How-To & Diy

Beth Kirby's Old-Fashioned Sweet Tea

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Beth Kirby from Local Milk shows us how to make authentic Southern sweet tea.

Sweet Tea from Food52

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There’s this stuff called Milo’s. You might have heard of it if you’re from below the Mason-Dixon line. It’s sweet tea, and I mean sweet tea. It’s not messing around, and from what I hear it’s good. Guilty, southern, lord-knows-what’s-in-it sort of good. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve honestly never had sweet tea out a jug. It’s never occurred to me to buy it, because it’s so easy to make.

I’ve been told my homemade sweet tea rivals the classic Milo’s, and is, dare I say, better, namely because you don’t buy it in a big plastic jug, and you know exactly what’s in it: black tea, sugar, and water. Quality control. And it actually tastes like tea. Fresh, sweet, black tea.

Sweet Tea

I was standing around in my kitchen the other day with my friend Hannah, a fellow Tennessean, and yes, we were drinking sweet tea. She was lamenting the fact that every comedian passing through Tennessee feels compelled, perhaps morally obligated, to do a bit about sweet tea: I was in a diner the other day and you Southerners and your sweet tea! Sweet tea! Sweet tea! You’re like zombies for it! Or something along those dangerously witty lines.

Sweet Tea from Food52

It isn’t very funny, we both agreed. Largely due to the fact that it’s been said a million times. Which is probably because, well, it’s true. We like the stuff. It’s a thing. I really and truly don’t remember a meal at Grandmother’s without sweet tea, but I do remember always thinking my mother was austere and odd for always ordering “Tea. Unsweet. With lots of lemon.” It always stood out in my mind because it was so abnormal, so my mother’s thing. I am not austere. I’m the girl that will stab herself in the hand for an ice cream sandwich (actually, this happened this week), and I like my tea sweet. Strong and sweet. With lots of lemon. So my mother and I have that in common, at least.

Sweet Tea from Food52

Sweet Tea

Makes 16 cups

16 cups water
16 tea bags (Lipton or Luzianne)
16 tablespoons white sugar
1 lemon, for serving (optional)

Sweet Tea from Food52

Use 1 tea bag and 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of water. I use Lipton or Luzianne. You can be fancy if you want -- and by all means, feel free -- but old-fashioned, honest-to-God Southern sweet tea is made with one of those 99% of the time. 

Boil desired amount of water in an appropriately sized pot. I make mine 16 cups at a time in the summer. 

Sweet Tea from Food52

Remove pot from heat and toss in your tea bags. Brew it strong, 15 to 20 minutes. 

Sweet Tea from Food52

Sweeten it while it’s hot, right after you pull the tea bags out, and stir until it all dissolves. 

Sweet Tea from Food52

Chill it until it’s cold. Put ice in a drinking receptacle, preferably an old jam jar (you know, to set the mood), pour tea over ice, stick a wedge of lemon on the side, and viola! There you have it: sweet tea.  

Sweet Tea from Food52

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Beth Kirby

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Connie Brese Luton
    Connie Brese Luton
  • Judi Koltay
    Judi Koltay
  • Sandra Andersen
    Sandra Andersen
  • soandso
  • mary d.
    mary d.
A Southern writer with a cast iron skillet & a camera. Freelance food writer & photographer. Blogs at


