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.
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.
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.
16 cups water 16 tea bags (Lipton or Luzianne) 16 tablespoons white sugar 1 lemon, for serving (optional)
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.
Remove pot from heat and toss in your tea bags. Brew it strong, 15 to 20 minutes.
Sweeten it while it’s hot, right after you pull the tea bags out, and stir until it all dissolves.
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.