Iced Tea vs Sweet Tea

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Last Updated on August 23, 2022 by Scott

Should you choose traditional iced or sweet tea when looking for a refreshing drink to cool your body and calm your thoughts? When deciding between iced tea vs sweet tea, you should weigh the similarities and differences.

Iced Tea vs Sweet Tea: General Overview

There’s historical variance in iced tea vs sweet tea, as these drinks include various customizations. Before we go deeper, let’s trace back the roots of iced and sweet tea.

Iced Tea

  • Iced tea is a popular beverage served in several countries, especially in the summer months. It is traditionally-brewed black or green tea that you can serve either chilled or over ice.
A mug of iced tea on a wooden surface
Iced Tea

Sweet Tea

  • Sweet tea can be iced tea, although sweetened with sugar, syrup, or citrus fruits. Like iced tea, sweet tea also comes from brewing black tea leaves. It undergoes the usual brewing process, then sweetened and served either hot or cold. 
  • When the U.S. encountered a supply issue with green tea during World War II, people switched to black tea, which was more commonly sourced back then.
  • Sweet tea is often considered America’s version of iced tea. In some American recipes, you can also find sweet tea mixed with liquor, commonly known as tea punches.

Iced Tea vs Sweet Tea

Tea is among the most well-loved drinks worldwide, pushing the tea industry to achieve a 5.8% yearly growth rate from 2019 to 2026.

With several tea variations available on the market, let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between iced tea and sweet tea. 

Similarities Between Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

People drink tea for several reasons, whether it’s for health, energy boost, or you just plain love the taste. Let’s see the similarities between iced and sweet tea, the two most common variations of tea.


  • Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on producing and selling alcoholic beverages in the 19th century to solve social problems and reduce crime. Tea vendors and salespeople supported the prohibition to put tea in the spotlight.
  • The prohibition resulted in a social division among people, with the public often associating tea as a social status symbol for the upper classes.
  • Tea leaves, water, and ice are the primary ingredients of iced and sweet tea. Historically, these ingredients were only accessible to wealthy members of society.

Leaf Bases and Brewing

  • Tea recipes include a variety of base leaves. However, since sweet tea is basically a sweetened iced tea, you can use different leaf bases for brewing. You can choose either black or green tea leaves.
  • To make any kind of tea in the traditional way, you need to steep tea bags or loose tea leaves in boiling water for several minutes. You can also brew tea by steeping it in cold water overnight.

Differences Between Iced Tea and Sweet Tea

While both iced tea and sweet tea come from brewing tea leaves, they still have differences in some aspects.

A glass of iced tea topped with fresh fruits
Iced Tea with Fresh Fruit

Sweeteners and Additions

Iced tea doesn’t add sweeteners, as doing so would transform the drink into sweet tea.

While the tea is still warm, you can make hot tea into sweet tea by adding any of these sweeteners.

  • Sugar
  • Syrup or sugar substitutes 
  • Juice
  • Honey
  • Artificially-flavored fruits
  • Condensed milk
  • Alcohol
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Spices of your choice or anything that can add zest to the tea


The difference comes when you put sugar or other forms of sweeteners directly into the liquid, making it a sweet tea. You can serve sweet tea either as a hot or cold beverage.

On the other hand,  iced tea is never served hot. It only requires you to put ice cubes on the brewed tea or chill the drink in the refrigerator.


For iced tea, you would still get green tea’s pure herbaceous and nutty taste or black tea’s earthy and malty taste

Meanwhile, as the name implies, sweet tea has a sweetened taste. The sweetness masks some of the bitterness or spiced flavor of the tea leaves.

Health Benefits

Since sweet tea and iced tea use the same base leaf, they also provide similar health benefits. For instance, people who drink at least 3 cups of tea daily have a 21% lower risk of stroke

However, sweet tea contains more calories, so the health benefits may be offset by adding sugar.

Major Distinguishing Factor

Sweet tea is a variety of iced tea, yet not all iced tea can be sweet tea. Iced tea is basically unsweetened, plain brewed tea served chilled, whereas sweet tea is a sweetened brewed tea that you can serve either cold or hot.

So, when ordering outside or requesting tea in another home, make sure to specify whether you want unsweetened iced tea or sweet tea.

A glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon on top
Flavored Iced Tea

When to Use Iced Tea

You may feel more refreshed in drinking iced tea. Whether brewed or instant, iced tea covers 80% of tea drunk in America, mostly in northern states. 

Iced tea is ideal if you only want to add ice to your drink. For purists who prefer to retain the tea’s original flavor, iced tea is also a more suitable drink.

When to Use Sweet Tea

If you’re in the southern part of the United States, where the climate is typically wet and humid, you can enjoy a cup of cold sweet tea. People from the south even use sweet tea as a substitute for wine.

Sweet tea is also preferable if you like to use syrup or other forms of sweeteners.

Frequently Asked Questions About Iced Tea vs. Sweet Tea 

Below you will find some frequently asked questions regarding iced tea vs. sweet tea.

Q, What’s the difference between sweet tea and iced tea?

A. The main difference you’ll find is that you serve iced tea plain over ice, while you sweeten sweet tea during the brewing process. However, you can serve both iced tea and sweet tea chilled. 

Q. Is sweet tea bad for you?

A. Sweet tea contains sugar and can lead to weight gain or poor health if you consume large amounts. In addition, sweet tea contains oxalic acid, which can affect your kidneys if consumed regularly. 

Q. What is more common: sweet tea or iced tea?

A. Sweet tea is primarily found in the Southern United States, while you’ll often find iced tea in the Northern states. 

Q. Is iced tea only in America?

A. Americans have enjoyed iced tea since the 1800s, and today, 85% of all tea consumed in America is cold. While other countries drink iced tea, they mostly prefer it hot. 

Q. Do iced tea and sweet tea taste the same?

A. Plain iced tea has a light, earthy flavor, while sweet tea tastes sweet, as its name suggests. However, adding more or less water can adjust the sweetness level. 

Q. Are iced tea and sweet tea brewed the same way?

A. Typically, you make sweet tea by steeping tea leaves in a container of hot water and then adding your desired sugar. Both iced and sweet teas can be brewed the same way, and served chilled with ice. Sometimes, you may prefer to brew iced tea using black tea leaves steeped in cold water (which is also common). 

Q. Can you sweeten iced tea?

A. Many people will sweeten their iced tea after they brew it. As opposed to sweet tea, you can choose how much sugar you want to add and which type of sweetener you prefer.

Q. How do you order iced tea and sweet tea?

A. In the United States, you want to specify whether you want sweet or unsweet tea. While some places will ask, others assume you like sweet tea. In addition, they will bring sweeteners to your table if you request unsweet tea.


While they differ in serving methods and taste, iced tea and sweet tea are both delicious beverages. Your preference may also depend on your location and culture. Either way, drinking a cup of tea provides you with several health benefits and an enjoyable experience.

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