Connie B. May 14, 2016
I too have always loved sweet tea. Maybe a little too much,since now I'm fighting diabetes. Is there an artificial sweetener that would come close too tasting as good? I don't know if I'm from the south or not Oklahoma seems in the middle (LOL) to me!!
Jessica R. July 4, 2017
You would love Southern Breeze Sweet Tea. Zero Calorie Sweet Tea. They have a sale on their website right now too.
Judi K. August 5, 2013
How to keep tea from getting cloudy.
tennarose September 4, 2013
There are two reasons black tea gets cloudy- over-steeping or enzymes on the tea (normal & natural). Assam tea has a higher likely-hood of going cloudy when over-steeped. Hope this helps!
Sandra A. August 4, 2013
I strongly agree with soandso. For me the purpose of drinking iced tea is to have a cool, refreshing, no sugar, no calorie drink. If I want some sugar, I'll have an Arnold Palmer.
soandso August 4, 2013
If you are on a diet and have to lose some weight, you can't drink all that sugar in anything, then you can put a few (4-5) bags of flavored tea in with your black tea when steeping. I prefer Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger or Orange Zinger, or a peach flavor. The additional tea flavoring will actually be such that you'll think it is sweetened, but it isn't, and it'll be much better for you, and no sugar at all!!!
Astro_Ayla September 27, 2013
You could use honey
mary D. August 4, 2013
My southern mother-in-law taught me to make a tea "concentrate", which saves time and allows the cooling process to start more quickly. Fill a small saucepan about 1/3 full of water, bring to a boil. Add 4 family-sized teabags and steep as desired, off the heat. Add your sugar now, while hot. Pour this into your pitcher and add enough cool water to make 8 cups-stir well. The whole process goes quicker than boiling the full amount of water-and keeps the kitchen cooler too!
Jill M. August 4, 2013
I'm from the south and that's how we've always made our tea. It's great!
Dorothy August 4, 2013
I shared my recipe earlier in this thread that's very similar to yours, Mary. Great minds!
SaucyRedhead August 4, 2013
I grew up in AL and I live in CA now...reading the name Milo's on this site was a complete shock and made me grin from ear to ear...thanks for that! Looking forward to trying your tea, too ;)
Barbdwire28 August 4, 2013
It's not Southern ice tea if it isn't Luzianne and we use the big tea bags because we go through a lot of ice tea.
Irenehope August 4, 2013
I grew up on sweetened tea with lemon. Cold in the summer, hot in the winter. It seems that my NYC mom was making me sweet tea and we never knew it.
Donecia August 4, 2013
I am not from the south but my parents both are my mom always made sweet tea at home and it wasn't until I was in college (in the south) that I found sweet tea in a restaurant ! lol! I love tea both sweet and non-sweet but sweet tea is comfort ! It's also great as a cocktail with apple jack and lots of lemon over ice! Lol!
Leah K. August 4, 2013
I once accidentally ordered sweet tea at Mc Donalds (I was on a bus trip, and that's where we happened to have a rest stop...) thinking I was ordering unsweetened, brewed tea. I spit the first sip out, then threw out the whole thing - it was teeth achingly, bone shudderingly sweet, brain meltingly sweet. I have to assume this version is much better, but now I'm too scared to try sweet tea again!
Celty August 4, 2013
I looove sweet tea! Especially in the summer when I can make sun tea. It always reminds me of my Grandma who always had a glass jug brewing tea on her porch in the summer. It tasted so good after playing outside those hot Missouri summers.
Luvtocook August 4, 2013
Forgot to mention that add that I add fresh lemon at serving, not when I make the tea. Yummy!
AMY August 4, 2013
I am southern born and bred..I have been drinking sweet tea all my life...I had to laugh at your Mothers unsweet tea...MY Mother drank hers the same way!!!!! The rest of the family just shook our heads in amazement...WHERE did she come from..HaHa...But you did forget to mention Tetley Tea...That is the one mama always used...and back in the day it was loose in NOT in a tea she would use a striner after steeping.... My daddy always got a quart mayonnaise jar full on his way out the door in the morning for his lunch...I still make mine the same way...Only now I use the family size teabags Tetley when I can find it here, or Luzianne or Lipton...It has to be one of those 3....I make a 2 qt. pitcher every night before I go to bed...Yes we southerners LOVE our strong sweet tea..I have never bought a "jug" of tea in my life....
Luvtocook August 4, 2013
I live in Florida, (are we "Southerners"?) and I love sweet tea with lemon! I make it all the time with my Mr. Coffee iced-tea maker and Luzianne tea bags making it strong (as your photos) but I make simple syrup with cane sugar (about 3/4 cup sugar per pitcher: 1/3 cup water, nuke that for a minute until the sugar is fully dissolved) and add it when the tea thingie turns itself off. It's ready to drink right then an there--no chilling required. Who knew how handy these Mr. Coffee Iced-Tea makers ARE!
AMY August 4, 2013
Well technically the State of fla. is in the south, but Foridians are not usually Southern...We live in Fl. right now for hubbys job and IWe being from Georgia almost felt like we were in another country when we first moved here....It is a totally different kind of "south"....Although up around the panhandle and close to the Fl. Ga. line it is very much more "Southern" than here in central Fl. where we are right now :)
Luvtocook August 4, 2013
Right on, Amy!
Sandra A. August 3, 2013
I am a Minnesotan and I have never adopted a taste for sweet tea, unless it is a flavored tea, such as raspberry or peach. Otherwise, I enjoy it just plain with a little lemon. I have never understood why someone would destroy the taste of good tea by adding sugar to it. Which is probably just what purest coffee drinkers think when they see me adding cream and sugar to my coffee.
AMY August 4, 2013
And I have never understood why anybody would add "flavor" to tea such as rasberry or peach...No true southerner would ever make or drink a Flacored tea....and I do drink my coffee black with NO sugar....And we drink our tea COLD and our coffee HOT...never the other way around...At least the South that I come from...
Mary |. July 31, 2013
I don't drink much sweet tea these days, but when I want iced tea it better be sweet. And don't tell me there's sugar on the ISN'T THE SAME. I remember a 2-week trip out west where Cracker Barrel in NM was the most welcome sight I'd ever seen because SWEET TEA. And don't get me started on people who make fun of us Southerners and the fact that we call it "sweet tea". Whatev.
Lynnie491 July 31, 2013
I live in Georgia, but have not heard of Milo's and do not like sweet tea. I've caught a lot of flack over the years from people not-from-around-here who have heard those comedy routines. :) And when I pull through the drive thru at at fast food places and ask for UNsweet tea, they always question me.
Chris O. July 30, 2013
This makes me a bit homesick (Texas). There's something about *real* sweet tea. Not just adding sugar to a glass of tea, but pouring a glass of sweet tea is just.... better. Yeah, this is going to be made now. I'll need a care package sent with some Luzianne.
Andrea D. July 30, 2013
This makes me think of my grandmother too; though I'm not sure if someone from Indiana would be considered truly Southern. Either way, this is grandma's tea, just the way I remember it. Lipton and all!
Dorothy July 30, 2013
Tea is like coffee, some prefer it strong like your recipe, and others, like my bunch, prefer it on the weak side. My recipe is 1 gallon of water, 3 Lipton tea bags and 3/4 of a cup of sugar.

