Southern Iced Sweet Tea

Hey y’all! If there’s one thing that’s a staple in any Southern household, it’s a pitcher of sweet tea (or repurposed gallon milk jug full of it!). This isn’t just any iced tea, though—this is Southern-style Iced Sweet Tea, the kind that cools you down on a hot day and makes everything feel just a bit better. Growing up, I remember the scent of tea bags steeping in the kitchen, the anticipation of that first sweet sip, and the satisfaction of getting the sweetness just right. This is my fave (and I might be biased) but it’s definitely the best too!

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A close up of two glasses of sweet tea

What I love about making sweet tea is how simple it is and the joy it brings to everyone. Thinking about the first time I had a sip of sweet tea brings a smile to my face. It’s one of the many moments in my life I can remember falling in love with something that came out of my Big Mama’s kitchen. Her tender-loving hands stirred countless pitchers of sweet tea that graced our dinner table. 

You start by boiling water and steeping those tea bags until you’ve got just the right strength. Then, it’s all about stirring in that sugar until it’s completely dissolved. Make it as sweet as you like, and pour it into a big ol’ pitcher. If you’re feeling a little extra, throw in some lemon and mint. Chill it in the fridge, and you’ve got a refreshing drink ready to serve over ice. Trust me, this sweet tea is pure Southern comfort in a glass.

The Lowdown On This Sweet Tea Recipe

Cuisine Inspiration: Southern
Primary Cooking Method: Stove Top
Dietary Info: Vegetarian
Key Flavor: Black tea with a sweet twist
Skill Level: Easy

  • Hydration Station: Not only is this iced tea a sweet treat, but it’s also a great way to stay hydrated, especially during those warm summer months.
  • Versatility is Key: Serve it ice cold for a classic summer drink, or warm with a slice of lemon on a cool evening. This sweet tea is an all-weather friend.
  • Customizable Sweetness: You’re in control of the sweetness. Whether you’re a “just a hint” or a “super sweet” kind of person, you can adjust to find your perfect balance.
  • Perfect for a Crowd: Making a big batch is no sweat, so it’s ideal for family gatherings or any old Tuesday afternoon.
  • Pairs with Practically Anything: This isn’t just a beverage; it’s an accompaniment. From barbecue to brunch, sweet tea is the perfect companion to just about any meal.
Two glasses filled with ice and sweet tea with lemon wedges on the side sitting on a wooden cutting board with mint nearby

I have probably had way more Southern Sweet Tea in my life than plain water.  I know that sounds crazy but it is a fact. A pitcher of it existed on every supper table through my youth.

Whether we were at home in Chicago or visiting family in Mississippi, sweet tea was the beverage of choice (whether I wanted it or not) for almost every meal except breakfast. It still finds its way into my fridge from time to time, especially when the weather warms up.

The History of Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea is commonly known as brewed tea that has been sweetened with sugar, then served ice cold in a refreshing manner.

Sweetened tea began as an item of southern luxury due to the expensive nature of its basic ingredients: tea, ice, and sugar. Ice was the most valued of the ingredients since it had to be shipped from afar at a time when getting your hands on cool drinking water was already a stretch. The South being as hot as it is, iced sweet tea slowly but surely became the refreshing drink of choice. 

The appeal is pretty clear: ice cold tea with heaps of sugar to cut that tea tartness. Most Southerners would like you to believe that there is a real science to making this beverage but I think that’s just a bunch of hoopla that has been brainwashing folks for years. 

The reality is that it’s quite simple to make a good ole fashioned Homemade Sweet Tea Recipe. I almost didn’t have a real recipe to share in this post. In fact, the recipe below is more of a guideline than a set recipe to follow to the tee.

Ingredients You’ll Need To Make Homemade Sweet Tea

Tea bags, lemon slices and sugar in a bowl on a wooden cutting board

You really only need 3 (or 4) things to make homemade sweet tea:

  • Water
  • Black Tea bags
  • Sugar 
  • If you want to get fancy, lemon or mint (maybe both). 

That’s it. Oh! And some ice too, don’t forget how good iced tea can be.

What’s The Best Brand Of Tea To Use

I recommend that you using traditional black tea. Everyone has a different taste and it’s always worth trying something new! If you already have a personal preference, that’s okay too. Anything goes here. 

The South is pretty loyal to Luzianne but Lipton makes good sweet tea too so grab one of those boxes and brewing! When it is all said and done, making a Southern Sweet Tea Recipe is no sweat, believe me, and it is a very personal thing.  Make it your own and enjoy a big glass for me, okay?

How to Make Sweet Tea

When it comes to creating a Southern sweet tea recipe, you can pretty much follow your gut (and taste buds) through the process to create a rendition that will satisfy your thirst whenever necessary.

  1. Add water to a medium sized pot and boil over high heat.
  2. Once boiling, turn off heat and add tea bags and steep.
  3. Remove tea bags from pot.
  4. Stir in sugar in increments until it completely dissolves into the hot tea.
  5. Add the sweetened tea to the pitcher and then fill the pitcher with water then add lemon wedges and mint (if you would like for garnish and flavor).
  6. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add ice to glasses and serve.
An overhead of five black tea bags steeping in a large silver pot with a bowl of sugar and lemon slice nearby
A close up of a measuring cup pouring granulated sugar into a pot of tea

We personally throw tea bags directly into boiling hot water and allow them to brew, releasing the essence of the black tea. Once the color of the tea reaches a deep auburn, we remove the teabags, add the sugar and allow it to come to room temperature before mixing with water. 

