The Unexpected Ingredient That Will Majorly Upgrade Southern Sweet Tea

There's just something special about the flavors mixed into an ice-cold glass of homemade sweet tea. And when you've got yourself a truly Southern recipe, you know the levels of refreshing sweetness your palate is about to witness will hit the spot. 

There are just a few simple steps to creating the perfect balance between the taste of sugar and black tea. Once you've nailed it down, you can experiment with which garnishes will compliment it best. Add a dash of cinnamon, a sprig of mint, or a lemon wedge to add a little zing to your sweet tea.

Miriam Hahn, an Arizona-based wellness coach and recipe creator, shares her Southern sweet tea recipe at social gatherings to give her guests a tasty, familiar favorite to enjoy. But as you follow her easy sweet tea recipe, you'll notice there's a special ingredient on the list that you may not have thought to add to your sweet tea before. It's a slightly bitter additive that you likely have sitting in your pantry somewhere waiting for its time to shine.

The key to maximum sweetness

So, your water has come to a rolling boil, and you've added your tea bags to begin the brewing process. Next, you'll reach for a pinch of the secret ingredient — baking soda — and sprinkle it into the tea. 

How exactly does this benefit the recipe? Hahn says that adding baking soda to Southern sweet tea "helps to remove any bitterness from the black tea, making it taste extra-smooth." It removes the tea's cloudiness after it's been mixed while simultaneously canceling out any remaining bitterness left behind by the six-minute steeping process. The sweetness will come through more fully when you taste the finished product.

After mixing in the sugar until it's completely dissolved, cool your sweet tea with cold water and pour it into a glass of ice to serve. And don't forget the garnish. "Pairing the sweet tea with the fresh mint and lemon balances out the sweetness and makes for a very refreshing drink," Hahn says. "I have also garnished it with fresh berries and basil." The whole recipe is a carefully measured blend of flavors that create the perfect thirst-quenching drink to cool off with in the heat of summer.