Nothing separates the north and south like our preferences in iced tea. It’s funny to even write iced tea because I usually only call it sweet tea. Growing up in Tennessee, there was typically a pitcher always ready on the kitchen counter with the top covered in plastic wrap and ready for company.
Sweet tea is a given at all holidays, but really it’s not a complete southern meal on any day of the week unless there’s sweet tea on the table. Mealtime isn’t the only time us southerners consume this refreshingly delicious beverage. With the summer heat still in full effect until well after Labor Day, it’s always a good time to have a pitcher on hand. So let’s discuss sweet tea: how to make it, flavor it, and of course, how to turn sweet tea into a cocktail. After all, some southerners may look like they are sipping sweet tea on their front porch, but since it is a similar color to bourbon, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s actually being enjoyed.
Make Simple Syrup
Yes, just as the names states, simple syrup is simple to make, and it’s the game changer for making your tea properly sweet. Just take one cup of sugar and one cup of water and bring to a boil, stir often. As soon as it hits boiling, you’ll notice the sugar has already dissolved. Move the syrup off the eye and let it cool at least 45 minutes.
Brew The Tea
In my opinion, Lipton should be your go-to tea for brewing sweet tea. It’s simply the best. Take about 10 tea bags and tie them together. Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water to boil. Once your water is boiling, add the 10 bags of tea and water into a pitcher, cover with a lid for 8 minutes. If you’d like a stronger tea, you can let the tea steep longer. After 8 minutes discard the tea bags and add 8 cups of ice, stirring as the ice melts. Make sure to get all your ice in while your tea is still hot and let it melt as you stir. It’s important not to let your tea cool and then add ice.
Another option for brewing is to use nature. That’s right, in the summer, we use the hot sun to our advantage by letting it brew the tea for us. Take a large drink dispenser and fill with water. Remove the paper tags from 10-12 Lipton tea bags and place the tea in a dispenser. Set the dispenser directly in the sun, and wait. If it’s a clear dispenser you can watch the tea steep and darken as the hour goes by.
All day is preferable, but you can have sun tea made up in as little as 1 hour if you have direct sunlight. Add simple syrup and stir. Serve over ice and enjoy that the sun did most of the work!
Serve It Up
After your simple syrup has had time to cool, add to the pitcher of tea and stir. I’ve always heard that you should keep your tea at room temperature and not store in the refrigerator. Enjoy your tea served over ice and I prefer a slice of fresh lemon as well. Enjoy with a meal or on a porch.
Kick Up The Flavor
Sweet tea on it’s own is a classic and flavorful refreshment, but sometimes it’s fun to add in unique flavors to change it up a bit. This is especially true if you’re hosting a shower or luncheon. You can add a nice twist to the classic sweet tea by flavoring your simple syrup. Try adding mint. Follow the instructions above to begin making simple syrup. After sugar is dissolved, pour the syrup into a heatproof container filled with hand-crushed mint. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight; strain and discard mint.
Other ideas of flavors to infuse in your simple syrup include peach, lavender, rosemary, blackberry, or lemon. The options are really as endless as your taste buds.
While a sweet tea stands alone as a fantastic beverage, it can be fun to make a nice cocktail. Sticking with all things southern, it seems like a no-brainer to add bourbon. Here are a couple of sweet tea-based cocktails:
Bourbon Mint Tea
Make tea and mint simple syrup using instructions above. Combine 2 parts sweetened tea to 1 part bourbon, add a squeeze of lemon, stir well and serve over ice.
Sweet Tea Sangria
Make sweet tea using instructions above. In large drink dispenser, add sweet tea, 1 bottle (750 ml) of chilled Moscato, and sliced lemons to float on top. Serve over ice with additional fruit garnishes if you like, i.e. berries, mint, etc.
Here’s to hoping you not only master great sweet tea in your own home but also that you have an open door to share it with friends, family and neighbors, after all, you have a pitcher!
Laura Beth Peters, one-half of the popular southern culture podcast, Steel Magnolias lives near Nashville, Tennesse. Each week on the Steel Magnolias podcast she and her sister cover southern topics including cooking, events, traditions, homemaking, history, music, and more.
Grab a seat, a glass of sweet ice tea and listen in as Laura Beth and her sister, Lainie Stubblefield discuss favorite fall foods in the south, pies and much more.