The Secret To Making The Best Southern Sweet Tea

There's nothing sweeter.

What's the secret to the best sweet tea? If you answered, "having a Southern mama who shares her recipe," you're right, but that's not the secret we're delving into today. It's undeniable that our Southern families make the best sweet tea, and in the process, they've figured out a way to make the classic drink even better. They've been kind enough to share their recipes with us over the years, and we've learned a few things. Most importantly, we've learned that there is one Southern tea-making secret that is quickly becoming, well, not so secret. Here's how to make the best sweet tea.

The Secret to Clear Tea

Many of the steps for how to make sweet tea are universal; they will look the same no matter where you are, like boiling the water and adding the tea bags and sugar to taste. However, Southerners know that one addition can keep your tea looking clear and tasting smooth—and that addition is baking soda.

Surprised? Stay with us. The secret to the clearest, smoothest glass of sweet tea is just a pinch of baking soda. And when we say "a pinch," we mean it. Our best-ever recipe calls for just 1/8 teaspoon of the stuff. Adding a little baking soda to your tea will clear away any cloudiness left from the mixing process, and it's also thought to cut down on any lingering bitter tastes from the steeping tea bags, leaving your tea clarified and smooth and providing your get-together with one fantastic pitcher of tea.

Southern Sweet Tea

Beth Dreiling Hontzas

The Right Tea Bags

When you gather your ingredients to make the perfect pitcher, choose black tea blended especially for iced tea, usually called orange pekoe. Regular or family-sized tea bags will work, but be sure to follow the recipe’s directions or adjust accordingly. Steep the tea for 15 minutes and then remove the tea bags. You want the tea to be dark but not bitter.

Beyond Sweet Tea

Check out our favorite sweet tea-inspired recipes for a few twists on the classic. When peaches are in season, serve refreshing sweet peach tea or a spiked Bourbon-Peach Iced Tea version. Other fruity flavors like Blueberry-Lemon Iced Tea and Pineapple-Basil Tea add a fun twist to dinnertime. Nothing’s better than sweet tea with your fried chicken, but this Sweet Tea-Brined Fried Chicken recipe calls for sweet tea in your fried chicken.

More Tips and Tricks

Pressed for time? When you’re making a big spread for a backyard barbecue or it’s just a busy weeknight, use a convenient trick to help make sure you get that sweet tea on the table. Try making a batch of tea in your Instant Pot. Yes, really. And use this quick, no-cut lemon juicing hack to add a squirt of lemon juice to your glass for an extra shot of flavor.

However you make your tea, don’t forget the mason jars and slices of lemon or a sprig of fresh mint. Mama would approve.

WATCH: How to Make Classic Southern Sweet Tea

How do you make your tea? Do you always include baking soda, or will you try it the next time you're mixing up a gallon of the South's favorite beverage? We think it's a must-include addition, and our favorite glasses of sweet tea have always been made with that time-tested, ultra-Southern recipe. What's your recipe for the best sweet tea ever?

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