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Classic Unsweet Tea

Unsweet tea may not always appeal to the discerning southern palate, but for the rest of us we’re more than happy to ditch the syrupy sweetness and enjoy a bright and refreshing glass. See how easy it is to make and get the tricks for a smooth final result with no bitterness.

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glasses of tea on a table with lemon and mint

You either love unsweet tea or hate it. I know that. But if you love it there’s great reason to celebrate because a glass of tea can be really good for you!

If you’re trying to cut your sugar intake, feel free to half and half this recipe with sweetened, or switch to honey to add flavor until you get used to the sugarless version.

Reasons to switch from sweet tea to unsweetened 

Sweet tea is a tasty treat but when was the last time you thought about how it might affect your health? Here are a few good reasons to steer clear and to opt for unsweetened iced tea instead. 

  • Sugar content. An 8-ounce serving of sweet tea contains almost your entire daily suggested serving of sugar. 
  • Empty calories. White sugar has no nutritional value.
  • GMO. Granulated sugar is made from GMO sugar beets. In case you’ve been under a rock for a decade or so, GMOs are bad for your health. 
  • Inflammation. Refined sugar causes inflammation, which is the root cause of a multitude of illnesses. 
  • Liver workload. Refined sugar increases the workload of your liver, the organ responsible for metabolizing fructose. Heightened liver load leads to heightened cholesterol and inflammation. 
  • Linked to disease. The high sugar content of sweet tea has been linked to obesity, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. 

Benefits of cold water brewing

Fewer tannins are released in the cold water brew process when compared to other methods. This ends you with a much less bitter, more palatable unsweet tea.

There are so many teas on the market but the best for cold brewing are green tea, white tea, earl grey, yerba mate, oolong, and herbal teas. 

Sun tea pros and cons 

To make sun tea, tea bags are placed in a container filled with water and left to sit out for several hours in the sun to steep.

It is delightfully simple to make and tends to be less bitter than hot brew tea but just don’t leave it out too long. The process creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

Health benefits of tea

Tea (unsweet tea in particular) carries a variety of health benefits.

  • It’s hydrating. On hot summer days it’s a great alternative to soda.
  • It contains polyphenols such as flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory and antiviral and help your body get rid of toxins.
  • Teas contain trace minerals such as copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, manganese, iron, zinc, and magnesium, all of which are beneficial to your health.

Watch those plastic tea bags

A 2019 study found that 1 plastic tea back can release billions of plastic particles.

No wonder most Americans are consuming a credit card’s worth of plastic every WEEK!

Obviously, it’s not all from tea but it’s certainly something to think about. Steer clear of those plastic tea bags. Try to buy a brand that uses paper only tea bags or buy loose leaf tea and use a stainless steel tea infuser to brew yours.

Even the tea I used for this recipe has plastic in their tea bags so do your best to research it first. Traditional Medicinals does not use plastic, that much I know for sure.

What kinds of tea taste best for unsweet tea?

Honestly, it depends on the mood. Black tea with a hint of citrus, such as earl grey, is probably my top pick. But green teas, oolongs, white teas, and herbal teas are also great choices. 

How to make unsweet tea

To brew unsweet tea, add filtered water to a pot and bring to a boil. Add 1 teabag per cup of water.

ingredients for tea on a table

Turn off the heat and let the tea bags steep for five minutes in the hot water then remove the tea bags. Transfer the tea to a pitcher allow it to cool on the counter then move the tea to the refrigerator.

a pot with water and tea bags in the water

How many tea bags do I need to brew tea?

A safe bet is to use 10-16 tea bags per 1 gallon of water. When in doubt, err on the side of adding extra tea. You can always add a bit more water if the unsweet tea is too strong.

See my noted below on how to use loose-leaf tea. 

How to use loose leaf tea

To brew loose leaf tea, you can use a metal tea strainer or a tea brewing glass jar. Just place the tea in the strainer or in the “tea section” of the tea brewing jar, add water, and be on your way. Both are wonderful options.

It just depends on your preferred method. Use 1 ounce of loose-leaf tea per 1 gallon of water. 

How to add extra flavor to unsweet tea?

Here are some of my preferred ways to add a bit of flavor to this easy unsweet tea. Add your favorite to the water and let it sit as the tea brews.  

  • Herbs. Mint and basil are next to magical. 
  • Citrus. I love adding lime, lemon slices or lemon juice, or oranges.  
  • Fruits. Blackberries, peaches, and strawberries are my favorites.
  • Spices. Ginger and turmeric can be great additions to black unsweet tea. Try using just a smidge of black pepper with the turmeric. It will really bring the flavor out. 
looking down into a glass of tea from the top

How to make unsweet tea taste better without sugar 

Unsweet tea can be a little finicky. Luckily I have some tips that will end you with the tastiest tea possible. 

  • Try the cold brewing method. It really does take away a lot of that bitterness that you often find in hot brew tea. 
  • Use filtered water. Icky tap water can ruin a cup of tea. Do yourself a favor and start with filtered water. 
  • Select quality tea. As with any recipe, it is essential to start with quality ingredients. So choose your tea wisely. Select organic products where possible. Lipton tea bags just aren’t really what you want, but do what suits you.

Can you over-steep tea?

When using the cold brew method, it is difficult to over-steep. The tea will naturally stop steeping after about 5 days. So go ahead and let it sit for a while in the fridge.

After a week, however, I suggest tossing it and making a new batch as the flavor will start to get funky. 

If you opt for hot brew tea, don’t brew for longer than 3-5 minutes. You will end up with a bitter flavor. 

How long is unsweet tea good for? 

Unsweet tea is perfectly consumable for up to 1 week if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. So make a batch on Sunday night and enjoy it throughout the week. 

a glass of unsweet tea with condensation on the glass

Keep you tea from getting diluted

If you can think ahead, freeze some of your tea as ice cubes and drop them into your glasses before serving.

On a hot day, the cubes will melt but not dilute the flavor of your tea!

What do southerners serve with unsweet tea?

Here are some of my favorites:

glasses of tea on a table with lemon and mint

Smooth Unsweet Tea

Skip the syrupy sweet stuff and enjoy a smooth, easy to make glass of unsweet tea.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Steeping time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 6 cups
Author Rachel Ballard


  • 6 cups water filtered preferred
  • 6 black tea bags
  • lemons, mint, or honey optional for serving


To use loose leaf tea, you’ll need about 1 ounce of loose tea leaves to each gallon of water. Use a large tea infuser if possible. 


Serving: 1cupSodium: 12mgCalcium: 7mg
Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Keyword unsweet tea

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About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.