How to Make Southern Sweet Tea

Coffee & Tea, Drink, Fire Smoke & Flavor, How-To, Learn, Regional Spotlight

The Southern states take tremendous pride in their sweet tea, which is always iced. You can order it “sweet” or “unsweet” as a standard accompaniment to lunch, but when it comes to the former, no one skimps on the sugar.


Like so many of the treasured regional recipes we’ve featured here — from corn bread to fried green tomatoes to Texas sheet cake — sweet tea is a tradition. The ritual of making and drinking it has been passed down through generations, and the memories associated with it are as sweet as the drink itself.



After all, there’s a reason that in the movie Steel Magnolias, Dolly Parton refers to sweet tea as “the house wine of the South.”


Many Southerners are partial to Luzianne teas, produced in Louisiana and widely distributed throughout the Southeast. “Sweet iced tea is a staple in Southern kitchens, and everyone has their own secret recipe,” explains company representative Ashlee Dunn. “But the basic ingredients are quality tea and sugar.”


Luzianne collected favorite sweet tea traditions shared by the company’s Facebook fans, and here’s what a few people had to say:

  • “I’ve made 2 gallons every day for the past 27 years. The tea pitcher is never empty at our house. When one is empty another one is ready to go in the refrigerator.” – Peggy-Harold Duncan
  • “No sweeter sound than when your 16 month old grandchild takes a sip of refreshing tea and smacks her little lips and says….AAAHHHHHHHH.” – Janet Mercer
  • “In the south there is nothing but sweet iced tea. It was quite an eye opener to go up north, as a child, and order iced tea and it was unsweetened… You just cannot get it sweet, no matter what you do. So if you want REAL iced tea, y’all have to come to the south and get some good old Luzianne sweet iced tea :)” – Debra Martinez


Sweet Iced Tea


2 cups boiling water

1 family-size tea bag (Luzianne or another quality brand)

1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar (to taste)

2 cups cold water


In a pot, pour the boiling water over the tea bag. Steep for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove the tea bag. Add the sugar and stir, then stir in the cold water. Refrigerate until cold. Makes 1 quart.


What’s your iced tea vote: sweet or unsweet? Tell us in the comments below!

59 comments about “How to Make Southern Sweet Tea

  1. Betsy Moon

    I love my tea SWEET! Sweet iced tea is the only way I’ll drink it! I’ve been making it here at home where I can have it all the time! It’s always good!

  2. Jenn

    While I enjoy the taste of sweet tea and will order it as a treat once in a while, I prefer my tea unsweetened with a lemon. I just cannot justify all those extra calories!

  3. yankee transplant

    um. who really needs a recipe for sweet tea? i mean, brewed tea and sugar is fairly straight forward. its not like we’re talking about making a soufflé.

    1. teenmist15

      Why are you here if you don’t need the recipe? If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.

    2. Mike Lafoote

      Not EVERYONE knows how to make it right. My wife died and I have no idea how its made. Some people just need to hate I guess…

  4. susan

    i luv sweet tea, when i travel though, and it’s often, it amazes me some states you can’t even get ice tea, sweet tea is out of the question, so bottle water it is,,,,,,,,,,,

  5. Kathy

    4 cups water to 1 cup sugar? There’s a diabetic coma waiting to happen. That’s just crazy!

    1. Rebecca

      Yeah, I’m with you on that, Kathy. I use less than 1/2 cup for a gallon and that is PLENTY sweet!

  6. Ginger

    @ Kathy…one can use a sweetner such as Truvia….sweet is as sweet does. Back in the day my Mamaw dropped about 4-5 sacchrin tablets in a pitcher of tea. Ahhhhhh memories!

  7. Carolyn

    Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!! You’ll need to let it steep about 10 mins. Sweet Tea- aka House Wine of thr South- must be strong & sweet! Plus, who’d make a single quart at a time?? My family of two goes through about a gallon a day! Also our “secret” is a quick dash of salt in the bottom of the pitcher.

  8. georgel

    1 cup sugar for 4 cups of water, jesus people this is why the country is so unhealthy and fat. no wonder the bible belt of the south is so huge. i drink this about once or twice a week but if your drinking this stuff by the gallon i really don’t know how you don’t care about your health more.

  9. Shari

    I’ve lived in the South all my life and I can’t imagine making only a quart of tea. And, I agree, the amount of sugar is way too much. I think the recipe is totally wrong. I usually use less than a cup of sugar in a gallon of tea and that’s a gracious plenty.

  10. Chappy

    geesh, @georgel

    have trouble with your stereotyping hate much?

    just sayin

    get a life, pour on the sugar and skimp on the negativity and hate. just a suggestion

    1. teenmist15

      Amen! The comments are meant for positive feedback about this recipe and how you may change it, not weight or putting down people!

  11. Terri

    When I lived in Arizona, I’d full up a glass jug with a top. Add a fee tea bags, depending the size of th jug and how strung you wanted it. Left it out in the sun, few hours later. You’d have the best tea ever. Just add sugar/lemon to taste.
    It was soo goof!!!

