Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Southern Sweet Tea

You're going to find this completely ludicrous, but up until this past Saturday, I had never attempted to make Southern sweet tea.

I don't know why. I love it.  Every time I've traveled to the South, I pretty much drink nothing else. I always make some comment along the lines of, "I really should figure out how to make this."  I probably have sweet tea running through my veins.

Duh.  It's so easy.  I feel like a complete idiot for not doing this sooner.  For some untold reason, I thought it was hard to make sweet tea.  For years I've been buying iced tea mixes and believing sweet tea to be some mythical nectar I could only procure on my travels south.

No more, I tell you!  For it is beyond easy to make sweet tea, and here is how you do it!
Southern Sweet Tea
Ingredients (for one quart, though I have no idea why you'd only make one quart)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 Luzianne iced tea bag (there are several brands available; just make sure you pick one that is intended for iced tea
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sugar, to taste OR 1 recipe simple syrup (follows)
  • 2 cups cold water
  1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil on the stove.  You can use a pot, I use my tea kettle.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the tea bag in a large pitcher and let it steep for about 5 minutes (longer if you want stronger tea).
  3. Remove tea bag and stir sugar into hot tea. THIS STEP IS IMPERATIVE!  If you try mixing the sugar into cold tea, it won't dissolve completely and you'll get a sugar sludge in the bottom.
  4. Pour 2 cups of cold water into the picture and stir to mix.
  5. You can serve the sweet tea immediately over ice, but it tastes way better if you let it chill completely in the refrigerator before serving.
I have found that using 1/2 cup of sugar to one quart of tea is just about right, though I personally can stand my sweet tea a little sweeter.  That's the beauty of offering a simple syrup, which will mix perfectly into cold tea and allow people to adjust the sweetness to taste.

Alternately, if you have people in your family (or group of friends) who don't like their tea quite so sweet, you can make the tea as above but omit the sugar, and then provide a simple syrup for people to mix in to their taste.

Simple syrup is fantastic for cold beverages because it will mix in without creating a sugar sludge.  Most recipes you'll find call for a water to sugar ratio of 2:1 (two cups of water to 1 cup of sugar).  However, the recipe I use from The Savannah Cookbook reverses the ratio.

Simple Syrup
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  1. Combine water and sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan (a 1 quart pan is plenty big enough) and stir until combined.  The sugar will not dissolve.
  2. Heat the sugar water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer.
  3. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, without stirring, for five minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, cool completely, and decant into a pint jar or bottle.*
  5. Keep refrigerated, covered, for up to a week.
*When I made my simple syrup, I forgot the part of the directions that said to cool it completely before decanting into a pint jar.  So I poured the boiling hot sugar syrup into my pint jar right away.  I refrigerated it and it turned out fine.   So I think the bit about letting the syrup cool is more for your own personal safety than anything else.

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