Sweet tea seems to be a phenomenon in the American south. In the south, anywhere you go, if you order iced tea, you will get a big glass full of tea which is sweetened to the point of almost being syrup and ice with a slice of lemon.
Unless you ask for “unsweet tea”.
“Regular tea” down here is so sweet it should be called tea syrup. Now days you can hear ‘half and half tea’ please or half unsweet with half lemonade, which in case you don’t know, is called an “Arnold Palmer” around here.
What makes southern sweet tea different from other iced tea is that you sweeten other tea with granulated sugar in your glass. With southern sweet tea, is there is no undissolved sugar collecting in the bottom of your glass. The sugar has already been melted and added. You just squeeze the lemon and sip. (Say “Ah!” with a southern drawl)
If you travel beyond the Mason-Dixon Line and order sweet tea anywhere but in the south, you are going to get some strange looks. They usually bring you unsweet tea and a side of sugar either in a sugar canister or in packets for you to mix your own. While in the south if you just order “tea” you will get a glass of southern sweet tea. Here, that is regular tea.
Anywhere but in the south, regular tea is unsweetened.
If you find they actually have sweet tea and you are not in the south, chances are you have just found someone who is from the south and they are keeping the back-home tradition alive.
Here is how you can make southern sweet tea:
Make simple syrup:
Add 1 cup of sugar to a sauce pan with 1 cup of water. Stir and bring to a boil-simmer for 3 minutes.
Make sure all the sugar has dissolved. Cool.
Boil 2 quarts of water – add 6-8 black tea bags – orange pekoe cut black tea works best – steep until cool.
Discard the tea bags.
For true southern sweet tea, add all the sugar syrup to the cooled tea, stir well.
Yes, it is s-w-e-e-t!
Like all good southerners, forget about calculating the number of empty calories.
So here are some hints: The popularity of Southern Sweet Tea is becoming increasing all across the country. You may even be able to find it in your grocery store.
IF the label says “extra sweet” honestly folks, believe them. It will be sickening sweet. However, now you can make it on your own, for pennies and control the sweetness.
Back to the tea presentation. . .
Fill a tall glass with ice, pour the sweet tea over ice, garnish with a wedge of lemon.
If you don’t want your tea so sweet, add the sugar syrup to taste, which is what I prefer to do.
Or if you want to deviate from the true southern tea method, add lemon zest to the sugar when boiling the
sugar. Strain the zest out when cool.
Serve the lemon simple syrup with the unsweet tea for guests to sweeten to their liking.
Honestly, there is nothing like a good glass of iced tea – unsweetened or southern sweet tea – both are refreshing!
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