I was raised on southern sweet tea. More than any other food or drink, sweet tea embodies the soul of the south. For those who were not raised in the south, I will reveal the secrets here to a good pitcher of sweet tea.
The secret, contrary to the belief of most restaurants, is that sweet tea cannot be sweetened by the glass. It is essential that the tea is sweetened hot and then allowed to cool. The sugar actually “inverts” – a chemical alteration that changes the taste of the drink, actually producing a sweeter drink on less sugar than could be achieved when adding sugar to a cold glass.
Another reason for the less than acceptable tea that you sometimes get in restaurants is that the pitcher, etc. must be scrupulously clean. Restaurants sometimes add to the dispenser, rather than cleaning it between each fill. This allows the tea to ferment slightly and gives an off flavor. If you drink a lot of tea, you immediately identify this off flavor.
Choose a brand of tea that you like. I prefer Luzzianne, as it is specially blended for iced tea. Lipton is acceptable, but has an astringent flavor that I don’t like. Some of the store brands make good tea. Try a few and find the flavor that you prefer. There is no need to buy expensive teas for this recipe, save those for savoring by the cup.
To Make A Pitcher of Classic Southern Tea – Sweet Tea Recipe
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add 4 – 5 family sized tea bags to the boiling water and turn off the heat. Let the tea steep while the water cools, approximately 10 minutes.
Remove the tea bags, pressing them with the back of the spoon to get out all the liquid. Add 1 – 2 cups of sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Growing up, we used 2 cups, but now I use 1. If you are looking for a traditional sweet flavor, start with 1 1/2 cups.
Add the concentrated tea to a gallon pitcher and fill with cold water. Serve over ice. Refrigerate leftovers.
Sometimes the tea will turn cloudy when refrigerated or poured over ice. This is due to the sudden chilling, some particles precipitate out of the liquid. This is ok and does not affect drinkability. You will find that some brands are cloudier than others, and some water supplies are more prone to this as well.
The flavor of tea changes with time and refrigeration. Some people prefer their tea strictly fresh, others like the flavor better after refrigeration. The tea actually gets a little sweeter as more sugar inverts over time.
I like to serve this with lemon, and sometimes add a spoonful of lemonade concentrate to the pitcher. (The flavor with lemonade is good, but its not traditional.) Garnish with a sprig of mint if desired.