November 20, 2018

How to Make Southern Sweet Iced Tea

Jun 10, 2010

Southern Sweet Iced Tea Recipe -- Save money by making your own sweet tea at home!

Down here in the south, sweet tea is a staple. It’s priority is right up there with milk and eggs.  I drink tea year-round and with every meal – including breakfast.

However, I just don’t understand how people can pay for those jugs of pre-made sweet tea! Don’t y’all know how easy it is to make sweet tea?  Well, I have decided to take on the responsibility of curing everyone’s tea-jug-buying habit.

First of all, it is very important that you imagine me saying all this with a southern accent. M’kay?

Let me break down the cost for you. Red Diamond Sweet Tea costs about $2.50 per gallon.  A box of 100 Lipton Tea Bags costs about $3.  If you use 4 tea bags to make a gallon of tea, that means you will make 25 gallons of tea per box of tea bags. That works out to 12¢ per gallon. A savings of $2.38 per gallon. Even if you work in the cost of sugar and a cute new tea pitcher, it is still cheaper to make your own.

Now, if great savings does not sway you, what if I said homemade tea tastes better? Cause it does. And my version is The. Best. Seriously.

Because I love you all dearly, I am going to share my super-top-secret Southern Sweet Tea recipe.

You will need:

Pan or Kettle to boil water
1 Gallon or 2 Quart Pitcher
4 Regular Tea Bags (or 2 Family Size) – any brand (I recommend Lipton – but NOT the cold brew!)
1/2 Cup – 1 Cup of Sugar

First, bring some water to a boil. I use this handy tea kettle that I got at Ikea, but you can boil it in a saucepan or whatever you have on hand.

Southern Sweet Iced Tea Recipe -- Save money by making your own sweet tea at home!

Pour boiling water into your tea pitcher. Make sure to use a pitcher that is safe to hold hot liquids. Don’t use glass!

Remove 4 small tea bags from the package and brew in the hot water. I drape the paper part over the side, but my husband likes to wrap the string around the tines of a fork, and lay the fork across the top of the pitcher.

Southern Sweet Iced Tea Recipe -- Save money by making your own sweet tea at home!

Let the tea brew for a few minutes. I don’t really time this, and I don’t really think it matters that much, but I’d guess around 5 minutes.

Take out the tea bags and add cold water to fill the pitcher. You can add ice too, if you want.

Add sugar. I like mine pretty sweet and use about 1 cup for for my 3 Quart Pitcher. I’d suggest adding a little, stirring, and tasting until you get it just right.

Stir well.

Pour over ice and enjoy!


  1. I have to agree with you, I don’t buy tea unless I don’t have time to make my own, since it is so easy to make. I have a similar recipe, but mine is a little sweeter than what you have created above. I start to boil some water; get out 2 family size Lipton Decaf tea bags; pour 2 cups of sugar into a gallon size pitcher and add hot water to dissolve the sugar; once the water boils, I remove from heat, add the tea bags and leave it for 5 minutes. After five minutes, I pour the tea into the sugar water and add more water if necessary to make one gallon of SWEET Tea! We try to drink it fairly soon or it will turn into syrup! Just kidding, kind of! 🙂

  2. I must like stronger tasting tea than ya’ll. I use 10 regular tea bags, or 4 family size tea bags for a gallon of tea. I also put my tea bags in the water and let it boil in the water for about 5 minutes. I put a little water in my jug and then add 1 & 1/2 cups of sugar then add the hot tea, I pour the cooked tea into the jug and then keep adding water into the pot with the tea bags until the water is clear. I keep my tea in a jug with a lid, it keeps longer in the frig.

  3. I make mine similar to Sharon but I only use 8 tea bags. I use a large sauce pan and let the water boil. Then I had the tea bags and let it boil a little more. After that, I let it sit for about 10 minutes and then I pour it on top of the sugar which is already placed in the pitcher.

  4. Thanks for your recipe! It is amazing how people will buy such simple things ready made… My recipe is a drop different, I use lemon in mine and I make mine into a concentrate because we go through iced tea quickly!
    I’m here from frugal friday and always am glad to find other frugal blogs!

  5. Southern sweet tea is the best, but Lipton is TERRIBLE tea. It has a bitter bite that just makes it AWFUL. The only tea that will EVER darken our door or fill my pitcher is Tetley Tea. It has a wonderful full flavor and an almost velvety mouth feel. It also has a smooth finish (after taste) and isn’t bitter at all. We use 6 family size bags and 2 cups of sugar per gallon. I learned how to make tea while working at Chick-fil-A, and if you love the tea there you will love this recipe.

