Sweet tea y’all!


Healthy sweet tea recipe

I accidentally developed a slight sweet tea addiction since moving to the south. Don’t judge me, it’s one of those irrisistable treats I’m allowing myself once in awhile. However, I have almost completely eliminated sugary beverages from my diet over the past several years, and feel guilty about drinking even one glass of sweet tea in a week. To lessen the guilt I knew we had to come up with a way to make our own less sinful version of this southern favorite.

The problem with sweet tea

As we see it there are two problems with sweet tea: 1) it’s a sugary drink that should only be enjoyed in moderation, 2) it’s hard to find a source using healthy ingredients.

The answer to the first is to drink sweet tea as a treat and not an every day staple – use good ole water as your staple. The answer to the second is not as easy.

In Michigan the only place serving sweet iced tea was a certain fast food restaurant – and since we refuse to support fast food we could never get our hands on this delicious Southern drink. The problem with grocery and convenience store sweet tea is the typical choice of high fructose corn syrup and/or aspartame as a sweetener – not doing that either. There are a few brands of organic sweet tea available but they’re too expensive, and there is a better solution.


Our solution is the same as always . . . make your own and do it with healthier ingredients.

A little help

Matt has been talking to the locals here in North Carolina for the past few weeks trying to gather all the tips he could on making the best lightly sweetened, healthy sweet tea.

One local suggested we purchase a Mr. Coffee Iced Tea maker, which we decided against since we’re trying to keep kitchen appliances to a minimum.

Another southerner told us we needed 2 cups of sugar per gallon of sweet tea, and a Texan brother-in-law (who shall remain nameless) told us true sweet tea needed half a bag of sugar per gallon! Since we like our teeth and want to avoid diabetes, keeping the sweetener to a minimum is a must.

Matt’s step-sister and the repairman who fixed our dryer today both suggested the approach we liked best, so while I lay in bed sick, Matt tinkered away in the kitchen concocting the perfectly sweetened, healthy, homemade sweet tea. Mmmmmm . . . some things are just worth getting out of your sick bed for.

Matt’s sweet tea recipe

After advice from family, friends, neighbors, the diyNatural Facebook fans, and a lot of trial and error Matt came up with our favorite recipe:

Ingredients

Note: use the tea you’re comfortable with, organic or otherwise.

Directions

  1. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil, remove from heat and add 3 family sized tea bags, steep for 10 minutes and remove tea bags
  2. Put sweetener in your glass gallon container, pour in hot tea, and stir thoroughly to combine
  3. After sweetener is dissolved, fill the gallon container with water and ice, stir again, and put in the fridge to chill.

Other healthy sweetener options

Aside from organic cane sugar and raw honey the only other sweeteners I recommend are maple syrup and stevia. (Find high quality natural sweeteners here.)

Like your tea, your choice of sweetener will be unique; use what you like and let others use what they like. Steer clear of artificial (aspartame) and heavily processed sweeteners (white sugar), use in moderation and you’ll be fine.

Note: if you’re diabetic be sure to adhere to your doctor’s recommendations for sweeteners.

A few tips

Sweet tea is so good that many people don’t like waiting for it to chill in the fridge. If this is you then add ice to the container before pouring in the hot tea.

Most people buy the tea in bulk because they go through so much. I’ll say it again . . . buy the brand and type of tea YOU’RE comfortable with. Remember, it’s DIY tea so do it yourself the way YOU like.

Keep the sweetener light and drink sweet tea as a treat. Discipline yourself to drink pure water most of the time so you can enjoy a nice refreshing glass of healthy sweet tea when you want to indulge a bit.

Share with us

Although Matt sweetened ours with a mixture of organic cane sugar and honey you may prefer one of the other recommended sweeteners. What about the tea? Do you splurge on your favorite organic brand or stick with the old southern standbys?

This is a call to all sweet tea lovers out there. Share your tips on how you make homemade healthy sweet tea!

*******


photo credit: jadeashley

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Comments

  1. says

    I have been using Nectar for the past two years, and cringed at the price, until I discovered that Costco sells a 2-pack (36 oz bottles) for right around $10! Now I use it without economic anxiety for my coffee, tea, baking, etc.

