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Nothing says welcome to the south like a good glass of Southern Sweet Tea!
Growing up in the south sweet tea was everywhere. I mean, hello, I'm pretty sure it's the signature drink of the south. As I got older and moved away from the south, this classic drink wasn't something that was readily around, and if it was, well, let's say northerners are not the best well known for their sweet tea.
Enter getting married. My husband grew up in the pacific northwest; he had no idea about sweet tea until the Army moved us to Kansas (for the second time). There he met a guy in his unit who was from Georgia who introduced him to sweet tea. You guys, I am not even joking that ever since then, my husband has been hooked, like he will pick a good sweet tea over anything most days of the week.
Before I get any further, I KNOW there are several different ways and methods to make a good southern sweet tea, and it's all based on geographical preferences. Some people like to make their sweet tea with the sun, and some want to use a little lemon and don't get me started on the amount of sugar variations in sweet tea. I promise though this variation has been tested not only my husband but also our friends and family over the years, and I promise it's the real deal!
Lemon or No Lemon?
This is a preference thing. If you like lemon in your tea, please, by all means, add lemon. If you want more of the traditional straight tea flavor, then leave it out.
Can this be made sugar free?
I'm probably going to get some angry messages from my southern people for this, but yes, this can be made sugar-free. I'd suggest using monk fruit sugar substitute for doing this because the ratios required are so small. Some of the other sugar substitutes on the market that are more of a 1:1 tend to react differently in the tea, and that can leave not only a bitter taste but also not fully dissolve in the drink, leaving it with a gritty texture. I promise no one wants a gritty, sweet tea.
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Is Tea Gluten Free?
This one is tricky because not all teas are created equal, and gluten can be found in tea. When most people hear tea, it's not the traditional tea made from the camellia Sinensis plant, which is not associated with gluten, wheat, barley, or rye. Therefore, traditional tea should be gluten-free. This is assuming that it has not been subjected to additives and cross-contamination during its processing.
However, more mainstream teas on the market are not always made from the camellia Sinensis, and some contain added ingredients to boost the flavor and sweetness. This can add gluten through these flavors (usually from barley). In fact, in many Asian countries, tea is made from roasted barley.
Beyond the tea itself, gluten ingredients can be hiding in the packaging itself. Did you know that some tea brands use a gluten-based "glue" to seal their tea bags together?
This is why it's essential to check the ingredients and know the teas that you are drinking. When you are looking for tea, it pays to know the brands you are buying and the sources of their ingredients.
Gluten Free Teas
Here is a list of a few of my favorite gluten-free tea brands. I've also included their manufactures, their gluten policies, and some tea brands to watch out for that might contain gluten or cross-contamination risks.
Good Teas Generally Considered Safe
According to the company, "all current Bigelow Teas do not use any grains or gluten-containing ingredients."
The company states that: "All of the tea bags packaged for Tetley USA Inc. for retail sale, including our decaffeinated, flavored and green blend tea bag products are gluten-free."
Numi Organic Tea
Numi offers fair trade, 100% organic non-GMO tea varieties. According to the company: "all Numi Teas are gluten-free. Our teas are packaged in facilities and on machines that do not process or work with gluten."
Numi tea bags are made from manila hemp cellulose plant fiber.
The products also are free of genetically modified ingredients, according to the company.
Lipton, which is made by the company Unilever, does not publish a list of gluten-free tea varieties.
However, they do say, "We recommend that you read the label each time before buying our product. If gluten is present, it is clearly listed in plain language on the ingredient label (i.e., wheat flour, rye, barley, oats, and malt)."
There is also no gluten-containing glue in Lipton tea bags: "We do not use any glue in the assembly of our Teabags or tags. Where a staple is not used, we use pressure and heat to adhere the string to the tag and the bag."
Mighty Leaf Teas
Mighty Leaf teas are certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), which has stricter standards than the current U.S. legal standard for gluten-free products. Look for "GF" in a circle on the package.
Those who are sensitive to corn should be aware that Mighty Leaf uses tea pouches made from cornstarch, and those who are sensitive to dairy should note that the company's Truffle Teas may contain dairy.
Republic of Tea
Republic of Tea holds gluten-free certification from GFCO, which means its gluten-free-labeled teas contain less than 10 parts per million gluten (see the company's statement).
Ensure the package you purchase is marked with that "GF" circle logo since the company doesn't guarantee all its flavors are safe. One tea flavor—Coconut Cocoa Cuppa Chocolate—contains barley, which of course, is a gluten grain.
According to a statement from Stash: "We actively maintain signed statements from our ingredient suppliers stating that all ingredients purchased by Stash Tea Company are gluten-free. We do not use barley malt in any of our blends."
Those sensitive to corn should note that the maltodextrin in Stash iced green tea powder is from corn, and the company's tea bags are made from wood cellulose.
All teas currently made by Yogi Tea are considered gluten-free.
However, four teas—Stomach Ease, Healthy Fasting, Calming, and Kava Stress Relief—used to contain gluten. The company warns consumers to check those teas' packages to make sure they're purchasing the latest, non-gluten-containing version.
Not Considered to be Safe
Tazo, owned by Starbucks, does not disclose which flavors contain gluten. It formerly had said that Green Ginger, Tazo Honeybush, Lemon Ginger, and Tea Lemonade contained gluten in the form of barley malt. In essence, these currently list "natural flavors" on their ingredients lists.
Beware of ordering Tazo tea in a Starbucks shop, since the baristas use the same tongs to pull out each tea bag, so cross-contamination is relatively likely.
Teavana also is owned by Starbucks. Previously, all Teavana teas were considered gluten-free, but unfortunately, the company is now including the statement "May contain gluten" on certain flavors.
Make sure to read the ingredients label carefully and avoid products with this statement. You also should assume that all flavors could be subject to gluten cross-contamination.
As you can see, there are A LOT of different tea brands in the market, and people will certainly have their favorites, so make sure that the tea you are buying is, in fact, gluten-free and doesn't have any of the questionable ingredients. When in doubt, always contact the manufacture for verification.
Now let's get back to making that sweet tea we all want to enjoy this summer! If you give it a try, let me know. I'd love to know what you think!
Recipes to Enjoy with Your Sweet Tea
Southern Sweet Tea
- 1 Gallon Water
- 6-10 Bags Tea depending on the size
- 2 - 2/12 C Sugar or sugar-free alternative
- Lemon optional
- Bring the water and the tea bags to a boil in a large stockpot and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. You want the water to be a medium to dark brown.
- Once the tea has simmered, remove the tea bags, and stir in the sugar or sugar substitute while the liquid is still hot. This will help the liquid take in the sweetener better, leaving a smoother taste and texture.
- Add fresh squeezed lemon if desired.
- Allow the tea to cool for at least 30 minutes at room temperature before transferring it to the fridge to finish cooling.
- Serve over ice and add more fresh lemon if desired.