Sweet tea is a staple beverage in the South all year round, but is particularly prevalent during the hot days and nights of summer. Though some may think sweet tea is synonymous with iced tea, I’ve learned the hard way that this is not always the case among certain parts of the population. (Why people choose unsweetened iced tea is still baffling to me.)
The basic recipe is simple: plain black tea, sugar and ice. But there are so many possible variations to customize this beloved beverage and make it your own.
Choose Your Tea
Your standard black tea bags, such as those from Lipton, are the go-to for many. However, feel free to try any other type of tea you like to drink hot, such as green, rooibos or oolong. I tend to use tea bags because that’s often what I have on hand, but loose leaf will work too, as long as it’s properly strained. (Tip: Remove the paper tags from the tea bags and tie them together for easy removal.)
One other consideration is the caffeine level. Though you will be tempted, beware of downing too many glasses of sweet tea made from a caffeinated variety unless you’re prepared to stay up late into the night.
If you’re looking to add an extra boost of flavor, you can infuse the tea with any number of ingredients while it’s steeping. Some ideas include citrus, herbs, ginger root and lemongrass. One of my favorite combos is slices of lemon and a few sprigs of mint.
Sweeten It Up
It’s called sweet tea for a reason, so there needs to be some sort of sugar component. About one cup granulated sugar for one 32-ounce pitcher of tea suits my tastes of being sweet enough without being cloying, but you may want to adjust the amount according to your own preference. (Tip: Adding sugar to warm liquid will help it dissolve.)
Should you be in the mood for a different flavor profile, you can play around with other sweeteners, such as brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey, agave or maple syrup. However, liquid sweeteners tend to be sweeter than granulated sugar, so you will likely need less to achieve the same level of sweetness.
Ice It Down
If you’re looking to get extra fancy, you can even play around with how you keep your sweet tea cool. A few different possibilities including ice cubes infused with herbs, frozen fruit (such as berries, peach slices or cubes of watermelon) and ice cubes made of lemonade so your glass turns into an Arnold Palmer as the ice melts.
Drink It Up
Now you’re all set to become a sweet tea master this summer. And one last suggestion for the 21-and-up crowd: You can add the spirit of your choosing for a great summer cocktail.
1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat, add the tea bags (and any other flavorings) and let steep to desired strength, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove the tea and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Transfer to a pitcher and fill with cold water (about 1 quart or more, depending on the size of your pitcher).
3. To serve, fill glasses with ice and top with the sweet tea. Enjoy!