea
Recipe type: Beverage
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 gallon
Southern Sweet Tea. Easy to make, sweet and refreshing to serve.
  • 6-8 regular tea bags OR 3-4 family-sized tea bags
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 4 cups water, then enough to make a gallon
  • Optional: mint tea
  • Optional: lemon slices
  1. Put cold water into a kettle
  2. If using mint, add mint to the cold water.
  3. Bring water to a boil.
  4. Add tea bags and remove from heat.
  5. Cover and let steep for 15-20 minutes
  6. Put sugar into gallon pitcher
  7. Pour tea bags and water over colander into pitcher
  8. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved
  9. Add cold water to make a gallon
  10. Serve with sliced lemon if desired



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