In the U.S. South, the quintessential summer beverage one enjoyed all year around is: sweet iced tea. In fact, in the U.S. South, if you ask for “tea,” you’ll get sweetened iced tea. If you want unsweetened tea, or hot tea, you’ll have to ask for it by name.
To make traditional Southern style iced tea, you need an orange pekoe blend especially made for iced tea. Luzianne is a popular choice. You can use other types of teas, but while you’ll have a good tasting beverage, it won’t be classic Southern sweet iced tea.
You’ll need a small pot with a tight fitting lid. Fill the pot about half full of fresh, cool water. Place over medium-high heat, and bring just to a boil.
When the water is at a boil, add the tea bags—about 3 to 4 family sized tea bags, or 7 to 8 regular sized tea bags—to the water, remove from heat and cover with the lid. Allow steeping for at least 20 minutes; two hours is better if you have the time.
When you’re ready to “pour up” the tea, remove the tea bags from the steeping liquid. Squeeze gently, but do not press hard. Pour the steeped tea into a one-gallon container.
Add one cup of sugar; use white cane sugar. Add about ½ gallon of water, and stir thoroughly until sugar is completely dissolved. Fill the container the rest of the way with water or a combination of water and ice.
Some Southerners like their tea especially sweet, and will use one and ½ cups of sugar per gallon. You should use sugar to taste. Serve cold with a slice of lemon or a sprig of mint.