  12. Linda

    I’m a tea lover – I drink my hot tea unsweetened and for some reason have loved iced tea with Sweet and Low for as long as I can remember (I enjoy sweet tea when I’m in the South, though).

  13. Cosmo

    Whew, your recipe is HUGELY sweet! I use one heaping cup of sugar (well, actually it’s Splenda granulated) for 1 gallon of tea. I use 4 family-size Luzianne bags to make 1 gallon.

  14. Callie Ross

    Sweet tea is the best! There’s nothing better. My family is from the south so I grew up drinking lots of sweet tea and my Mother made the best! Sweet tea has always been my favorite beverage and always will be!

  15. Jennifer

    I love my tea sweet! The recipe actually says 1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar per 2 cups of water, so it’s a suggestion on what you like. Not all recipes are set in stone!

    I actually will ALWAYS dr. up every recipe I use to make it special to me!

    Mmm but I LOVE Luzianne! It’s the only tea my grandmother will use.

  16. Renee

    To the lady talking about southerners being huge….I’d rather have a glass of sweet tea with a bunch of “huge” southerners than sit with a skinny, stuck up yankee anyday.Bless your heart : )

  17. thesleepdeprivedmomma

    One tea kettle full of boiling water. add 4 Luzianne family size tea bags. Let steep for 20-30 minutes. Into a gallon pitcher add 1 3/4 cups sugar. Pour steeped tea into pitcher. with tea bags still in kettle refill with cool water and pour into pitcher as you stir until you’ve got a gallon of sweet tea. Refrigerate and serve over ice. Nuthin to it, hunny!!

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  19. Little Red

    1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar in one quart of water seems rather excessive. I make mine with 1/3 cup of sugar in two quarts of water and that ‘s lightly sweet. I can’t imagine anybody drinking their sweet tea as sweet as described and not ending up obese and a Type 2 Diabetic.

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  23. Laura

    I too grew up drinking sweet tea (I’d say at least a gallon a day), and It’s been months since I’ve had any. I’ve been living in Mexico for almost two years now, and the closest I can find is a bucket of “powder tea” (the lemon flavor kind) and it’s nothing like fresh BREWED southern sweet tea. Could anybody suggest a type of tea I could buy to substitute the Luzianne tea bags I’ve run out of? I’ve seen boxes of Earl Grey tea bags and others….

    1. Lisa Martinez Espino

      After moving from my home in the south with the military, I feel your pain. You need an orange pekoe. Not sure where you are in Mexico, but if there is a Wal-Mart nearby, get their brand. It’s not Luzianne, but it’s the closest taste I can find in Seattle.

  24. Becka

    Why are southerners claiming “sweet tea” like it was their invention? you can get sweet tea ALL OVER this country. That’s about as stupid as claiming ice water. See the last thing southerners claimed (chicken and dumplings for example) they ruined. I mean good freaking lord, its SWEET TEA. There’s no secret to making it, everybody can do it… Im laughing at this page.

    1. Diane Avallone

      No, you cannot get “sweet tea” everywhere. Many places serve iced tea to which you may add sugar. Definitely not the same!
      Be nice :)

    2. Pure southern

      Lets see you go to NYC and order sweet tea…they brought me weak lukewarm unsweetened tea and said the sugar (which im still unsure was even real sugar) is on the table. You’re laughing at this page? How old are you? stay up north, yankee, where you belong with your sour attitude 😉

    3. Rebecca

      Actually, the article is about “Southern Sweet Tea.” I don’t think anyone is claiming boiling water, tea, sugar, and ice to be their own invention. That being said, you cannot get sweetened iced tea all over this country; some places it is hard to find just iced tea. Also, people do make it differently, some steep longer, some use more sugar, some add lemon, some peppermint. I think the idea behind the recipe and having people comment is to discover the various ways we all enjoy it. Cheers!

  25. Sherald

    Raised on sweet tea in Deep East Texas. As far as it being available throughout the US…sorry nope. I travel nationally every week-and have problems getting a good glass of sweet iced tea. You will find a bag of Lipton’s loose leaf tea and a zip lock of pure cane sugar in my bag. My grandmother taught me the trick of SMOOTH tea. For each gallon of tea/water mixture add a scant 1/4 tsp of baking soda. You read right-baking soda. The soda neutralizes the natural tannic acid in tea and allows the full flavor to come through. I also keep lemonade on hand to mix with tea for a change. In addition to sweet tea we always have red koolaid (polly-pop) around the house. Flavor isn’t important as long as it is red! Tastes fantastic with a good garden raised tomato sandwich with homemade lemon mayonaisse.

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  27. Brittany Dyson

    I love my tea sweet! My husband is stationed here in Montana and rarely do places have sweet tea, and the places that do have sweet tea its either way to sweet, or you can tell it’s not fresh. I try not to be picky, but no one can make sweet tea like we do in the south =) So, I have started to make my own, but haven’t got it quite right, hopefully the way you make it works for me!

