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Bourbon-Spiked Sweet Tea

Big-batch sweet tea cocktail
Maureen Petrosky / TODAY

Chef notes

Sweet tea is a Southern staple, and some people literally drink it like water. As a Yankee girl who’s had the pleasure of living in the south for a few years, I learned some ins and outs of how to make the best sweet tea. Basically, steeped tea and sugar was all it took. The only differences seemed to be how strong you liked your tea. I always loved a little lemon and even orange slices if I had it in the house. What I did NOT EVER see was baking soda being used.

Recently, a reliable friend of mine said it’s a must. Stunned, I stopped everything and immediately conducted a side-by-side tasting. Not to ruffle any Southern feathers, but the baking soda sweet tea took top ranking in a blind tasting among thirsty neighbors.

Just a pinch seemed to neutralize any bitter tannins and produced a smooth sip preferred by the tasting panel. Many say this is an old wives tale, and maybe I was under the influence of group mentality, but I too voted for the baking soda sprinkled tea. I did a little digging and found that even some of the biggest names in tea publish their sweet tea recipes with this secret ingredient.

Baking soda or not, no matter how you stir it, this Southern sip can be too sweet for many people. However, I found it’s the perfect base for a balanced and refreshing summer cocktail. Simply add a shot of bourbon to your glass of sweet tea and you’ve got a delicious summer cocktail in minutes. 



  • 4 family-sized tea bags (or 12 regular tea bags)
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • Pinch baking soda
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups bourbon
  • Ice


In a saucepan, cover the tea bags with water, about 2 ½ cups and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags and squeeze.

In a large pitcher, combine the sugar and baking soda with 1 cup of cool water. Pour in the hot tea and stir to dissolve the sugar. Fill the pitcher with 12 -13 more cups of water.

In a glass filled with ice add 2 ounces of bourbon, fill with sweet tea.