  6. Thanks for sharing your recipe. I’m not Southern, but I sure love sweet tea! Can’t wait to try it out!

  7. Shelly G. says:

    Hey great post… I myself have always wondered why people always buy tea… I make mine almost just as you do except I only use 3/4 cup sugar per gallon….used to use more but slowly worked my way down 🙂 and I usually pour the sugar in with the hot tea then add the cool water.. i guess just to make sure it all breaks down. Oh and great tip about using the fork to hold the tea bags in the pitcher 🙂 I usually just let mine brew in the pot but thats clever

  8. i will boil my water and get my teabags ready… then i’ll microwave about 2 cups of water till boiling, then add 2-2 1/2 cups of sugar to make a syrup, then after i put in my teabags, let steep for about 5 mins. then i’ll add my sugar water, and let sit for about 15-20 mins… i make almost 2 gallons with this.

  9. Okay, you rule! I live in FL and my family loves our sweet tea. I don’t make it often because I always thought you had to have hot water for the entire pitcher. So I’d boil water in my tea kettle, pour that into the pitcher and steep the bags in there while I boiled ANOTHER kettle of water to top it off. I NEVER thought to top it off with cold water. What a light bulb moment! Thank you soooo much.

  10. I make mine similarly however I use 6 or 7 tea bags and VERY important. I add my sugar to the pitcher and pour the hot water over the sugar so that it dissolves completely. I then tie the tea bags together after removing the little paper tags and let them steep for a bit. THEN add the cold water to the top of the pitcher (this is for 2 quarts). YUM, YUM!!!!

  11. I think I got my sweet tea tooth (teeth?) from my neighbor “Granny.” I always wonder where she grew up, because we were way up in the Rocky Mountains and anything but Southern, hehe. 🙂 She never shared her recipe with us, nor would she let any of us kids help her make more when we used up her iced tea. I haven’t found anything quite like it since then.

    My mom has a BIG old microwave that she can actually fit half-gallon glass bottles into standing up. She microwaves 4 tea bags in a 1/2 gallon glass jar for 2 minutes, then lets it stand untouched until it’s cool enough to handle. Then she adds 3/4 C of sugar and 1 oz lemon juice.

    I’ve had friends who won’t normally drink iced tea tell me they’ll definitely drink that. 🙂

    Since I can’t find a microwave that big anymore, I’ve had to improvise. Lately I’ve been boiling one or two kettles of water and pouring them over the tea bags into pre-heated glass bottles. (I won’t pour boiling hot water into a plastic pitcher; and I am very careful to pre-heat the bottles and pour in the sink.) I only use 2 tea bags, but I also let it sit for a few hours before I come back to it. *Much* cheaper, and it brews just as strong as 4 bags for 10 minutes. 😉 Then I pour the warm-ish water into a plastic jug with the sugar and lemon juice and put the lid on it and *shake* it. 🙂 (I also only *just* learned last month that I could make “iced tea” by adding ice to hot tea. hehe )

    The reason everyone has better luck pouring the boiling hot water on the sugar is that the sugar dissolves better in hot water than in cooler water. I don’t know how steeping the tea bags in sugar water might affect the flavor though.

    I also grew up with Lipton, and I haven’t found anything else I like in this recipe. Other teas are fine for other things, but not here. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your recipe! I sort-of thought maybe my tea wasn’t sweet enough to qualify as Southern Sweet Tea, but it sounds like it’s pretty close. 🙂

    • I brew my tea like your query, I use 4 Tetley tea round bags, 3/4 cup sugar and water in my 2 quart sauce pan. I don’t bring it to a rapid boil, but use a very low flame and set my timer to an hour and a half to three-quarters of an hour. I like it a little stronger, so brew it longer. This also means the sugar dissolves very well, and the Tetley tea taste better to me than Lipton (which I was raised on)… I cut the sugar in half when I started experimenting with tea as an adult. I went from the 2 cups in a gallon I was used to, to 1 cup, and recently cut that even more and realized it was just as good… Give it a go, I found that the sugar dissolves without any effort by brewing the sugar in the pan… I remember stirring and stirring the sugar for my mother growing up and just watching the sugar return to the bottom of the pitcher (which may be the reason for the larger amounts of sugar used by my mother and aunts)… But trying a different method, brought me to using less sugar, which is always a good idea…

  12. Stephanie says:

    I’m with you on saving and making the tea at home, but my personal preference is Tetley.

  13. just opened a new order from red diamond. 4 boxes of gallon size tea bags. 12 to a box. real cheap. real good tasting iced tea.

  14. We only ever used Red Diamond tea bags, 3 qt sized bags for a gallon. I always either combine the water, sugar and tea bags and bring to a slow boil, turn off the heat and stir. Let tea seep for just a few minutes depending on how dark you like it. Pour into a pitcher, add cold water to top off.

    If I find myself having to use a tea kettle, I put the sugar in the pitcher with just enough hot water to dissolve it, let it sit for a few while the water comes to a boil, add to sugar water, add tea bags and steep.

    For me adding the sugar while the tea is still hot is what makes it “southern” sweet tea.

