An Ode to Sweet Tea + 5 Recipes for National Iced Tea Day


By Jay Grelen

The emails of concern arrived before I even knew about the Arkansas fellow whose kidneys failed because he drank a gallon of ice tea every day.

The gist of the notes was: Is this you?

The subject is pertinent because today is National Iced Tea Day, or, as most right-thinking speakers of Southern prefer, ice tea.

I am flattered that my family and friends think so generously of my capacity for sweet tea. And although I think I could compete with the man, ’twas not me. (The reports about this man didn’t say whether he drank his tea sweet.)

Although no one has ever expressed concern about my consumption of tea, some have raised concern over the amount of sugar I consume in my tea. To lay those concerns to rest, I am pleased to report that the blood work from my annual physical shows my numbers are just fine.

On the vital subject of sugar in tea, however, the question of amount always arises in conversations about my sweet tea, and my answer, free of charge, is: “A generous two cups.”

That’s how much sugar I pour in when I make a gallon of tea, which is at least every other day.

Who, you may rightly ask at this point, are you to write about something as significant as National Iced Tea Day?

My pedigree for such an undertaking, I think, speaks for itself. Just the facts here. (I will stand corrected if you can correct me): I, your humble sweet-tea sipper, was the original Mister Sweet Tea. I first wrote about sweet tea as a symbol of the South in July 1993 when I was a columnist at the Mobile Press-Register in Alabama. In 1994, we held the first of many Sweet Tea Sipoffs at Bellingrath Gardens, where contestants competed for the title of best Sweet Tea Maker.

In July 1997, The New York Times published a story about my love of the elixir and my contests to find the best, and they later included my recipe for sweet tea in a cookbook.

My career as Mister Sweet Tea began quietly. I had spent most of a June morning in a field of Silver Queen corn in Daphne, Alabama. My face was burnt, my arms were scratched, my t-shirt and jeans were sweat-caked with cornfield dust, and my shaggy hair was wild from my 2-60 air conditioner (truck windows down, traveling 60 mph). I was thirsty, and only one beverage would do.

I found the Cock of the Walk catfish joint on Mobile Bay and pushed through the wooden door, figuring they’d turn my filthy self back around.

“Could you sell me a pitcher of sweet tea and set me up somewhere?” I asked. The hostess didn’t wince or hold her nose, and she wouldn’t take my money.

“You look like you need it,” Julie said.

Julie didn’t know me from anybody. She just saw how much I needed that tea. And she wasn’t going to make me sit outside to drink it. She invited me to sit inside, a kind offer I declined.

So I sat outside in a rocker and enjoyed two things peculiar to the South: Its hospitality and its sweet tea. Southern hospitality. Sweet tea. Sweet hospitali-tea.

Our hospitality and sweet tea are rooted in our understanding that it’s too hot down here for meanness and too hot for tea without sugar.

And now, with the declaration of National Iced Tea Day, the rest of the country is catching up. We are changing the world, one jug at a time.

Comment below and tell us about your favorite sweet tea memory and your secrets for making good sweet tea.

Beyond the Pitcher: 5 Favorite Sweet Tea Recipes

Sweet Tea Custard with Berries

Sweet Tea Pie


sweet tea pie

Spiked Sweet Tea Lemonade

Sweet Tea Fried Chicken

Sweet Tea Fried Chicken

Sweet Tea Ice Cream



Read more from Jay Grelen.


  1. LOVED Jay Grelen’s sweet tea article! No one better to proclaim the glory of southern “ice tea” than he. His writing always feels like home. He’s the BEST!
    Thank you for sharing his gift of words with your readers. Hope to see more. I miss his columns in the AR DEMOCRAT GAZETTE.

  2. THE best sweet tea! Love when we get to Arkansas and get a milk jug or two or three to take back home where sweet tea is NOT popular!! We have tried to ‘make our own’ but it doesn’t compare to Jay’s!!
    PS….Never thought to make Sweet Tea Ice Cream…Maybe Jay should get in touch with Blue Bell!

  3. Great article; informative, folksy and warm. Although I have moved to the Midwest where we drink our tea sans sugar. I remember many sweet family meals with a cold glass of sweet tea. Thanks for the brief trip down memory lane.

  4. Great article. If you grew up in the South, you were raised on sweet tea. I still remember sitting on grandma’s porch in Plumerville, Ar. with a piece of karo nut pie and sweet tea in hand…and no air- conditioning.

  5. I grew up making annual trips to visit Mimi, my southern grandmother. She always had a big platter of fried chicken waiting to be washed down by her sweet tea! I have many fond memories of those visits, and a glass of sweet tea brings them right to mind! I love this article!