  2. Kandi says

    This is the perfect sweet tea recipe! We make about a gallon a month and go through it immediately (family of 8). Using raw honey (alternating) to sweeten makes me feel a bit better about drinking it. Our favorite tea is Luzianne, but if i can find an organic, we may start having more tea. Thanks for sharing the recipe and story!

  3. says

    I am a native Texan and sweet tea is our drink of choice. I have tried many different brands of tea but Luzianne Tea is the best for iced tea. And I don’t boil my tea. Boiling it tends to give it a somewhat bitter taste. Instead I boil the water and pour it over the tea bags and let them steep or sit for about 10 to 15 minutes dunking the bags every few minutes until you have a really dark concentrated tea. Also if you use sugar, whether it’s natural or white, make a simple syrup from it and you don’t have to shake to get it desolved. My husband is diabetic now so we have had to switch from sugar to Splenda which his dietitian recommended. Oh and when we used regular sugar I used 2 cups of sugar for a gallon of tea!

    • says

      Yvonne, I’m a native Texan too and they must have taught us all how to make tea the same way :) You’ve got it totally right, don’t actual boil the tea bags, boil the water then remove water from the heat and add the tea bags to steep. And I would say one of the biggest keys to tea success is just as you said, making a simple syrup so the sugar dissolves evenly and easily throughout. The way we do this is put the sugar in the empty pitcher and then add the hot water your tea has been steeping in and stir until sugar is dissolved then add cold water as necessary to fill pitcher. We use 1 cup sugar to one gallon of water/tea in our house.

      • Betsy Jabs says

        Ahhhh, thanks Janise and Yvonne for the tip on steeping the tea bags after boiling the water! Janise…we’re going to try your simple syrup method next time so we don’t have to dirty more dishes or add an extra step to the process! :) Thanks ladies!

        • Teri says

          To dirty up less or no dishes, I put a cup of sugar in a gallon glass jar and then boil water in a tea kettle pour the water in the jar, stir in the sugar to make the simple syrup and then dunk my tea bags and hang over the side of the jar. Boil another kettle of water and add to the jar and cover with lid to steep the desired amount of time. Then I just add cold water, discard tea bags and stir and put in the fridge. The only dish that I dirty is the spoon to stir in the sugar. I too am a true southern that was raised on sweet tea. I make tea weekly because homemade is the only way we can get it since moving to Mi.

  4. tameka says

    I won’t drink tea unless its sweet and I only like herbal tea. This is what I do. Nothing fancy. I boil water, add tea bags or add water to my tea bags. Let it steep. Add honey and drink. If I make a large batch. I will refrigerate it. It taste even better when allowed to sit overnight in the fridge or for several hours.

  5. Gina Franklin says

    I am a native North Carolinian and was raised on sweet tea. A lot of us started out with it in our bottles and sippy cups. (yes, I still have all of my teeth!) Like Yvonne, we do not boil our tea. I boil the water first, add 8 tea bags, then turn off the burner and let it sit. I recently began adding one citrus and green tea bag which gives the tea a refreshing light fruity flavor. We add about a cup of sugar to about a gallon of water, add the tea, stir and enjoy! I have lived in California going on 21 years now and McD’s and Chik-Fil-A are the only places that serve sweet tea around here. Thanks for giving me a smile this morning and a flood of memories.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      That made me laugh that you had sweet tea in your bottles/sippy cups! :) I love the idea of adding a citrus tea bag…we’ll have to give that a try.

  6. Tracy says

    I use a bit over 1/2 cup of simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water heated until sugar is dissolved), to 1/2 gallon of tea. You can also put your tea bags in room temperature water overnight, for a cold brew tea and add your simple syrup to that.

  7. Karen says

    Sun Tea is a favorite in Indiana. We recycle a gallon pickle jar and clean it thoroughly. It helps to soak the jar with water and baking soda to remove the pickle flavor. Once the jar is cleaned we use four family sized tea bags, add cold water, tighten down the lid and set in a sunny location. A very pleasant addition to our tea is fresh lemon balm added when brewing. In a few hours the tea is perfectly brewed. We remove the tea bags (great for the garden) and add 1 cup of sugar (or sweetener of your choice), and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. (In the winter time, we resort to using the Mr. Coffee and put the bags in the basket.)

