The New Southern Style Sweet Tea Recipe

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Southern sweet tea doesn't have to be unhealthy!

If you’ve ever lived in the South, you know all about Southern style sweet tea! I grew up in New York, where sweet tea is just regular-old tea with a few sugar packets on the side. When I moved to Tennessee, I was in for a rude awakening. I got a job at a local restaurant, and I couldn’t believe we had to brew two types of tea! “Honey, sweet tea isn’t just unsweetened tea with sugar added,” my boss told me. I did what I was told and brewed the two different teas, and guess what: Southern style sweet tea was so much more delicious than the stuff I grew up with!

Unfortunately, this type of beverage isn’t exactly healthy. I don’t even want to tell you how much sugar we put into the tea at the restaurant! At Skinny Ms., we love reinventing traditional recipes (especially the unhealthy ones). It’s a challenge that we know we can overcome! Regardless of whether or not sweet tea is on your menu, you’re in for a treat with our healthier version of this refreshing summer drink.

The Secret to Good Sweet Tea

I learned this secret later in life, and many of you Southerners probably already know it! If you want good sweet tea, you can’t just add sugar into cold tea. The sugar has to go in while the tea is hot. This allows the sweetness to really absorb into every bit of the tea, ensuring an evenly sweet drinking experience.

As it turns out, you don’t have to use white, refined sugar to make good Southern style sweet tea. We swapped in raw honey, and I think it tastes even better than the original! If you’re following a plant-based diet and don’t eat honey, you could use maple syrup and it’ll be just as good.

The other secret has to do with the temperature of the water. If you boil the tea bags, the tea becomes bitter. No amount of sweetener will make that taste better! Instead, bring the water up to a temperature where it just starts to steam. When you see the steam come off the top of the kettle, turn off the burner. Then, add the tea bags and allow them to steep.

How Long to Steep Tea

We like to steep our tea bags for 8 minutes for this healthy Southern style sweet tea. This is the perfect point of infusing the tea with antioxidants and keeping the tea at a reasonable strength level. If you prefer a stronger tea, feel free to steep your tea for up to 12 minutes.

Then, once the tea is brewed, add a few mint leaves to give your sweet tea a refreshing finish. You won’t believe that this tea has only 76 calories! Give this recipe a try and let us know in the comments what you thought. We’d love to know if it rivals Grandma’s recipe!

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The New Southern Style Sweet Tea Recipe

A delightfully refreshing beverage to cool you down on even the hottest of Summer days!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Yield 7 people
Serving Size 8 fl. oz
Course Drinks
Cuisine American, Southern
Author SkinnyMs.


  • 8 cups chilled water
  • 6 green tea bags small
  • 1/2 cup honey (optional maple syrup)
  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 8 mint leaves fresh (add to pitcher or individual glasses)


  • In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups water to the point of steaming, remove from heat and add tea bags. Allow tea bags to steep for 8 minutes.
  • Remove and discard tea bags, add honey, stir to combine. Add 6 cups chilled water to a half gallon pitcher, next add the tea and stir. Add sliced lemons along with fresh mint leaves. Serve over ice and enjoy!
  • Note: Never boil tea bags as it makes the tea bitter. You may steep tea up to 12 minutes in steaming water as this allows more antioxidants to be released but will also make the tea stronger.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 8fl. oz | Calories: 76kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Sodium: 1mg | Fiber: 0.7g | Sugar: 21g |
SmartPoints (Freestyle): 5
Keywords Budget-Friendly, Gluten-Free, Kid-Friendly, Plant-Based, Quick and Easy, Vegetarian

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  1. Um, no self-respecting Southerner would call green tea Southern Sweet Tea. In the South, iced tea is made from black tea (preferably Luzianne, Red Diamond or the like).
    That being said, this is a lovely drink recipe. It reminds me of the canned Arizona green tea I drank at my Southern college. You know the Arizona company. The one that’s headquartered in New York and named after the Southwest state.

    1. Amanda, I am a southern gal and like to change things up a bit, including recipe titles. Glad you enjoyed! 🙂

  2. You chill 8 cups of water, then heat 2 cups of water to steaming, put 6 cups of chilled water in the pitcher. Are we heating the other 2 cups of chilled water to steep the tea bags? If so, is there a reason to chill the water before heating to the steaming point? Thanks in advance for your answers

    1. Hi Marilee, you don’t need to chill the two cups of water before heating them–room temperature is fine–whatever comes out of your tap.

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