Homemade Sweet Tea Recipe

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Enjoy a tall glass of homemade sweet tea for a refreshing break from the summer heat!

I have to admit that this California native has never been to the south. And while I’ve had a bit of sweetener in my tea on occasion, I’ve never had that real, authentic sweet tea that seems to be a staple in that part of the country.

Clean Eating Sweet Tea

Apparently, the difference between southern tea and west coast tea is all about WHEN you add the sugar as well as how much sugar you use. With true sweet tea, you add a lot of sugar (up to 2 cups sugar per gallon of tea by some accounts!!) while the tea is hot and brewing. With west coast tea, you typically add just a little sugar after cooling.

Now I’m not here to argue the method for making sweet tea. I’m sure there are many. But I thought it was high time I gave this drink a try, clean eating style! I will say that even with clean and natural sugars, this tea is kind of a sugar bomb. So plan your day accordingly. But it’s nice to know that if you really want to enjoy something like this, you don’t have to absolutely destroy your eating plan either.

Now according to some of my readers, in order for this to truly be authentic, it absolutely MUST be served on a front porch. It wasn’t made clear to me whether or not I needed a rocking chair, but since I don’t have one, I had to make do with sitting on the stairs of my front porch. I think I got roughly the same effect.

Tea Varieties

  • Lipton
  • Luzianne
  • Tetley
  • Orange Pekoe (This can be hard to find. If you want to use it, you may have to order from amazon.)

P.S. – I have to admit that this recipe was FAR to sweet for my west coast taste buds. I had to add water. So if you find this is too sweet for you as well, simply add more water and leave the tea bags in a little longer as needed.

And as I said, there are many ways to make sweet tea. So if this doesn’t seem right to you, please be kind to this California girl. But I sure would love to know how you make it! Leave me a comment and share!

P.S.S. – I was told that the baking soda gives the tea a “smoother” flavor. I suppose it could depend on the tea used, but I added it. Feel free to leave it out if you prefer. You can’t taste it.

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Homemade Sweet Tea Recipe

Clean Eating Sweet Tea

Homemade Sweet Tea

A delicious summer favorite ya’ll!
Print Pin Rate
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American, Southern
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 7 cups
Calories: 57kcal
Author: The Gracious Pantry

Ingredients

  • 3 standard orange pekoe tea bags
  • 7 cups water (divided)
  • ยฝ cup Sucanat (affiliate link) (or to taste)
  • ยผ tsp. baking soda

Instructions

  • Bring 3 cups of water to boil, remove from heat and stir in the Sucanat.
  • Bring 4 cups of water to boil, remove from heat, quickly stir in the sugar water and add your tea bags.
  • Stir in baking soda.
  • Let sit for 10-15 minutes, or until the tea reaches your desired strength.
  • Allow to cool to room temperature before putting the tea over ice or in the fridge.

Notes

Please note that the nutrition data given here is a ballpark figure. Exact data is not possible.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 57kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Sodium: 61mg | Sugar: 14g | Calcium: 9mg | Iron: 0.1mg

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70 Comments

  1. As a GA native, I’m curious what the baking soda is for. Also, what is sucanat?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Heather – Sucanat is unprocessed (clean) sugar. I was told that the baking soda give the tea a smoother flavor. But you can leave it out if you prefer.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Vicki – It is unprocessed (clean) sugar.

  2. Casey Moore says:

    Hi!! This post caught my eye because I am one of those southerners that enjoys sweet tea. We have visited family in California and when ordering “sweet tea” (in our authentic southern twang that we don’t hear), the server would stop and say, “excuse me?”. ๐Ÿ™‚ I just wanted to add that growing up, my family made our tea in a coffee maker. We would add about 6 tea bags (regular not family size) to the area where the coffee goes and perk up about 12 cups. We would put just under 1 1/2 cups of sugar in our pitcher, add our hot brewed tea, and then fill the pitcher with cool water. It made great tea, and was super easy. You can substitute the sugar for a natural sugar or whatever substitute you normally use for sweetener. I have sense made a switch to unsweetened because of limiting my sugars, but I still love the occasional glass of sweet tea! Thanks for sharing!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Casey – Thanks for the tip! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Karen Brettschneider says:

    I moved from Wisconsin to Georgia, and I personally don’t like sweet tea. Too sweet for me. I prefer the California version. We make sun tea, and I add agave to mine. Gives it a nice flavor. What is the baking soda for? Yes, everyone in the south seems to like their sweet tea. Our pastor admits to having a sweet tea addiction. I love your recipes.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Karen – Thanks! I was told the baking soda was a must to give the tea a smoother flavor. Might depend on the tea used though.