  8. S Pope says

    Our family of 4 (plus various friends that are always present) go through at least 3 gallons a week. I buy decaffinated Lipton’s or Luzianne which ever is on sale. Make simple syrup using about 2 cups of hot water and 1 1/2 cups of sugar, bring 3 family size tea bags to a quick boil in about 2 cups of water, pour into the simple syrup in my tea jug, refill the water in the pot and bring to a quick boil again, pour into the tea jug and fill with cold water. – mmmm need a glass right now. To Karen, what does the baking soda do?

  9. Virginia says

    Stevia is great, if you find the actual leavesof ka’a he’e as we all it here, it has no calories at all, but you’ll have to learn how to manage the doses….. you can also have Paraguayan tereré to ease the hot weather…..

  10. says

    Mmmm…sweet tea! We love it, but I make it infrequently. My fool-proof method:
    1 – Bring 4 cups water to a boil – remove from heat
    2 – Add 1 gallon size tea bag (Lipton. Always Lipton.)
    3 – Steep for 5 minutes
    4 – Squeeze out and remove tea bag
    5 – Add 1 cup cane sugar to tea, stir to dissolve
    6 – Pour sweetened tea over 3 quarts of ice and water.
    7 – Stir and enjoy. Mmmm…sweet tea!

  11. Maya says

    Every morning when I make my usual hot tea to take in my travel mug to work, I also make a 1 quart canning jar full of herbal tea… some kind of organic fruit variety usually…. right now I’m on a cranberry kick, but also good with spicier stuff like Bengal Spice or the like. I boil the water first then pour into each container. I use half a packet of stevia in each and its plenty sweet for me and WAY better than the yucky water at work, and WAY cheaper than buying individual servings to take to work. When I arrive at work, I stick it in the fridge and by lunchtime its lovely. I am trying to get used to less sweet stuff in my life as I have been reading a lot lately about how sweetners are inflammatory agents and inflammation is a contributor to so many medical problems.

  12. Sharon says

    I am a native North Carolinian now living in Georgia. Like Yvonne and Gina F. I do not boil my tea, because it increases bitterness. I bring 1 qt. water to boil, turn off the heat and add four family size Luzianne tea bags. I let it steep for 10 minutes or so then pour over 1 rounded cup of sugar in a gallon pitcher. (Mama used 2 cups/gallon but I cut it in half to be “healthy”.) After stirring the syrup I add 3 more qts. cold water and serve over ice with a slice of lemon. I have been drinking this daily since infancy and have all of my teeth, only a couple of fillings, and no other sugar-related diseases. I am in my mid-fifties.

  13. says

    I am on a Raspberry Zinger kick. Put a bag in my large to go cup, add crushed ice and fill with water and then cap it. In about 10 min I have ice to ready to drink. No sweetner, I like it start up. I will refill my cup several times a day on that one bag, of course it is not a strong but the flavor is still there.

      • Martha B says

        I like to add one small bag of Raspberry Zinger to the other bags of regular black pekoe when I am making iced tea. It adds a raspberry undertone, but is not overpowering.

  14. Michelle says

    I have pretty much replaced my soda habit with sweet tea. We don’t have any water where I work that is safe to drink, in my opinion, so I carry drinks with me each day. Here’s my method:

    *Boil water in tea kettle, pour over eight regular tea bags
    Lipton’s my fav, but I use generic sometimes as well.
    Sometimes I do four green tea, four black.
    *Let steep for at least 5 minutes, discard the bags
    (compost them in summer)
    *Add 4 Tablespoons stevia and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    I find that Stevia has a flowery flavor when used alone, but with the bit of
    granulated sugar, it goes away.
    *Add enough cold water to make one gallon.