We have 2, 1-gallon pitchers going in our fridge throughout the day. I use an electric water pot to boil the water, pour it into a 4-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup over 3 Lipton tea bags tied together with paper tags removed, cover it with a saucer and let it steep for several hours. This way I always have some brewed when one of the pitchers goes empty.

When it's time to mix up a batch, I hold a fine-meshed strainer over the pitcher, which catches that filmy thing that happens sometimes and also catches the tea bags. Then I pour in the steeped tea, add 3/4 cup of sugar and stir violently (or until blended haha). I have a special wooden spoon used only for this purpose and it's earned a pretty patina over the years. I fill up the rest of the pitcher with water allowing the flow to hit the wooden spoon first so it disperses the water and keeps it from foaming.

I guess in our neck of the woods we like our tea weak as I am always asked to bring the sweet tea to gatherings. Cheers to us weaklings!
Beth K. July 30, 2013
I'm sure every Southerner who reads this is going to have a different way!
headspace C. July 31, 2013
I am like Dorothy, we always add some water to our tea after it is brewed. I have lived in North Carolina all my life as has my husband, and both of our families make it by steeping the tea bags in boiling water, then adding sugar, and water. It gives you that classic golden colored tea. Not too strong but with good, solid tea flavor.
AMY August 4, 2013
I also have a special wooden spoon that is used ONLY for making tea...I have used that spoon and a large orange tupperware pitcher for 35 years....Honest....My daughter has said many times..."Mom you have to leave me THE tea making spoon and pitcher in the WILL" HaHa..Funny thing is she is an only child, but everyone knows not to use that long wooden spoon for ANYTHING ELSE.....and like yours it has developed a very nice dark patina over the years...Oh and my sister makes her tea on the weak side too...:)
Lauren G. August 5, 2013
Amy I have a special wooden spoon only for sweet tea too!! I often wonder if other people do this too :) I, and most other Southerners I know boil the sugar in with the water before steeping the tea. And I never let my Luzianne steep longer than 3-4 minutes because I don't like the bitter taste it gives off after that.