Sweet Tea: A Cheap Alternative to Soft Drinks but Tastier than Water

Corey —  June 21, 2010

sweet iced tea in a mason jar by House of Sims on Flickr       Cut me and I’m likely to bleed sweet tea. My wife can testify that we almost always have a gallon pitcher of sweet tea in our refrigerator. Earlier in our marriage, she would have said this was completely my fault. But she says I have her hooked now – at least to my version of sweet tea. She doesn’t like the manufactured brands anymore. I can’t blame her. Lipton brewed tea is just about the only manufactured tea I can tolerate – and then only just.

       You see, I’ve never been one who likes water. I know it’s cheap and I know it’s healthy, but I’ve just never liked it. You could say I’m a “water snob”, though you’ll never catch me drinking Fiji bottled water. I just like my water to be cold and non-chlorinated with no funny tastes or smells. Our tap water doesn’t make the grade (plus it’s full of nitrates), so I tend to live on sweet tea. (This could have repercussions for my health though – diabetes, anyone?)

       But in terms of cost, sweet tea is much cheaper than soft drinks. It’s much healthier, too. Even with my version (which is fairly sweet), you’ll still be getting less sugar than you would in a soft drink. Before you tout diet soft drinks (which are still expensive), remember you can use artificial sweeteners in your sweet tea. I’d never use artificial sweetener in my sweet tea since I hate the taste, but it is an option. Some people forgo the sweetener altogether (artificial or not), but I’m not sure how they do that. Bleh…

       A gallon of sweet tea costs me just under $1.00 to make. That’s 50-70% cheaper than most soft drinks if you’re buying a 2 liter bottle. It’d be even cheaper if you’re comparing cans or 20 ounce bottles. Twenty ounces of sweet tea costs $0.16 and twelve will cost you just over $0.09. It’s quick and easy, too. It only takes me about 3 minutes of hands-on time to make a gallon. Here’s how I do it.

Paul’s Not-So-Top-Secret Sweet Tea Recipe

       Fill up a gallon pitcher nearly to the top (you want to leave some room for the sugar later). I use hot water from our tap because it duplicates the taste of sun tea but is faster. If you’re going to make sun tea, you can use cold water.

       Add 4 family size tea bags (I always use Lipton…my preference). Let it sit for a couple hours (longer if you’re making sun tea). It’s done when it looks like tea. Darker is stronger but that can mean bitter. However, it’s difficult to make your tea too bitter with this method. The water just doesn’t get hot enough for that to happen.

       Remove the tea bags. Add 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir until dissolved. Refrigerate until cold or pour over ice if you want to enjoy it immediately. No lemon, please. Serve in a Mason jar for added effect.

I Need to Drink More Water

       Despite my fondness for sweet tea, I know I need to drink more water. It may not be bad on my wallet, but it’s not good for my health. I probably have a good risk of diabetes based on family history alone, and my sweet tea habit isn’t helping. Anyone else struggle with drinking water? Have any tips on how to start drinking more? Let me know in the comments!



Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

24 responses to Sweet Tea: A Cheap Alternative to Soft Drinks but Tastier than Water

  1. Being pregnant I’ve had to up my water intake and cut back on drinks with caffeine. I’ve been drinking more water lately by adding just a splash of 100% grape or apple juice. I only add enough to give it a taste because plain water gets really boring and juice has too much sugar to drink all the time.

  2. I am guessing you do not like lemon. But, if you do, put some lemon juice in your water for an added flavor.

    I’d definitely advise doing your best to wean off that much sugar and drink more unsweetened tea or just plain water.

  3. Thanks for the suggestion, Kaitlin! I’ll try it out soon.

  4. Yeah, I’ve never been a big fan of some lemon in water. I’ll do it at restaurants if I’m trying to save money and don’t like the taste of their water.

    It’ll be hard to stop drinking so much tea, but I do need to do it. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jonathan!

  5. I feel your pain, Paul. I recently decided to drink as much water as I need. My biggest problem was not remembering to take a drink. If you struggle with that, maybe this could help: Set an alarm for every hour on the hour. Then every hour, make yourself drink 8 oz. I personally use an old measuring cup. The alarm is very effective for me.

    As far as flavors, I imagine you could try plopping any kind of fruit you like in it (since you don’t care for lemon). I’ve heard a sliced cucumber is good, but haven’t tried it yet. Maybe today…

  6. And thank you for the sweet tea recipe! I’m really looking forward to making a gallon.

  7. Thanks for the ideas, K. Kellogg! I’ll have to try the alarm. We’ll have plenty of cucumbers from our garden soon, so maybe I’ll try adding some to the water.