  4. Born and raised in the South, I have to say this ratio is a wee bit off for what we’re used to drinking down here. I usually make a gallon of sweet tea at a time (sometimes one per day for my tea junkies here) and I make it as follows:
    3/4 gallon of water (that’s what fits in my current teapot)
    2 family-sized tea bags (Tetley is our favorite)
    Bring water to a boil and turn off heat. Add tea bags and let steep at least 10 minutes.
    In a gallon pitcher, add 1 cup (up to 1 1/2 if you have a sweet tooth) of sugar.
    Pour warm tea over the sugar and top with either ice cubes or ice water to fill the pitcher.
    Stir and serve over ice.

    I travel occasionally for work and I have to say that my sweet tea is one thing I really miss when I’m on the road. You just can’t get it made “right” unless you’re in the South. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lois – I’m sure! To be honest, I made it with 3/4 cups sugar instead of a half. But it was so sickeningly sweet, I backed off a bit. You can certainly add more sucanat if you prefer. Probably just my California girl taste buds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Why did you add baking soda to this? Does it have to do with the Sucanat? I grew up in the South, and we never used baking soda.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Millason – When I asked, many Southerners told me it was an important component. Perhaps it’s a regional thing? It’s supposed to make the tea “smoother”. But feel free to leave it out. No, it has nothing to do with the sucanat.

  6. ?? Why the baking soda? Never heard of such. I’m a GA girl. I used to add 2 cups sugar. Eventually scaled it back to 1 1/3 c. Then last year I switched to 1/3 tsp of stevia extract. Husband is the one that drinks it, and he can stand it even with the difference in taste, so that’s what I do now.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kinzie – You can certainly try it without. I was told that it gives the tea a smoother flavor. So I went with it.

  7. I can’t wait to try this! We are from the south where yes, its 2 cups a gallon!!! Not clean! I have just quit making it and we drink water only so my family will be grateful to you for the clean tea recipe! ๐Ÿ˜‰ What is the purpose of the baking soda? Just wondering if it is included for health or taste??

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Summer – I’ve been told it’s an essential component for giving the tea a “smoother” flavor. You can try the tea before stirring it in though to see what the difference is. It could also be dependent on the type of tea used.

  8. The South loves it’s sweet tea! This is how I leaned to make it from my Grandfather (who was from Georgia): This will make about 2 quarts: boil about 3-4 cups water in small sauce pan, remove from heat, add 4 regular tea bags, cover and let brew for 5-10 minutes (till its nice and dark), remove tea bags and stir in 1 cup sugar (or more or less to taste) while it’s still hot, When nice and mixed in add to pitcher with ice and cold tap water, stir and enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course now that I’m back in Colorado I make sun tea on the back porch (in an old pickle jar, lol), but I still whip-up sweet tea from time to time!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Marie – Thanks for sharing your grandfather’s recipe! How wonderful! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I am from the south. I am not a tea fan (much less sweet tea). Crazy, I know! However, my hubby is a huge sweet tea fan (southern style of course). I am interested in trying this, but have a few questions. One, what is the purpose of the baking soda, and is it necessary? Two, where can I find sucanat? I’ve seen that it is in many clean recipes, but haven’t found it in grocery stores. Thanks in advance!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jana – The baking soda gets rid of the “sharpness” of the tea. It gives it a smoother flavor (or so I’ve been told. I’ve only made this one batch). I’m told it’s an important component however. Sucanat is something I buy at Whole Foods. But if you can’t find it locally, you can certainly purchase it online from Amazon.

  10. I just wanted to add, that in case you are like me and use bottled water, you don’t have to add the baking soda. Most bottled water has added sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) which helps to ease the bitterness of the tea. I make 2 gallons at a time and use 8 bottles of water.

    We use lemon drop Stevia and add it on a cup by cup basis for flavor. It is SO yummy! I was turned onto it when I accidentally received the lemon drop instead of Vanilla liquid Stevia in an Amazon order, and now I’m addicted! It is SO good!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Monika – Thanks! Good to know! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Born and Raised in Alabama and have never heard of adding baking soda. Maybe its a Northern thing? My house goes through a gallon of sweet tea a day. Every morning I make a fresh jug (we call our tea pitcher a jug, ha!) Boil water, remove from heat and add 2 family size tea bags, and let it steep for about 15 minutes (sometimes longer if I forget about it). I also use a little less that 1 1/4C sugar. Mixing it in while the tea is still hot makes it dissolve. Anyway, fill the rest of the jug with cold water.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Andrea – Thanks! Wow, a gallon a day? Color me impressed!

