Healthy Sweet Tea Recipe

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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:


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


  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 organic stevia powder.

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

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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).

  5. 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! 🙂

  6. 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! 🙂

  7. 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… good! i make it for get togethers alot (along with my homemade lemonade) and it is always a hit!

  8. 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 The stevia I use is pure extract, no fillers etc….If you like it super sweet, then use 1 full tsp.of Stevia.

  9. 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! 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. Monique 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?).

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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 😉

  15. 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!

  16. Heather :) :) :) 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 🙂

  17. Sandra 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.

  18. Karen says

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