  8. If you want to kick the sweet tea habit, take 1.5 cups of sugar, place it in a glass, fill the remainder of the glass up with warm water and attempt to drink it all at once. Set the remainder of the glass somewhere nearby where you can look at it every time you have an urge for sweet tea. The involuntary gag reflex that is triggered every time you think of sweet tea should be enough to kick the habit. In 10 days or less you should be cured :-)

  9. I think I’ll pass on that one, Steven and Debra! :) Makes me sick just to think of it.

  10. Fortunately, I’m a water drinker and have been from my earliest recollection. But iced tea is a close second–which is almost a default choice since I live in the South. (Sweet tea is everywhere in the South and it’s delicious in the worst restaurants!)

    I like my iced tea moderately sweet so I blend sweet and unsweet in equal measures when it’s available at a fountain. As far as artificial sweeteners, none seem to cut it, except Crystal Light, but that’s a bit heavy on the budget.

    BTW, any iced coffee drinkers out there? I save our left over coffee, refrigerate it, then mix with milk and an artificial sweetener and it’s superb! It’s also been recently reported to be an effective appetite suppressant–that never hurts.

  11. Thanks for your comment, Kevin! I don’t think I mentioned it in the post, but I grew up in the South. That’s how I got started on sweet tea. :) I’m always disappointed here in PA because iced tea almost always means unsweetened. “You can add sugar if you like.” Don’t these Northerners know it doesn’t work that way?! :)

    Good tip on leftover coffee, too. We rarely drink coffee, but I know plenty of people do. Maybe they’ll try out your suggestion.

  12. I tried Kaitlin’s suggestion (#1) and it’s working pretty good so far. I’ll have to take some measurements to see how the costs work out on this one. :)

  13. Paul,
    Ever since we moved to PNG I’ve started drinking cold tea. The local folks just can’t stand the idea of drinking tea cold and always have an adverse reaction when the first try it, but eventually it grows on them.
    Perhaps I’ll need to try your recipe.

  14. Hey, Craig! I didn’t think about how some people might not even consider drinking tea cold. I like it both ways.

    Hope you like my version of it. I recommend it, but I’m biased. You could save on energy there in PNG by using the sun method. I’m not sure what it’s like for you there in the way of energy/hot water, but there’s really no need to heat the water. I actually prefer sun tea when it’s warm enough.

  15. I cant’ drink plain water, too boring. I add the propel flavored packets… lemon and grape are the best. :)

    I like tea also at times…

  16. I’ve used the flavor packets before, Financial Bondage. They’re better than just plain water, but you still have that artificial sweetener taste. Plus, they can get expensive if you’re using a lot of them.

  17. Regarding your effort to drink more water, have you tried drinking sparkling water / club soda?

  18. Hi, Nick! I did try flavored sparkling water at one time, but the other part of my goal is to keep it inexpensive. Those drinks add up over time!

  19. I am also from the south and I love coke and my sweet tea. I think it becomes a sugar addiction for me. If you can’t give up sweet drinks just cut down. I can drink either all day long, but gain weight from doing so.I don’t mind artificial sweetners but they don’t seem to like me. I have had dizzy spells from them. But all this sugar is not healthy for me either. When I try to limit myself to one coke with its (10 teaspoons of sugar, ouch) or 4 cups of tea with 8 teaspoons of sugar for the day, I loose weight. Sounds like alot of sugar but its still alot less sugar than two or three cokes, or tea all day long. I try to start the day with milk , water, or orange juice(count sugar in your juice).I hate coffee so that is not an option for me! Do not start the morning with coke or tea. Try to have water at lunch (especially if you had orange juice for breakfast)and if you have to have tea just have 2 cups at lunch and afternoon and two cups at dinner.(8 teaspoons of sugar total for all day) I limit coke to one a day or none (in the evening in place of tea). For dinner if I have tea I make only four cups of LIPTON (my favorite, too)tea with 8 teaspoons of sugar for dinner. I usually only drink half and my husband drinks the rest. Everytime I do this I have lost weight, felt better, and I forget to have the one coke I have allowed myself or the four cups of tea. I think its all about moderation.

  20. Thanks for commenting, Kay! I agree moderation is the key. I tend to have orange juice in the morning if I drink anything. I still need to drink more water though. I’m working on it! :)

  21. Hi Paul, I struggle with sodas.   I have been using this method.  I drink one large glass of sweet tea in the mornings.  It usually lasts me until about noon.  After that I just drink water.  After I stop craving sodas, I intend to start taking down the sugar each week.  If I take down the sugar by a quarter cup each week I can be sugar free in 8 weeks (I use 2 cups of sugar in a gallon).  My hope is that by slowly lowering the amount of sugar each week, I will able to adjust to the taste of the less sweet tea.  I also plan to switch to decaf when I start taking down the sugar content.  Maybe this will work for you to wean yourself off sweet tea.  Then if you drink tea, you’ll increase your water intake without increasing your sugar intake.  My theory with this is that I can control the amount of sugar in tea, but not in sodas, and since I don’t crave sodas when drinking sweet tea, I can use this method.

  22. Sounds like a good plan to me, Charles!  I’ve been drinking less tea/caffeinated drinks in the evenings and replacing them with water, juice, or a mix of water and juice.  I really should get to just water though – cheaper and healthier!

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