A Southern Staple: Simple Syrup

Bottle of simple syrup

This basic southern staple, simple syrup, is a must have in any kitchen or bar.

This style of syrup is used all over the world for lots of things, not just in the south.

It is, however the secret to true southern iced tea.

Simple syrup is easy and quick to make and there are endless ways to use it in the kitchen and bar.

Basic Simple Syrup


  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water, enough to cover the sugar by 1/2 inch.
  • 3-4 drops lemon juice

Put sugar in a sauce pot

Add water to cover sugar by 1/2 inch; add 2-3 drops of lemon juice, stir

Bring to a boil; boil for 1-2 minutes

Place a ‘sign or symbol’ to signify pot is hot;
Put the pot away from accidents to cool


Put the sugar in a sauce pot, add water to cover the sugar by 1/2 inch. Stir well.

Place the pot over high heat; add the lemon juice and bring to a boil.

Stir, not constantly, but often enough to prevent scorching on the bottom.

Once the mixture comes to a boil, the sugar will turn clear. Allow to boil for 1-2 minutes, turn off.

Cool the mixture before transferring to a jar or bottle.

While the sugar syrup is cooling, put some kind of “sign or symbol” on the  handle so others know the pot and contents are hot and to leave the pot alone.

Use caution and place the pot well to the back of the stove out of harms way.

Sugar burns are very nasty and go really deep. Avoid at all costs, especially around children.

The syrup is shelf stable. Keep it handy to sweeten iced tea, lemonade, tea or coffee, use it over fresh fruit, in meringues, or even in marinades and specialty bar drinks.

You can infuse flavors into simple syrup, add a vanilla pod, lemon, lime or orange zest, fruit puree, basil, lavender, or mint for a few ideas. Be sure to strain the flavor elements out before using. The vanilla pods or herb leaves do look nice in the bottle.

My favorite way to use this syrup is to splash some into iced tea and top with a lemon wedge.

The perfect thirst quencher!

Iced Tea and Simple Syrup

Southern “Sweet Tea”

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 sugar and 1 cup water

Bring to boil; Simmer for 3 minutes then cool

Boil water and make tea; steep until cool

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. . .

Southern Iced Tea

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

Tea with Lemon Syrup

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!