clear glass of sweet tea with ice cubes sitting on a windowsill

How to Make Southern Sweet Tea From Scratch

Growing up, there was always a pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge. Our family’s house wine is still sweet tea. Here is our family’s recipe for the perfect Southern Sweet Tea from scratch.

Southern Sweet Tea is Our Family’s House Wine

Sweet tea is close to sacred in our family. And we are not talking about just anything labelled “sweet tea”. If you have ever purchased tea in jugs from the grocery store, I am sorry. But that is not real Southern sweet tea. I would even argue tea from McDonald’s and other fast food establishments are missing the mark.

There was always a pitcher of sweet tea in our fridge growing up. And it happened to be the same in my husband’s family. And to this day, there is always a pitcher in our fridge.

I don’t even remember learning to make tea. Growing up, we just absorbed the information. When I got married, I learned a new method for making tea.

My husband’s family sweet tea recipe was passed down from his maternal great grandmother, Granny Stegall. The ingredients are same to the recipe I made growing up. The difference lies in the method of making the tea. That’s what makes this tea truly the best!

Over time, our family has changed the recipe slightly. We scaled the sugar back from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup. And we added baking soda to cut bitterness and to add a fuller flavor.

clear glass of sweet tea with ice cubes sitting on a windowsill

How to make Southern Sweet Tea

Start by filling a tea kettle or pot with 2/3 water. Add 5 tea bags (or 3 family sized tea bags). Bring the kettle to a boil.

Add 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to the concentrate. Make sure to watch the kettle! The baking soda will make the concentrate bubble up. Bring back to a simmer. Allow the concentrate to cool off once the sugar has dissolved.

Fill the kettle with water to the rim and pour into a gallon jug. Keep the tea bags in the kettle. Fill the tea kettle with water again and pour into the pitcher. Repeat this process until the pitcher is full. Squeeze the tea bags to release any remaining liquid into the pitcher.

yellow tea pot, cup of sugar, spoon with baking soda and tea bags

Tips for making the best sweet tea

  • Use the same tea kettle or pot each time you make tea. Just rinse it with hot water to clean.
  • Don’t forget the baking soda! Just watch closely. It can make the tea bubble over.
  • Make sure you simmer the tea concentrate long enough to fully dissolve the sugar.
  • Allow the tea to completely cool off. Adding ice cubes to hot tea can dilute it’s flavor.
  • Compost your tea bags. Just make sure to remove the staples.

What type of tea should I use?

Sweet tea is made from black tea. Our family has always used Lipton tea bags.

Tools You Will Need

Tea kettle

Gallon pitcher

Measuring cup and spoons

Yield: 1 gallon

Southern Sweet Tea

yellow tea pot, cup of sugar, spoon with baking soda and tea bags

The PERFECT Southern Sweet Tea


  • 5 black tea bags (or 3 family-sized tea bags)
  • 1 cup (white or raw) sugar (or 1.5 cups for extra sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda


  1. Fill a tea kettle 2/3 full with water. Add the tea bags. Bring to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, add the sugar then the baking soda. Simmer until the sugar is fully dissolved. Turn off the burner and allow the tea to cool.
  3. Grab a gallon pitcher. Pour the tea concentrate into the pitcher but leave the tea bags in the kettle. Continue to refill the kettle with water and pour it into the pitcher. Once the pitcher is full, squeeze the liquid out of the tea bags into the pitcher.
  4. Serve the tea over ice with fresh lemon juice or muddled fresh mint.


  • We always use the same kettle for making tea. Like a cast iron pan, we like to think the tea seasons the kettle and makes a even better product 🙂
  • Lipton Tea is our go-to tea bag. We remove the tag and plop the entire tea bag into the kettle.
  • Most of the time, sweet tea tastes better the next day but we have found the baking soda makes the tea tastes perfect right away.

If you try this recipe and enjoy it, I would love if you could come back and give it 5 stars! Tag me on Instagram @orchardhouseblog

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