  28. Danielle

    In South Carolina it’s definitely a staple, pretty much its 8 regular size or 4 family size of Lipton or Luzziane tea, boil in a medium size pot of water for just a min, let it steep for 3 mins, then pour into gallon pitcher, add 1 3/4 to 2 cups of sugar, or Stevia, stir and add cold water to the rest continuing to stir. Maybe a tiny pinch of baking soda. While i’m the subject, calling the bible belt of the south “huge” is beyond offensive to me as a southerner & maybe you should look at OUR country as a whole. This is about making tea, everyone has their own way, not about bashing someone’s heritage or stereotyping.

  29. JMParker

    Thanks for ALL the advice! Yes it this may seem silly to some that brewing tea isn’t brain surgery but for someone like myself that does not so much as like the smell of tea and grew up in the North where the only tea I saw being made was sun-tea on my Grandma’s porch…. but I am hosting a party in Carolinas where they too LOVE their SWEET SOUTHERN TEA …I appreciate it! If you have no interest in the making of SWEET Tea why would you even click on blog about it?? Thanks for advice and hope to WOW people with it!

  30. Jennifer

    I agree, JMParker. Why click on it just to bash it. I grew up in Massachusetts on Lipton powdered “sweet tea and lemon”. Then i moved to the south… Alabama (Roll Tide!)… and there’s no way I can ever drink that Lipton powdered nonsense ever again. I’ve also traveled about the country some, and if I’m anywhere above the Mason-Dixon (or in California), sweet tea (real brewed sweet tea) is next to impossible to find when you’re out and about. Well, I clicked on this link because I would love to brew my own sweet tea. I don’t want to keep buying Milos, it’s costly. And I know that it is not rocket science, but I prefer to find out how real people are brewing it and making it taste so darn good.

  31. John R. Williams

    My Father was from the South and my Mother was from the North. So let me tell you Northerns have no idea how to make Great Southern Tea. My Grandmother down south, made the best also if you ever been to the Majestic Hotel in hot Springs Arkansas has very good Southern Sweet Tea. My Grandmother always used Lipton, I change that as soon as I found Luzianne, Ie found to be much better tea blend for Southern Ice tea. You can make your own taste test. I boil two cups of hot water. I pour it over two large teabags of Luzianne tea and let it seep for 15 min. I also while it is hot add 1 1/4 cups of sugar. Pour it into a pitcher and add 4 to 6 cups of water, ie depending upon your taste and strength ypu want your tea. I don’t like like dishpain water down tea..

  32. Manisha

    I just returned from Louisiana and had my first taste of sweet tea and now I’m hooked. I live in Minnesota and I tell you we have no tea as good as what I had down south. So now I’m hooked and wanting to try some tea that’s not Liptons. Thanks for the recipe and all the comments that suggest that Luzianne is the tea I should buy.

  33. Tawnie

    Hey all you haters! Sorry to tell ya, but you ABSOLUTELY cannot find REAL sweet tea all across the country! I’m a Yankee, but I love me the South! I’ve spent a lot of time there, and I’ve drank a lot of sweet tea. (And I know what bless your heart means!!) REAL Southern Sweet Tea is not a “no-brainer”. For instance, are you aware that you should put a pinch of baking soda in the pitcher before you put the brewed tea in? No? Hmmmm. Thought it was a no-brainer!? Bless your heart!

  34. Eunity

    2 cups of sugar per gallon, turned into simple syrup, and then mix and refrigerate.

  35. Rhonda

    2 cups of sugar to one gallon of tea. Bring water to boil about 4 cups. Add 4 family size bags, and steep for exactly 15 min no more or less. Pour over sugar in pitcher stir and fill remander with cold water. Not overly sweet like mcdonalds but very good! And I have even cut the sugar to one cup and love it!!

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  37. Rebecca

    I’m a little late to this “tea party,” but I’ll put my two cents in anyway. First, I would like to say that the above recipe HAS GOT TO BE a misprint. If you put 1/2-1 cup of sugar in a quart, that’s going to be syrup. Perhaps they meant, 1/2-1 cup per gallon? I use three Luzianne family-sized tea bags to filtered water just taken off the boil, steep 20 minutes, with just a little less than 1/2 cup of sugar, then add enough water to make a gallon. And you have to drink it while it’s just-brewed fresh to enjoy that delicious tea flavor!! I also enjoy peppermint or spearmint sprigs added to my iced tea from time-to-time; it makes it a iced tea, but I feel like it takes away from the delicious tea flavor. Cheers!

    1. Rebecca

      Hmm…I see that part of my comment was cut off. Weird. It should state that the peppermint or spearmint sprigs make the tea a little more refreshing in the summertime. Also, that I don’t like adding lemon to iced tea because, to me, it takes away from the fresh tea flavor. Okay…Cheers!


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