    I find that refrigerating the tea makes it somewhat bitter, so I leave it on the counter and pour over ice.
    Also, I have discovered that purified water makes beautifully clear and tasty tea. Our tap water is from a well and has great minerals, but they cloud up and flavor the tea, so I use water from the RO filter.

  15. Marie says

    Since moving to the south, I too have fallen in love with sweet tea! I am sooo very thankful you guys took the time to research this and share a healthy recipe!!!

  16. vicki says

    I wonder why you wouldn’t just dissolve the sugar in the HOT tea and then add to the cold water?
    Yes, Luzianne for iced tea!! We don’t boil the tea, it gets bitter and we don’t squeeze the bags either. We pour the water over the tea and steep. We fill a gallon container half full with ice and water and add the hot sweet mixture in. then fill to top. Less ice is needed in the glasses, keeping the strength.
    ps… love the raspberry zinger… have used red zinger since 1990!

    • Stacey says

      Vicki,
      That’s the comment I was going to make! Sugar dissolves much easier in the hot water. Sounds like you make yours the same way I do. :)

  17. says

    Okay y’all, we’re going to update the recipe based on community input – boil the water THEN put the tea bags in to steep for 10 minutes. Put sugar in pitcher, pour hot tea over it to dissolve, then fill with ice/water.

    • Alanna says

      Ok, I have to chime in here……My Mom was from Detroit Mi. and she has made sweet tea forever, yes we had it when we were young to….lol We have never boiled the tea bags. Just boil the water move the pot to a cold burner, add tea bags and add the sugar at the same time. If you add the sugar while it is hot, it dissolves all by itself. Then after 10 minutes take out the tea bags without squeezing them. Then you have tea. Stir it and it is all good. We always use a gallon of water so we did not have to add any cold water. Leave it on the counter until it was warm, then just put it in the refrigerator. My Mom also sometimes added a little lemon juice which was great to. I still carry on this tradition in my home. All of my 4 grown boys make tea the same way. They taught their wives and girlfriends to make it the same way……And I was raised in Western New York…and I am now retired living in Texas…..yeah……lol

  18. Cindy Pool says

    Great update with community input, Matt and I am new at this but just have to add a couple of comments. I use only about 3/4 cup of cane sugar that I buy from the Latino section at the grocery store or from a Hispanic Store. The sugar is not really white and not overprocessed-better for you! Then I add 2 small packets of Stevia. This way we are beginning to cut back on the amount of sugar little by little. Also, being from Tennessee we always boiled our tea for a couple of minutes and then steep because we LIKE the slightly bitter taste because the sugar “softens” it just a bit and yet leaves a slight “Kick”. Also, if you let it chill it makes it taste even sweeter! I have used “off brands” of tea for years like “Great Value” or Best Choice, etc. and have saved money because Pekoe tea is Pekoe as long as you prepare the tea to your liking unless of course, you buy organic. One more thing, you can dry the tea bags on a paper plate, keep adding till you have about 16 family size bags then you can recycle them in a “tea sock” (because they can come apart on a second boil) and make another gallon!! Then put whats left in the compost pile or rose garden! Enjoy!

  19. Charli Beyma says

    We use 3/4 cup sugar and 8 teabags (Lipton) per gallon and we make counter-top sun tea. Here’s how it works: Add sugar to the gallon pitcher and some add hot water (we don’t boil ours, just heat in the microwave) and stir, then fill the pitcher the rest of the way. Add the tea bags and put on the lid leaving the strings hanging out from under the lid. Let it sit on the counter until brewed, give it a stir then chill in the fridge.

  20. says

    We love sweet tea, but McDonald’ s nasty sweet, yuck. We go through a gallon a day between two of us, and just use our coffe marker to brew 4 family size bags of decaf Lipton & 8 cups of water. Sweeten with a cup and a third of sugar and fill it up to a gallon. I used to try to use healthier sugar but it is just too expensive!

  21. Karen says

    Adding 1/4-1/2 Teaspoon of baking soda prevents bitterness and makes the tea have a smoother flavor.