  12. Thanx just never heard of that..would rather make lighter by steeping for less time,tho

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sukitch – I’m not sure it really has anything to do with the strength of the tea. But I could be wrong…

  13. Your star just soared higher in the eyes of this southern gal!! I discovered the baking soda tip a few years ago and haven’t gone back!! I’m southern born and southern bred, as are my friends and family. Most everyone asks me how I make my sweet tea, because it is “so delicious” and when I tell them this tip, they haven’t heard of it either. Not sure where it originated, but don’t worry about the southerner’s confusion over it; they just haven’t discovered that secret (wink) to great tasting sweet tea yet!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Julie – Awesome! Thanks so much! I was starting to wonder…

  14. I’ll be the contrary voice in the peanut gallery. I was raised in VA and KY, and although sweet tea was not nearly as popular there as further down south, I am familiar with the baking soda addition and was taught to put it in. I always assumed it had something to with water quality, since so many folks were on well water, but I don’t have a grasp on chemistry, so that could be way off.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Lee – Glad to know I wasn’t led astray! ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. Thanks for the recipe! I personally prefer unsweet tea, but as a Texas girl iced tea is a staple in our house. Just a word about the baking soda. The baking soda takes the “bite” out of the tea and gives it a smoother taste by changing the acidity. Not only is the flavor improved, but it also makes tea easier on sensitive stomachs. The same can be done with coffee as well.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kari – Fabulous!!! Thank you!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  16. The Baking soda helps to remove bitterness from the tea. I also find that it seems to make the tea stronger. (This Georgia girl likes her tea strong and sweet!) When I am in a hurry, I have been known to throw 3 family size tea bags and a dash of baking soda into my coffee pot (the urn itself, not the basket for the grounds) and run a potful of water through. I let it steep with the coffee pot on for 30 minutes to an hour, add my sweetener of choice, and then fill it up with hot water.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jill – Thanks! I love the coffee pot idea. So much easier!

  17. The baking soda keeps the tea from getting cloudy (that’s the rumor I’ve heard anyway)…yep, I’m a Southerner.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jeannie – Good to know! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Ellen Martinez says:

    I use a electric tea pot by Mr Coffee. I use the lines for water and ice and before I start the machine I add a 1/3 cup natural sweetener and stir when the machine is finished. I normally drink water, but my girls like the tea with meals.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ellen – Good to know! But what do you mean about using the lines for the ice. The water I get… but the ice? I’m confused…

  19. Hi there, I’ve been making mine with raw Stevia… and I only use three or four packets tops!!! I read Stevia is clean because it comes directly from the plant. But you can’t find the other sugar you use here. But I do like me some sweet tea now and then, but never as sweet as my southern friends!!! Good Job Tiffany!!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Christie – Thanks! Sucanat can be purchased at Amazon if you can’t find it in the stores. Coconut sugar may work as well.

  20. I enjoyed this article. I grew up having sweet tea in the house and here in my house I go through 1 1/2 to 2 gallons a day because that is all my boys want to drink. My oldest son moved to CA and he complained, “I can find chocolate covered bacon here, but no sweet tea in sight.” -lol It is funny to see how what we think is normal is different in other parts of the country. We have a lot of military in the area and meet people from all over and they have never had some of the foods I grew up on like chicken and dumplings, grits, collards, NC BBQ.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Renee – I know! Even in our own country, traditional foods vary greatly!

  21. Stephanie says:

    Hi! I am enjoying learning how to keep my foods as clean as possible! For a nice sweet tea, I suggest boiling a small pot of water and add a handful of STEVIA LEAVES (right from the plant). Boil it until the water turns a dark green. Then take out the leaves and let the water cool down. Next, add your tea bags and bring to a boil again. When finished, poor the tea into a pitcher and add water. I think this is as clean and healthy as one can get and the taste is amazing!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Stephanie – Wow! Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Lipton also has a seasonal tea..called southern sweet tea..it’s very good but has sucralose as a sweetener..

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Hayley – That’s too bad. I wish they wouldn’t do that. They also put soy lecithin in their tea. Ick.

  23. just curious what does the baking soda do? Thank you for providing this as i have been trying to find a better option for our family. now that i am trying to use healthier choices and clean choices i am trying to see if i can wean us off of Crystal light Green peach tea. Do you have a suggestion of how i can incorporate the peach flavor?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Patricia – I would just buy an herbal peach tea. There are a lot of natural fruit teas out there. If you can’t find them locally, give amazon a try. They seem to have everything!