  6. In the Summertime, ice tea (the sweet is always implied) is my second favorite beverage. Far and away, the best thing to drink on a hot Summer day, in my opinion, is a big shot of water coming out of the garden hose in the back yard. For some reason, the water coming from the hose over by the garage isn’t quite as good. Not much of a sweet tea story, but there you are.

  7. Absolutely loved Jay Gelen’s article on Sweet Tea. It brought back fond memories of family reunions with home made ice cream, watermelon and gallons of sweet tea!

  8. Jay Grelan, you are such a tease!
    It’s teaming rain outside. I sit snuggled under a teal afghan on my teak sofa, teacup in hand. I’ve just read your teachable discourse in Taste of the South. I am moved to tears. I must – yes, must – take a moment to prop my laptop on the tea cart and pen a comment. Let it be said that I have always been, and will ever be, part of the Jay Grelan Bigfoot Tea Team! I would write more but I’m due at a tea dance in the next hour. Sorry – I couldn’t work in teazel or teat. Maybe next time.
    YOU are my best memory of sweet tea!

  9. I love Jay Grelen! I met him at the Little Rock Farmer’s Market (Little Rock, Arkansas) several years ago. We were selling All Natural Beef, Pork & Chicken. I just happened to have my sugar sweet ice tea & offered him a glass. He took it and we became fast friends!

  10. My earliest memories of drinking sweet tea were at my grandparent’s house on a Sunday afternoon after church. My grandmother, “Ida”, served it chilled with the best fried chicken and mashed potatoes and homemade gravy! We didn’t know what soft drinks were back then…there was no choice of drinks because nobody wanted anything else!! Those were great times!!

  11. Terrific article. Jay Grelen is an expert on Sweet Tea! I think he has a PhD on the topic. He article is most enjoyable and entertaining.

  12. Aside from being the original Mister Sweet Tea, Jay Grelen is clearly the undisputed Southern storyteller. His words flowed as sweet as his tea and they transported me to the front porch in my dreams. More! More! More!

  13. Your description of enjoying sweet tea can just about make one taste it! Thanks to Sloane for making this easy to find and read!

  14. I love reading Jay Grelen’s thoughts on anything. You can bet that if he’s writing about it, his feelings are genuine and authentic. And he’s absolutely correct: when you’re hot and thirsty and completely worn out, ONLY sweet tea will satisfy!

  15. Jay (known as Mr. Jay in our house) often knocks on our door to bring my husband and my son a gallon of sweet. If we aren’t at home he leaves it on the front porch. As I’m not a tea drinker myself, I just see this as a reminder of how lucky we are to have such amazing neighbors. However, to my son and husband this often makes their whole day. I am content to just read some of Mr. Jay’s articles and watch the boys sip their ice tea.

  16. I don’t want to brag or anything (ok, maybe I do, but only a little), but I was one of the judges at the Mobile Press-Register’s very first sweat tea sip-off, held at the beautiful Bellingrath Gardens in south Mobile County. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was so God-awful hot, I found some kind of excuse the following year NOT to be anywhere near the sip-off! Excellent piece by a fine writer, whose modesty keeps him from saying that he had a huge following among his readers on the central Gulf Coast. Glad to see him weighing in on his favorite subject. When the weather turns cool again, ask him about his second-favorite subject: how to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate.

  17. Loved reading Jay’s article on sweet tea! My mom made the best sweet tea growing up, the neighborhood kids loved it and all my cousins couldn’t wait to get a big icy glass of Aunt Tiny’s tea when they would visit! Sadly, I’ve had to switch to the diet version because sugar is no longer my friend, but it’s part of my fondest memories. Thanks, Jay, for your fun article, I love your style!! Keep’em coming!

  18. Deliciously sweet article. Makes me long for a cold glass – even though 2C lof sugar per gallon is too much for my palate.

    Perhaps we should start a National Sweet Tea Day as well.

    Thanks, Jay, for a refreshing perspective on this distinctively Southern drink.

  19. ~Loved this article! So true to Southern Sweet Tea~I must admit however, to being diabetic and drinking my poison, worst vice, my precious sweet tea, with pink sweetner in it~No diet soda for me~I do recommend that you try it with 8 regular tea bags, and 8 packs of pink sweetner to a gallon~A life saver, indeed a savior, for a sweet tea lover who can’t have the sugar~ <3 ~

  20. I love the reminder of great southern Hospitalit-tea, as Jay points out, it goes beyond the tea to the person.

  21. I like the tea this fellow makes. His name is Doug Fuccini. He puts egg nog in it, but just a little. Then he drinks it all. The egg nog, I mean. One time I saw him drunk a gallon of egg nog at swoop, like water. Then he drank another the same way. Like to made me sick just watching him. Nice article.

  22. GREAT article. As a born-and-bred Arkansas boy, I can identify with everything here. Jay’s fun and descriptive writing is just as refreshing as the sweet tea he describes!


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