southern sweet tea

A few weeks ago, a reader (hi, Tracy!) left a comment on my post about cold-brewed iced tea:

I worked in a small cafe for a while and their ice tea was sooooo smooth and delicious. I received the secret from the owner. A large batch of ice tea always got a big pinch of baking soda after brewing. 

What in the world?? I’d never heard the likes! I did a quick Internet search and sure enough, baking soda in iced tea is totally a thing. As in, everyone does it. The reason, they say, is that the baking soda counteracts the tannins in the tea, making the drink smoother.

So I promptly brewed up a batch (hot, not cold) and sure enough, it was superb. I’ve always thought sugar was responsible for cutting the acidity of iced tea and that I’ve never been that partial to iced tea because I often skimp on the sugar. But maybe it’s the actual bitterness of the tea that’s always deterred me? Does the addition of baking soda mean that I can get away with less sugar?

I don’t know yet. I’ve only made the tea according to the recipe. Our weather’s just turned cool (now I’m craving hot drinks, not cold), but sooner or later, I will. In the meantime, here’s the recipe. It’s supposed to be classic Southern: sweet, but not sweet sweet.

Southern Sweet Tea
Adapted from Garden Betty.

Feel free to jazz this up with lemon wedges and fresh mint. A splash of bourbon doesn’t hurt either.

4 black tea bags (I used decaffeinated Lipton)
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the tea bags and baking soda and stir gently. Cover with a lid and steep for 5-10 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with 1 cup of water. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved 

Remove the tea bags and stir in the sugar syrup. Chill and serve.

This same time, years previous: blueberry muffins, way to go, kids, the quotidian (9.1.14), caramelized oatmeal topping, dreaming.


  • farm buddy

    Been busy here, and I just read the post about the turtle. That is something else!! I never saw or knew anyone else that saw such a young baby turtle! I always rescue snapping turtles (or any other kind) if I see them in the road. Snapping turtles are very ancient and interesting creatures that really just want to mind their own business. Good luck to the turtle and your good-hearted son!!!

  • Lana

    Our favorite local blues vocalist has a song that we love to hear her sing. 'Put a Little Whiskey in My Sweet Tea and I'll Be Your Friend for Life' Tried to find it on You Tube but not there. She is much like Etta James. Anyhow, There are as many opinions on how to make sweet tea as there on how to make dumplings. We like that bitter edge here.

  • Anonymous

    Jennifer, genius idea, I made some today, it is much smoother and I actually like it!
    I get so many good ideas and recipes from you. Thank you so much.
    Janet in Woodway WA

  • Bev

    Hi, thanks for this idea!! I taught Home Economics in high school and at a university in the South. Steeping over 5 minutes is what makes tea bitter. (Use the larger "Family Size" tea bags.) After steeping 5 min., pour up that tea from your recipe, and boil about 4 additional cups of water. Reuse the tea bags and let them steep 5 min. in the freshly heated water. You'll get almost double the amount of tea, and it won't be bitter. Can't wait to try the baking soda idea!! A lot of restaurants use Torani's Peach Syrup to flavor Southern sweet tea. It's amazing!

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