  15. What does family size tea bag mean? I used to make sweet homemade iced tea all the time. But due to health and physical problems followed by surgery, I haven’t made ii in awhile. And I can’t seen to get back to making it. Comes our all wrong, too strong , too weak or not enough or too much sugar. I am from up north – so I don’t like it too sweet, just enough sweetness to it. Can anyone help me get back to helping me make a gallon a sweet iced tea. Just hate the store iced tea. BLAH!!! The only one I will touch is the Arizona sweeten green tea. Love green tea, sometimes with just a hint of mint…yum so refreshing. Thank you 🙂

  16. I find that by putting the sugar (or in our case, Truvia) in the boiling water, it not only breaks the sugar down so it isn’t grainy but it also makes the sugar stronger allowing me to use less for the same sweetness. I highly recommend it.

  17. I use 5 family size bags or one of Lipton’s gallon size bags for a gallon of tea. Tea should never be brewed for more than 2 minutes. After that, it will emit a bitter taste. I brew mine for two minutes, and then douse the bags in the water 30 times to get the rich tea flavor without the bitterness.

  18. Now that i can buy Red Diamond tea bags i am happy to make my own.I use to use Lipton then i stopped liking that taste so i moved to Tetly and it was good for many years and then something happened to the taste(maybe cheaper tea leaves)
    I am so glad that when i make Red Diamond and use 1 1/2 cups of sugar(i do have kids around so make it a bit sweeter so they will drink it) that it comes out tasting just the same or even better then the jug.I started buying Red Diamond tea jugs because it was the only tea with real sugar and no Corn Syrup,yuck!
    I also use Cane Sugar because that is not GMO. Sugar Beets are mostly GMO and if you buy a bag sugar and it says SUGAR it could be Sugar Beet or Cane sugar.It will probably be Sugar Beet since that is the cheaper sugar to produce.
    It also states on the box i just read it has a good more antioxidants then the leading brand of teas.
    I have taught my teen how to make the tea and it saves her 3 dollars a day she was spending buying the tea jugs.

  19. No one has mentioned the way I make it, and I get raves about my tea.

    Boil 2-3 qts of water. Remove from heat.
    Place 12 reg tea bags or 4 family size in water and let steep for 20 minutes. (We prefer Luzianne, don’t like Lipton at all.) Also, add 1/4 tsp of baking soda to this, which makes for a smoother tea and prevents cloudiness later on.
    In 1 gallon pitcher, place about 1.75 cups of sugar (I use Splenda).
    Pour steeped tea over sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Continue to fill the pitcher by running cool water over the teabags until the pitcher is full.

  20. I use Red Diamond tea bags. 2 of the family size. I also use the coffee maker instead of boiling water on the stove. It is faster when you need another gallon of tea in a hurry. Place the tea bags in the carafe, and use a clean filter. Turn the coffee pot on and let the magic happen. Let the bags steep for as long as you can. I try to let the water cool to room temperature. I add about 3/4 cup of sugar to 1 gallon of tea, but that is purely up to your personal taste.

  21. I’m from canada and new to homemade iced tea… What kind of tea do you mean by “regular tea”? To me regular tea is red rose tea… Is it earl grey, green, black tea etc? We have Lipton and tetly here but they both have lots of kinds

    • I’m from Canada too, and I wold say regular tea bags are black tea. Red Rose is black tea and you can get plain Lipton and Tetley black tea too. Earl Grey is black tea with bergamot in it (so probably not this kind). I’m definitely guessing it’s just plain old black tea.

  22. This south Ga girl thinks Luzianne Tea made with Dixie Crystal Sugar is the ONLY way to go. Best served with fried chicken, creamed sweet corn, fresh butter beans and sliced homegrown tomatoes! Hot peach cobbler for dessert!!

    • I was starting to think I was the only one to ever use Luzianna tea! It really does make the best in my opinion.

  23. It says to use a gallon or two quart pitcher.that is a big variance.

  24. Tracy McDonald says:

    When I make Iced Tea I use loose leaf tea that I buy in bulk. This way I can make flavored tea easily. My current favorite is a citrusy black tea. But I have also made a peachy oolong, and a caramel white tea. I fill a large teaball with about an oz. of loose tea. I place the teaball in 2 quart sauce pan and pour a quart of hot water over it. I let the tea steep for about 30 minutes. After I remove the teaball I add my sugar. I use extra fine or powderd sugar because it desolves better. I like super sweet tea so I add about 4 cups of sugar. Once I have my concentrated tea syrup I pour it into a gallon jug and add water to fill. I have never heard of adding baking soda I will have to try it. Some times I will add fruit juice to my tea to make it special.

  25. That’s purty darn sweet gal… I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and that’s how my mother made hers, sorta… The way I brew mine’s a little different, but everyone loves it, and I only use 3/4 cop sugar per gallon and it’s sweet enough… I switched up from my mother’s recipe, to my own and use less than half the sugar, and nobody complained so probably didn’t notice the difference…

  26. Personally, I think for true, sweet tea, the sugar also needs to be brewed. I make a “sweet tea syrup” by brewing the tea, water and sugar, and THEN adding the cold water.

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