I've tried many iced sweet tea recipes with varied results. Finally I stumbled on the perfeect sweet tea recipe that's not only the tastiest, but also the simplest. As long as you follow a few tips...
Why is it so difficult?
Sweet Tea. It's just boiling water and tea leaves then adding sugar, right? How difficult can it be?
Sounds simple, but it took me a while to dial in a sweet tea recipe that was consistently great. Before I discovered the right way to make sweet tea, the stuff I made at home was either too sweet, too weak, too strong, or just plain "tasted funny". Frustrated with my results, I'd wonder to myself "Why can't I make this simple beverage?"
And it wasn't just me. I found that certain restaurants would have the same problem discovering a recipe that was consistantly great. There was no telling what I was getting when I ordered sweet tea. Sometimes I'd have completely different experiences at the same restaurant! It all depended on who made the tea and what recipe they decided to use that particular day I ordered it.
Growing up, there was a lot of "instant tea" in the house. As a kid, I'd sprinkle granules in a cup, add some warm water, sugar and ice. Doesn't get much simpler than that!
If we wanted to make a lot of tea, then we'd use an actual family-sized tea bag in a pitcher of hot tap water. Since the water was never boiling, we'd have to let the tea sit for a half hour or so, and even then it didn't have much flavor. We'd leave the large family-sized tea bag in the pitcher as we drank all of the tea which could take a couple days.
Once I grew up, I knew I could get more flavor from my sweet tea if I didn't mind putting in a little effort...
First change I made was to boil my water. Hot tap water doesn't get hot enough to extract all of the flavor from the tea leaves. Boiling requires a little bit of time, but it's well worth it.
You probably wouldn't think it was possible, but in the beginning I somehow screwed up the first step of boiling water! I'd try different methods and recipes. In the beginning I tried throwing the tea bag in the water while it was still warming up on the stove. But once the water got to a boil, the tea bag would boil along with it. On one occasion I wasn't paying attention and the tea bag actually tore open and the tea leaves starting spilling into the water! But even when the bag didn't tear, the tea itself would taste funny. I realized that it was because the water was getting too hot and was burning the tea. Not very refreshing.
Once I figured out I was boiling the tea too long, I held off on placing the tea bag into the water until the water was already boiling. Then after I threw the tea bag in, I'd turn the burner off and let it sit on the stove as it extracted. Even still, the tea just tasted funny. It still had that "burnt" taste. What's the deal?
Other recipes I was creating involved experimentation with the sugar. I tried putting the sugar in the water before the tea bag while the water was boiling, but it seemed to affect the extraction of the tea once I added the tea bag to the sugar water.
Then once I made a successful batch of tea, I would add lemon and other fruits, but it always came out bitter. So many issues over such a simple beverage! But over time, I learned the techniques that are needed for the consistantly best sweet tea recipe.
The Perfect Sweet Tea Recipe
After all of those mistakes I made, I discovered what I consider to be the best sweet tea recipe. So simple, but there are steps that need to be followed to make it correctly.
- Fill a large pot with water and place it on the stove on "high" heat.
- Wait for water to boil.
- Place a large family-sized tea bag into the boiling water, then immediately turn the burner off and remove the pot from the burner onto a room-temperature surface.
- Add 1 cup of sugar to an empty pitcher.
- After letting the tea sit in the pot for 5 minutes, remove the tea bag, then pour the tea into the pitcher with the 1 cup of sugar (Since the tea is still warm, it should mix without needing to stir).
- Let the tea cool before adding any flavoring from lemons or an infuser. The hot tea can burn flavors and make the tea taste bitter.
For best results
The following are products that I use which keep my tea game strong.
Lipton Gallon-Sized Tea Bags
Get it here >
Prodyne Fruit Infusion Flavor Pitcher
Get it here >