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Let’s get one thing straight: A packet of sugar and a glass of unsweetened iced tea does not a sweet tea make. Er, in other words: True Southern sweet tea isn’t sweetened as an afterthought. It’s born sweet, but not too sweet. Strong, but not too bitter. It should never been consumed via straw, and it’s just as home in an oversized collectible NASCAR cup as it is a mason jar.
It’s nothing fancy. It’s not gonna make you want to slap yo’ momma or pack your bags and move South. It may make you feel cooler and slightly more caffeinated, if everything goes according to plan. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case above the Mason-Dixon line.
Tea bags, water, sugar: What could go so wrong? Only a million things including: overbrewed tea (bitter), partially dissolved sugar (gritty and saccharine), watered-down tea (weak), and stale tea (as in tea that was brewed several days ago), which will not only taste like essence of damp attic, but will also make you sick to your stomach.
Don’t fear! You can get some pretty decent tea at places like Pies and Thighs or Fette Sau if you have a hankerin’. Or, even better, you could make it yourself. At the very least you’ll know it won’t make you sick, right?
The good news is that making sweet tea isn’t hard. The bad news is that you’re going to want to ignore all the recipes you find. If you really want to make a great brew, you have to ask someone who has been making tea for so long, they no longer know how to explain it.
If your Dad happens to be a born-and-bred Southerner like mine, you may just find out his delicious, chuggable, perfectly sweetened sweet tea is a remarkably unscientific process. For your enjoyment (and confusion), here’s his sweet tea recipe in pretty much his words:
First, you’ll need four family-sized Luzianne tea bags. Some people use Lipton, but Dad figures he’s always used Luzianne (a Louisana-based tea) and so has his momma. Oh, and he uses the green box (which is decaffeinated), but he doesn’t reckon it makes much of a difference.
Put the four tea bags in a saucepan with some water. Not sure how much water, but pick a pan that’s not real big and not real small. Now boil the mixture real slow, with the burner on medium or medium/high. You don’t want to boil the tea real quick.
Now, while that’s goin’, get out a 2-quart pitcher and pour one cup of sugar in the bottom. As soon as the water and tea bags boil on the stove, pour the whole thing into the pitcher and stir it. After that, pour a little water in and add some ice cubes. Now put it in the fridge until dinner’s ready.
That should do it! So easy, so mysterious: The non-recipe recipe for sweet tea.