Not Following These 5 Rules Will Ruin Good, Southern Sweet Tea

sweet tea in restaurant

(photo by Morgan Overholt/

Tennessean lists the sweet tea commandments

Sweet tea is a heritage. A birthright. An art. If you want the purest distillation of the South in culinary form, pour a glass, honey, cause we’re about to talk about the nectar of the gods known as sweet tea.

By the way, that’s the last time I’m calling it sweet tea. The truth is, it’s just tea. You order tea in any respectable Southern establishment and it’s coming in cold and sweet. If your wait staff is considerate, they might ask you to clarify simply to avoid any painful discussions about the assumptions you made. Now, without further ado, behold the tea commandments:

Good sweet tea is simple. It only requires sugar, water and a tea bag. To keep it truly Southern, only add sugar when it is boiling hot, and only add ice after it has been properly cooled, or else you water down the tea. And if you order tea from any restaurant in the South, expect to receive it sweet and on ice.

1. Thou shalt make your tea with three ingredients

Tea has three ingredients: water, tea and sugar. And let’s get one thing clear. Taking unsweet tea and dumping sugar in it at the table does not fix anything. Unsweet tea is an affront to all that is good and pure and holy upon this Earth. Can you take an unsweet tea, stir in a pack of sweetener and make it better? No, you cannot.

2. Thou shalt add the sugar when the tea is boiling hot

To make true Southern tea, the sugar must be added when the tea is steaming so the sugar becomes one with the drink. If there are sugar granules in the bottom of your glass, you don’t have tea. You have a chemistry experiment gone wrong. If someone hands you tea with sugar granules floating around in it, go in the kitchen and give whoever made that tea an “F”.

sweet tea with basket of biscuits
Traditional sweet tea needs only a lemon (photo by Alaina O’Neal/

3. Thou shalt not add a bunch of frou-frou stuff

Tea is perfection. It needs nothing more than to be kept in a pitcher in the fridge. It needs no garnish, no frou-frou accompaniment. A lemon slice is acceptable, but anything more than that and you run the risk of ruining a good thing. Not everyone abides by this philosophy. The peach-happy people in Georgia will try to sell you a peach tea. If you order a tea and someone brings you peach tea, immediately take the glass outside and chuck it into the street. That is, unless, we’re talking about Pal’s tea, which is an exception.

4. Thou shalt allow an Arnold Palmer in some situations

The only acceptable alternative tea is the Arnold Palmer, which is 60 percent tea and 40 percent lemonade. This drink is named after the legendary golfer and is given special dispensation because Arnold Palmer was exceptionally cool. If you are exceptionally cool and like an alternative version of tea so much that the whole world just starts calling that drink by your name, we will also carve out a special exemption for you. Unless your drink involves unsweet tea, at that point you could be the Fonz and you still wouldn’t be cool enough. The Arnold Palmer is also useful if someone gives you tea but skimped on the sugar. In that situation, the Arnold Palmer is a decent way to salvage things.

5. Thou shalt not use ice to cool the tea

Iced tea is cold tea served over ice to make it colder. Too many places brew the tea and then pour it over ice to cool it down and serve it, which melts the ice and waters down the tea. This is the result of poor planning. You have to give enough time between the time you brew the tea and the time you serve the tea for the fridge to chill the tea sufficiently.

Do you agree with the list? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, be sure to check out our coupons page.

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1 thought on “Not Following These 5 Rules Will Ruin Good, Southern Sweet Tea”

  1. My concoction for perfect sweet southern iced tea: pour 4 cups of fresh water into a tea kettle. When the water has become really steamy – almost to a boil – add 1 cup of white granulated sugar to it and stir. Now, in a moment, once the water has reached a nice, rolling boil, add 1 Family size *LIPTON* tea bag. Secure the top with the tight fitting tea kettle lid and allow the tea to steep for a good 25-30 minutes. Remove the lid and squeeze the tea bag, into the tea. Pour 2 cups of fresh water into a glass pitcher, now pour the hot tea into the pitcher and stir vigorously. Here you have enough delicious sweet tea for 2-4 people, with enough for a couple refills. Truly refreshing and delicious!


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