Southern Culture – Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea

When I think of the South, of Home, I think of Sweet Tea.  It’s ingrained in the culture, and synonymous with warm summer nights, fresh local food, and a slower way of living.  Ask any non-Southerner to describe the South, and I bet “Sweet Tea” makes the list.  Like a lot of traditions in the South, Tea drinking was brought in from another culture, and modified to suit the Southern way of life.  Just how did a fermented leaf from India, and the nectar of the sugar cane become the common liquid of southern life, and what is the secret to the perfect glass?

Tea has been drank by every culture for centuries, and Southerner’s are no different.  As great as Southern agriculture is, growing tea never took off and because of that we still import Tea to drink from around the world.   What did take off in the 1800’s was regional “Tea Punches” or blends of Tea with everything from fruit, to alcohols.  The first written recipe for sweet tea punch was found in Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree (1879), but called for Green Tea, not the now common “Black Tea”.  It wasn’t until  WW2 that “Sweet Tea” was solidified into Southern culture.  Drinking iced tea was already on the rise, because of events like the Worlds Fair, it grew further in popularity.  The War caused  Green Tea shortages from the “East” so Southerner’s were forced to adopt the British black teas from India.  Southerners began to blend the black Indian tea with their sugared tea punch recipes, becoming commonly known as Sweet Tea, and so it was born.


No tea tastes more like the soul of the South than Luzianne tea.  There is something particularly smooth, about Luzianne’s blend that tastes like home, and it’s the only brand of tea I use for “Sweet Tea“.  I spent 2 years in Colorado, and kept a steady supply of Luzianne tea, in case I couldn’t find it in the stores.  Other than the brand there is only one other necessity to sweet tea and that’s sugar.  As a child, I can remember visiting my grandparent’s house and my grandmother always had the sweetest tea in town, you could literally see the sugar settle in her old tea pitchers.  The point is, the amount of sugar in your Sweet Tea is what gives your recipe its signature flavor.

The perfect glass of Sweet Tea, has 3 variables; how long one steeps their tea, the correct amount of sugar to tea ratio, and ensuring the sugar is added at the right time.  The perfect amount of sugar, I can tell you, is more than a cup per gallon, depending on how long you allow the tea to steep.  The darker the tea, the more sugar you’ll need to offset the bitter effect that comes from over steeping black tea (steeping time is critical). I prefer my tea darker, so I steep for 5 minutes, remove the bags and add 1 1/3 cup of sugar while the tea is still warm. Still need help, ask a relative. Southerners love to tell you how they make sweet tea, like a proud family recipe they most will happily pass it on.  Just be sure to make it personal, that way folks will recognize you by your Sweet Tea.

The Hungry Southerner Sweet Tea

  • 1 1/3 cups Sugar
  • 3 Luzianne Large Tea bags
  • 2 Quarts of water

Bring 2 quarts of water to boil. Once the water is boiling, remove from heat and add all 3 tea bags.  Allow to steep for 5 minutes, add sugar to an empty gallon sized pitcher.  After 5 minutes remove the tea bags from the water, and add tea to the pitcher, stir until sugar is dissolved.  Top off the pitcher with cold water to the full gallon.  Enjoy.

Stay Hungry Y’all!

Thanks to for producing the facts on Sweet Tea


Filed under Cooking, Food, Southern Culture, Southern Recipes

10 responses to “Southern Culture – Sweet Tea

  1. I agree with you almost 100%. My only opinion is that tea should be sweetened with simple syrup and not plain sugar. Makes a world of difference.

    • I know that is how Alton brown suggests. But as long as the tea is warm it should be the same process to dissolve. But would make a great post to compare techniques to see which changes the sweetness better. Cool thanks

  2. ha, I hear that.

    I have never listened to Alton. I think he is a bit of a prick to be honest. I definitely think you should do a tee(a)-off!

    I make my tea unsweet and keep simple syrup on hand to sweeten to taste. I think that is the main reason I dig the simple syrup method.

  3. Mrs Showers

    Sweet tea is my all time favorite drink – other than water, this is it for me. Amazing how almost everyone’s sweat tea tastes different too (I especially dread going through a drive-thru and getting Lipton fountain, not fresh brewed, sweet tea – yuck not my style tea). I also love to travel, but only downfall is that I leave behind my comfort beverage. It leaves me trying new twists on each destination’s take of sweet tea (i.e. Hawaii has tea & pinapple juice), but I’m always glad to return home. I am an addict of the stuff and think it might be a habit/hobby that I never break. 🙂

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  5. Funny enough, but I’m drinking as glass of sweet tea as I’m reading your post. But I didn’t know there any other kind of tea other than sweet:)

  6. Nothing is better than great sweet tie. I agree 100% about Luzianne. It’s all I buy for sweet tea. If I’m honest I can’t say I’ve actually done a Lipton (or any other) vs. Luzianne “tea-off” competition, but it’s what my grandmother used and it’s what I use. Sweet Tea is on the short list of things like Bourbon, Spicy-Tangy Collards, Fried Chicken, REAL Mac ‘n Cheese, and Pecan Pie that just screams the south.

    Good shit, what else can you say.

  7. Pingback: how many tea bags and how much water and sugar do you use for iced tea? | Tea

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