  24. Maryann T says:

    Well, I’ll probably get yelled at for this ’cause most Southerners don’t do it this way, but my Papa taught me to put in 7 regular ‘Lipton’ tea bags in a smaller pot (we have one specifically for tea, haha) and set the stove to high until it just starts to boil. Most people cringe because they think I boil my tea bags but I pull them off as soon as I see them bubble and its perfectly steeped for my family. Sugar has always been between 1 and 2 cups per gallon, though I swear my uncle used 3, it all depends on who you are serving! I add hot tap water to my sugar while my tea is getting hot and stir it up. Once the tea is ready I pour it right in the hot sugar water and add water to my tea bags in the pot to pour into the pitcher (usually about 2 times) and top off with more hot water. Drink it hot or pour over a full cup of ice and you’re good to go!

    I will have to see if I can find sucanat somewhere around here so I can try it. We don’t have any health food stores nearby that I know of. And thank you for your blog, I really do appreciate it since I’m trying to start on clean eating and it’s a little rough now, but my mom has agreed to join me, so we’ll see how it goes! At least I know we can still have sweet tea ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Maryann T – Thanks for sharing that! If you can’t find the sucanat at a local store, try amazon.com. They always carry it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Enjoy!

  25. The baking soda, in addition to cutting the bitterness, also keeps the tea from “going bad” so quickly! I am from the South and started adding the baking soda about a month ago, to rave reviews! !!!!!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ashleigh – Awesome! ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Bridgette says:

    I am suprised this would be considered clean,
    considering what chemicals and processed things are in tea bags, whether its sweetened or unsweet.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Bridgette – You can use whatever tea you like. Typically, loose leaf tea is clean, which is why I mentioned the orange pekoe tea. But it’s totally up to you.

  27. Katy | Alphabet Soup says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, but if you steep your tea too long, you run the risk of it becoming bitter. A pinch of baking soda will help with the bitterness and lowers acidity. (You can throw a pinch of baking soda in your tomato-based sauces to do the same thing!) There are pretty much as many methods and ratios to making sweet tea as there are Southerners, lol.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Katy – Haha! Ya, I can imagine!

  28. I was born and raised in the heart of the South. We have always used baking soda in our tea. My mom and my grandma’s all did it that way. I was always told it made it smoother and darker. However since moving to Iowa, I no longer make it that sweet (I now use about 1/4 cup of sugar) but I still use the soda.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sandie – Awesome! Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. What a really good funny article!!! I am a Southern Belle by way of SC & GA living in N. VA. Your article hit it right on the head with everything you said. Sweet tea was always a staple growing up & still is to this day. I have had to adjust my taste buds for the further north you go, you have to ask if sweet tea is served.

    I had forgotten about the baking soda until you mentioned it. It really does make a difference in the taste. Too funny!!

    I so enjoyed reading your article & the comments!

    Thank you!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sheina – My pleasure! ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. I am from Maryland. Born and raised on Maryland Sweet. My grandmother used to add fresh mint.
    In an attempt to get away from the sweetness I make a new kind of tea. I use 4 green tea bags (Organic) 2 Moroccan Mint tea bags. I boil the water, add the tea and put a lid on the pot for around 15-20 minutes. After removing the teabags I then add a few tablespoons honey, 1/4 cup real freshly lemon juice and between a 1/2 and a cup of sugar.
    It is the best and freshest tasting tea.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Cynthia – Sounds wonderful!

  31. Hey there!!

    I want to try this so bad! Thank you!!

    I am from California, but have family in the south and love sweet tea, but not quite as sweet as southern sweet tea. I put 1/4cup of sugar in a jug and run HOT water to dissolve the sugar, then I use 4 family size tea bags and let it seep for an hour or two. (After reading this post I guess I like STRONG tea. haha.)

    But anyway, I am very particular about my tea. If it brews too long it tastes “rotten” to me. Would the baking soda help with that? Say, if I accidentally left it brewing overnight instead of a few hours… I noticed someone said it keeps it from rotting, I wondering if their definition of rotting is the same as mine. haha

    Also, I was wondering if there are any other clean eating sweeteners we could add, besides sucanat?? Maybe Agave nectar?? I am new to this “clean-eating” thing and am not too “hip” on the natural/unprocessed sweeteners yet.

    Thanks!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Brianna – Agave isn’t clean. You could try honey or coconut sugar. Some clean eaters use xylitol as well. Hope that helps!

  32. See??? I didn’t know that!! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Brianna – My pleasure! ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. I’m from Louisiana and I’ve been putting baking soda in my sweet tea for years to cut down on bitterness. I agree though that 1 cup to 2 cups per gallon is more the ratio. This is a rare treat for me anymore. Maybe once a year but can’t wait to try this healthier version. Thanks so much!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sheri – I hope you enjoy it!

  34. I like cold brewed teas so how would i adapt this??

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Leslie – That’s hard to say. You need something warm to dissolve the sweetener.

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