  22. says

    Oh gosh, never boil the tea bags, only boil the water. I like sweet tea but use only one cup per gallon and that’s certainly NOT how I was taught to make it. I’d rather have it so sweet my teeth hurt but…if they hurt now they’ll certainly hurt later so it’s one cup per gallon of tea.
    And, because it’s a pet peeve of mine…it’s *healthful sweet tea* and not *healthy sweet tea*, unless, of course, you’re wanting to drink diseased tea. _lol_
    I’d think worse of you if you lived in the south and didn’t drink either sweet iced tea . A lot of NC and SC folks drink CheerWine which is way to much for me but I know folks who drink it like water; ugh.

  23. says

    Oh, this looks really great. I’d substitute raw honey for the sweetener in this recipe. It’s the only “sugar” that my body can handle right now…that and other sugars cause inflammation in my body and that’s no fun. I also follow a gluten free diet for health reasons. Do you or any of your readers here know of any good “gluten free” teas that would work in this recipe? Thanks in advance for your help :) :) Greetings from the ocean shores of CAlifornia, Heather :)

  24. Jen S. says

    Agave is not too bad since it is super concentrated. A little goes a long way. Raw Honey also goes much longer than the “commercial” brands. I tried McD’s Sweet Tea only to find it tasting of just sugar water. Never again. I remember Meadow Tea from our yard…I never liked it much but it was free!

  25. Jessica says

    I heat water with 4 small bags of Chamomile and 3 bags of decaf Earl Grey and let it seep for about 8min. While its hot I add Xylitol, about 1/4 cup at most. I think it may be less than 1/4 cup..I don’t really measure, just eye ball it! After I remove the bags I pour it over a pitcher full of ice. Enjoy! The tea smells citrus-y sweet and floral, and doesn’t have me bouncing off the wall if I do happen to over indulge a bit, and with no caffeine and using the xylitol instead of sugar I don’t feel bad about letting the kids have a bit too ;)

  26. Elaine Z says

    I’m a Floridian too and I agree to the sweet tea not being boiled. Also I occasionally add orange juice(fresh) or passion fruit purée (also fresh when available) instead of sugar. We had it that way in Hawaii. In a restaurant we now ask for half and half tea ( half sweet, half unsweetened) to save on sugar. Too much sweet tea can cause kidney stones so we’re careful not to indulge in the high sugar kind.

  27. Jane says

    As a native NC resident & trying my best to be as natural & organic as possible some things just don’t match – so I do the following for my sweet tea:
    3 bags Family Sized Decaf (I have MS – decaf is a requirement) Green Tea Bags
    1/2 cup local honey
    1/2 a lemon or juice from 1/2 a lemon (orange, lime also works for a kick, too)
    enough water to make a gallon of water
    Boil water, when boiling stops, drop in lemon & steep tea. Add honey & enough water in pitcher to make a gallon. Compost lemon & tea bags. I make this about every other day – it doesn’t last! To me, the honey makes it sweeter than sugar, so I don’t need the 3/4 cup of sugar I used to use (or Splenda). I suggest using the green tea – it’s great & a good anit-oxidant!

  28. says

    This is EXACTLY how I make my sweet tea (give or take a bit of sugar, depending on my mood)! I tend to make it more often in the spring and summer. I don’t usually feel guilty about drinking so much tea, since we don’t really drink sodas and are usually drinking so much water during that season. This recipe works with so many different brands and flavors, it’s great! I will try some of the healthier sweetener options (maybe then I will make more?).

  29. bydabayou says

    I’m in the deep south but me Mum is English. When I was a child, we did a taste test. Mom bought all the varieties of tea and we tried them all. Sorry y’all, but Liptons was the worst: bitter. I won’t even drink Liptons. Even their herbals are bitter. Winn Dixie tasted like oatmeal, Constant Comment like roses. Luzianne is OK but not the best flavor and somewhat powdery. The Best was A&P (makes sense: the Atlantic and Pacific TEA company). I have followed that brand since to National, Superstore, and now Walmart’s BestBuy. Unless you can find good English tea (breakfast or otherwise) like PGtips, try Walmarts.

