First of all, it is called Sweet Tea, not sweetened tea. Let's get that right straight out of the gate. When you are below the Mason Dixon line and you order tea in a restaurant, it is just understood that it will be sweet. When you are above the Mason Dixon and have a hankering for sweet tea, order hot tea and a glass of ice. Sweeten the hot tea, then pour it over the ice, because sugar will never melt in a glass of cold tea, and the pink yellow or blue stuff just does not taste the same.
I have often heard that we Southerners drink our tea syrupy sweet and too strong for the Northern palette. Let me explain a little something about sweet tea. Sweet tea is best served while still hot from making it. When you pour it over ice, it dilutes the tea and you have tea that is perfectly sweetened and not too strong. There is nothing better than that first sip of tea that is part hot and part cold. The way it swirls around in your mouth is almost intoxicating. No wonder they call it Southern table wine. Now, if you were to take that same pitcher of tea and put it in the fridge before serving, it would be awful to drink. It would be so sweet it would make your teeth hurt. But, real Southerners never ever put their tea in the fridge. It is made in a pitcher and more times than not, the pitcher of tea is gone before the liquid has even had time to cool. None the less, that pitcher will sit out on the counter til it spoils, rather than going in the fridge. Lemon is optional, as are mint, raspberries, etc. But really, we don't like our tea all gussied up.
Below is my method, or recipe for making sweet tea. If you don't like the way your tea at home tastes, give my method a try. You might just find that your tea tastes good afterall.
One pitcher of Southern Sweet Tea:
4 qt. size tea bags
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 cup glass measuring cup
3 cups boiling water
Place the four tea bags into the measuring cup. Boil 3 cups of fresh water (don't let water sit around in a tea kettle and use it over and over, it affects the way your tea tastes). Pour the water over the tea bags as full as you are comfortable filling the measuring cup. Allow to steep for 5 minutes (a minute less it will be too weak, a minute longer and it will start to get bitter). Pour the hot tea over the sugar that you have put into a pitcher. Stir well to melt the sugar. Refill the measuring cup twice with cool water with the tea bags in the glass, and add this to the pitcher. DO NOT squeeze the tea bags, as this also makes for bitter tea. Throw the tea bags out, and fill the measuring cup one last time with cool water. Add this to the pitcher, stir well, and enjoy over a full glass of ice!!!
Please note that you can use whatever brand of tea you like. I try to use Dixie Crystals sugar because that is what Nanny always used.