Woman pouring tea on a drinking glass with ice cubes

Iced Tea vs Sweet Tea

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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.

The history of traditional hot tea dates back to China, although iced tea became in-demand in the USA in the 1800s. Nowadays, about 85% of Americans consume more iced tea than hot tea.

Other countries also have different versions of iced tea, like Singapore’s chilled black tea with lemon and Japan’s bancha. With such popularity, the global iced tea consumption reached around 37 billion liters in 2021.

A mug of iced tea on a wooden surface

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, see 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.

History

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

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

Serving

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.

Taste

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

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.

Conclusion

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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