  30. Diana says

    I too ‘fell into’ the sweet tea thing when I moved to NC. But it didn’t take long to decide I much prefer my old tea. I too like Luzianne, but prefer the varieties of Celestial Seasons most of the time. I prefer what we call ‘sun tea’. I never boil the tea, nor the water. I just put my tea bags into a jar of water, (a gallon at a time is best), set out in the sun. It doesn’t take long down here for it to ‘brew’. I’ve heard one can get the same results just putting it on the counter, but have not tried that. We drink it with no sweetener as it is not bitter when made this way. But for those who wish to sweeten it, I am a strong believer in raw honey. Doesn’t take much. That stuff called “sweet tea” is just too much like syrup to me. I only posted because I didn’t notice anyone mentioning the ‘sun tea’ option, and thought perhaps someone might care to give it a try. Lots of good input already from others! cheers!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes, I remember my grandma making sun tea when I was younger! Never tried it myself though. Thanks for the input and the old memories Diana! :)

  31. Stephanie Billings says

    1 gallon of water boiled, take off of stove, steep 4 family size tea bags, decaf Luzianne tea bags, then stir in 3/4 tsp of pure Stevia. (Pure Stevia Extract Powder by Kal sold on Amazon.com) The stevia I use is pure extract, no fillers etc….If you like it super sweet, then use 1 full tsp.of Stevia.

  32. patti says

    im a big sun-tea fan, i make it alot in the summer. i dont really have a recipe, i just fill up my big glass tea jug ( i have no idea how much it holds) put in 4 big tea bags and let it sit in the sun all day. then in goes about a cup or so of sugar and good glug of lemon juice. mmmm…..so good! i make it for get togethers alot (along with my homemade lemonade) and it is always a hit!

  33. lori says

    What about Xylitol? Has anyone tried it? I bought a bag to use when the article came out on this site, but it is still sitting in my pantry. I can’t get the courage to use it since I don’t know how to properly substitute it for sugar and such, but this might be a good chance

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Haven’t tried the xylitol in our sweet tea yet. It’s supposed to be an equal substitute for sugar, but you could always start with less just to be on the safe side. Be sure to write back and let us know how it is if you try it! :)

  34. Nana says

    I make tea pretty much the same way. . . my son got me hooked on it a year ago when I was visiting them in MO. My granddaughter has been drinking sweet tea in her sippy cup since she was a baby so I can relate to all of you southerners on this one. I always tease my daughter-in-law about her having been born south of the Mason-Dixon line. It has become a routine joke between us. I love southern girls! I also love your blog, your recipes & your great ideas! My new project is making enzyme cleaner – it’s going to be hard to wait for it to be ready to use though.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Thanks for visiting our site & for the nice compliment! :) Good luck waiting for your enzyme cleaner to ferment…my lack of patience prevents me from making my own! :)

  35. Jessica says

    I am a native to NC, and recovering addict for Mcdonald’s swwet tea. When I was pregnant, I started living healthier, which led to homemade tea. I started with about 2 cups sugar per gallon, but each time following reduced by about a quarter cup. The perfect recipe for me now is half cup sugar to a gallon of tea made 1 bag stronger than whatever the box says. I discovered I can taste the tea leaves more than the sugar (similar to sweetening to enhance a great cup of coffee).

  36. kelley says

    Add a orange slices instead of lemon, just let them float in the picture. It adds some sweetness without the sugar. We grew up drinking tea, I alternate between unsweetened and sweet. I guess its like drinking coffee black :)

  37. Sarah says

    I worked out a similar lower sugar version as well, and I add a touch of vanilla extract…makes me believe it’s sweeter than it is! I use 1/4 cup cane sugar and a splash of vanilla extract for 2 qts of tea.

  38. Troy says

    If y’all were real tea drinkers you would know that you can never get the
    flavor from a tea bag that you get from loose tea. Lipton and Kroger both have
    loose tea options. 1/3 cup loose tea steeped in 2 qt water that is removed
    from heat just shy of boiling makes the absolute best tea. You should steep for
    at least 10 minutes then filter through a fine mesh strainer into gallon pitcher, add desired sweetener, stir till dissolved then fill with cold water, chill overnight so as to not weaken with melting ice. Also filtered water makes the best tea.