The Ultimate Iced Tea Recipe

The Ultimate Iced Tea RecipeOur Family’s Iced Tea Recipe. The perfect drink on hot August afternoons with family and friends.

There’s nothing that speaks to me of home like a tall, frosty cold glass of iced tea.  Whether you like yours sweet in the southern tradition or with little or no sugar, nothing says summer like iced tea, and nobody…  And I mean nobody, made it better than my mother did.

Agree or disagree with the last statement as you like, this is my family’s closely guarded recipe for iced tea.  I don’t think it’s been shared outside the family before, but it is something that I think the world needs to know about.  It’s the drink my wife requests when she’s home to visit.  It’s what my sister expects to find in my refrigerator in the summer months.  It’s the one thing I can’t live without when the temperatures start climbing into higher digits.

And there is only one right way to make it…  At least for us.

The Ultimate Iced Tea Recipe

The key to good iced tea is to make it strong.  That way the ice  doesn’t dilute the taste of the tea.  Too many people forget this.  If it’s hot outside, the ice in your glass is going to melt, and your tea tastes more like sweetened murky water than it does of anything else.  It’s something I can’t tolerate, and is one of the reasons I rarely order iced tea in a restaurant .

I hope you enjoy this one.  It’s a very simple recipe that has seen my family through many decades of summers, BBQ’s, parties and outdoor gatherings.  It has outlived both of the women who perfected the recipe and has comforted hundreds of people on hot California afternoons.

This is a piece of my life that I need the world to share with me.

The Ultimate Iced Tea Recipe
  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 13 Orange pekoe/black tea blend tea bags
  • 1/2 gallon iced water
  • Sugar to taste
  1. Bring 1/2 gallon of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat and add 13 tea bags. Allow to steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove tea bags from water and discard.
  2. Add sugar to a heat proof pitcher. My rule of thumb is as follows:
    *No sugar – For tea that’s just, well... Tea
    *1/3 cup sugar – This is how we take ours. Just enough sugar to take the bitter edge off.
    *1 cup sugar – For semi-sweet tea. Enough that you’ll know that there was sugar there
    *2 cups sugar – For sweet tea, but not “way down South” sweet.
    *3 cups sugar – For ultra sweet tea as served in most of the deep South. Kind of like syrup with depth.
  3. Mix sugar and hot tea until all of the sugar is completely dissolved. Add 1/2 gallon of cold or iced water to the tea and mix thoroughly.
  4. Serve chilled over ice with any garnish of your choice.
  5. Share and enjoy!

What I would have done differently:

There is no differently for this recipe.  It’s comfort food and I never mess with it.

Links to other great Iced Tea Recipes:


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  1. says

    Back home on Malaysia we drink a lot of iced tea, very refreshing and cooling in such a hot all year round weather but here I love it hot but will go for this when summer comes. Thanks for sharing your lovely tea recipe. I’d love to try with orange tea.
    .-= MaryMoh´s last blog ..Spicy Salmon On Spinach =-.

  2. says

    This sounds like the iced tea my mom makes, except she doesn’t mix the sugar with the brewed tea first before adding the cold water. She also adds a half a lemon at the end. The next time I try to make iced tea, I’m going to try your suggestion of mixing the water w/ the hot tea. Sounds yummy, especially since it is in the 90’s her in Philly this weekend!

  3. Susan says

    Wow..that looked like strong tea..until you mixed it with the cold water. I just use 6 bags to 2 quarts of water and don’t dilute it. I use purified water and don’t bring it to a boil, I heat it almost to a boil and let it rest a minute before putting the tea bags in. It won’t develop foam that way. I don’t make sweet tea anymore, but when I did, I also added a few stalks of fresh mint to the pot to steep with the tea. So refreshing on a hot summer day! Oh..and squeeky clean pot..always! I use dishwasher detergent to remove the stains from my pitcher..every time! Nothing will ruin tea and make it taste off like the stains from previous batches, it can actually sour the tea.

  4. says

    Nothing fancy here. Just a big batch of strong tea. Great on a hot day.

    I’m sure it would be great with orange tea as well.

    You’re very welcome. There’s absolutely nothing like a tall glass of iced tea on a hot day, and around here “hot” means 105 and over all summer long.

    Mixing the sugar with the hot tea dissolves it completely into a solution. That way there’s no sugar “slush” at the bottom of glasses or pitchers.

    We do make it a bit stronger than most, but we like the flavor of the tea to really shine through. You can always adjust the strength to personal likings.

    Thanks for all the other tips!

  5. says

    I read this when you first posted it and filed it in the back of my mind until it got hot enough for me to start craving iced tea. Well, it’s certainly hot enough now! I’m brewing a batch as I type this. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Carolyn Hoover says

    Real Southern iced tea has a pinch of baking soda added while still hot.
    It takes away that tannic ‘bite’ that tea can sometimes have.

  7. says

    I love iced tea, but I actually like to make mine pre-sweetened in the frig and keep it there, always cold. So I can skip the ice. But your photo of the traditional iced tea outside in the sun looks so tempting, I may have to go old school like you. :)

  8. says

    Wow, we made this so many times last summer. More often a half-recipe, ultimately making a 1/2 gallon instead of a gallon. We had so much tea in the cupboard and even using just 7 teabags at a time, helped us use some of it up. I was putting some in a water bottle and taking it to work. I might have to make some soon, even thought it’s still February! Just 1/3 cup of sugar. I can’t imagine putting 3 cups of sugar in it! We were mostly making it with herbal tea, since we have so much of it!

  9. Deana says

    Yeah!It was the best ice tea ever. I feel complete with my lunch time when I’ m having ice tea because it’s getting hotter when noon time. I feel refreshing and calm. No stress and cool.

  10. says

    Nice! We drink iced tea all year long, no matter how cold it is outside. I like it strong, too. I do *almost* Arnold Palmers, but not quite 1/2 and 1/2. I take ice about 3/4 of the way up the glass, 3/4 of the glass filled with tea, and the rest a lightly sweetened lemonade. This is perfect for me. I think I’ll go pour some now. Oh, and lately–I’ve been using 8 orange pekoe teabags and 6 Bigelow peach teabags per pitcher. The peach adds just the right amount of “what’s that that makes your tea tastes so good,” and it also makes it more thirst quenching.

  11. says

    Bookmarked! I fondly remember iced tea from my Canadian childhood, but I’ve never found a recipe to recreate it. I shall be trying this and reporting back!! :)

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