Then, I tuck the tea into the fridge where it’ll get nice and cold. Y’all I count the seconds until I can pour myself a tall glass over ice! 

Sweet Tea Recipe Flavors

Southern Iced Tea can be flavored with just about anything! There are dozens of different flavors and varieties. To get creative, first choose a base recipe and build on it. 

For example: 

  • Cherry Limeade Iced Tea- add chilled cherry juice and frozen limeade concentrate
  • Arnold Palmer- mix half a pitcher of lemonade with half a pitcher of sweet tea 
  • Apricot Mint- add apricot nectar and lightly muddled mint leaves
  • Honey Citrus- sweeten with honey and add orange or grapefruit juice 
  • Pineapple Basil- add pineapple juice and lightly muddled basil leaves

You can even play around with sweet tea in savory flavors like adding as a marinade for Sweet Tea Fried Chicken. It is wonderful!

Tips for Making the Best Southern-Style Iced Sweet Tea

  • Use Good Quality Tea Bags: Trust me, the better the tea, the better the flavor. Go for a quality brand that you love. I usually stick with classic black tea for that authentic Southern taste.
  • Don’t Rush the Steep: Let those tea bags steep for a good 10-25 minutes. The longer you steep, the stronger the flavor. Just be careful not to overdo it or the tea might get bitter.
  • Dissolve the Sugar While It’s Hot: Stir in your sugar while the tea is still hot so it dissolves completely. This is key to getting that smooth, sweet flavor without any graininess.
  • Adjust Sweetness to Your Taste: Start with a little sugar and add more as you go. Everyone’s got their own sweet spot, and this way, you can make sure it’s just right for you.
A close up of sweetened tea being poured into a large pitcher

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Sweet Tea have Caffeine in it?

Yes. On average, an 8 ounce serving of iced sweet tea will contain anywhere from 20-50 mg of caffeine. Caffeine content will depend on how strongly you brew your tea. The more teabags you use, or the longer you allow them to steep, the stronger the tea will be. Don’t sweat it too much though, the added ice will dilute the strength a bit. You can use decaf tea if you prefer.

How Much Sugar is in Sweet Tea?

In regards to sugar content, it’s kind of subjective. I know folks who love their tea to taste as sweet as candy and then others that like it a bit on the bitter side. The sweetness will depend solely on your personal preference. 

An average sweet tea recipe will contain approximately 25 grams of sugar per 16 ounce serving.

Tip: The safest way to approach this is by adding half of the sugar, allowing it to dissolve completely and then tasting and deciding how much more to add. 

Is Sweetened Tea Good For You?

Southern sweet tea has one major benefit: It’s made with real, home-brewed black tea. Black tea is a great source of fluoride, which keeps your teeth strong, and a variety of antioxidants that protect your cells from damage.

However, this tea recipe does offer a heavy dose of sugar as well which, if not consumed in moderation, can counter those same benefits. 

I’d recommend either fitting a sweetened tea into your diet as an occasional treat, reducing the amount of sugar, or using a healthy sugar substitute of your choice. 

Lemon or Mint?

That’s more of a new aged thing to some. My big mama certainly would think so but I love adding them to my pitcher because of the additional flavor infused in the tea and how lovely it looks swirly around in my mason jar.

For entertaining you can add them to your pitcher or even add other fruits to make the colors pop!  My Peach Sweet Tea is a great recipe to try!

Do I have to use black tea?

No, you can use whatever type of tea you’d like. Green, and even English Breakfast tea will work – but if you want true Southern sweet tea black tea is THE tea, if you get what I am sayin’.

Recipes Using Sweet Tea

*Did you make this recipe? Please give it a star rating and leave comments below!*
A close up of two glasses of sweet tea

Southern Sweet Tea Recipe

This Southern Sweet Tea Recipe is a classic made with ease and deliciousness! With simple ingredients like a tea bag, sugar and the right garnish, you can make the perfect glass of refreshing tall cold tea with ease!
5 from 15 votes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course: Drink
Servings: 6 servings


  • 5 cups water
  • 5-6 black tea bags depending on how strong you want your tea
  • 2/3- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar depending on how sweet you want it
  • Optional: lemon and mint
  • Ice


  • Add water to a medium sized pot and boil over high heat.
  • Once boiling, turn off heat and add tea bags. Steep for 10-25 minutes (depending on strength you prefer).
  • Stir in sugar in increments until it completely dissolves into the hot tea.
  • Remove tea bags from pot then pour tea into a large pitcher.
  • Add enough water to fill the pitcher then add lemon wedges and mint (if you would like for garnish and flavor).
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add ice to glasses and serve.


Remember to taste your your tea as you add the increments of sugar.  This will allow you to make the tea as sweet as you prefer.  If you add too much sugar, remember to just add more water to your tea.


Calories: 279kcal | Carbohydrates: 72g | Sodium: 11mg | Sugar: 72g | Calcium: 6mg
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Filed Under:  Drinks, Summer Recipes


  1. Been using your recipe for a few years now. I used to think I didn’t like tea. Turns out it wasn’t prepared to my liking until I found your guide.

  2. Sweet teas are the best but most people don’t consume it as they contain high amount of sugar and they also they are not brewed, but it is good for other who like and prefer it.

  3. Really good! I’m trying to keep my sugar intake low right now so I used monk fruit sweetener and it worked like a charm!

5 from 15 votes (1 rating without comment)

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