Not being a tea drinker, the question, when ordering iced tea, of whether it is “sweet or unsweet” has always confused me. Especially when the answer is, “No, we only have unsweet”, and the person I am with declines to get the iced tea. I have been met with horrified expressions when I ask, “Can’t you just put sugar in it?” Apparently this is a no-no for true sweet iced-tea drinkers.

This of course begs the question, why is unsweet tea with sugar added to it NOT the same, in the end, as sweet iced tea? What is the difference besides when the sugar is added? Is the ratio of sugar to tea different? Do they taste different? As it is National Iced Tea Day, I felt an obligation to find out more, and satisfy my own curiosity, and hopefully some of you who have also wondered the same thing will gain some insight!

The short answer seems to be when the sugar is added. In sweet iced tea, the sugar is added while the tea is steeping and hot so that the liquid contains dissolves all the sugar. And it is a lot of sugar, so it is very sweet. It is then served over ice, but already sweet. Unsweet iced tea obviously has no sweetener in it, is brewed, then chilled, and served over ice as well, and sugar can be added to it. Obviously, since the iced tea is cold, the sugar does not dissolve as well. Or, if you are thinking healthy, then unsweet ice tea is going to have less calories and carbohydrates than sweet ice tea, since there is no sugar unless you add it. Apparently, there is a big distinction in the southern parts between ‘iced tea’ and ‘sweet iced tea’ – iced tea being the plain tea that is chilled and served over ice and sweet tea being tea that is brewed, sweetened with sugar during the brewing, chilled and served over ice. There does seem to be a cultural divide about sweet vs. unsweet tea – in the southern parts of the U.S., people expect their iced tea to be sweet by default, and sweet tea to be iced. I’ve included an example of a recipe for sweet ice tea (it’s a process, and there are many recipes out there). Ingredients for this recipe are 12 tea bags, 1 cup of sugar, and 4 cups of water. As you can see, it’s a lot of sugar, so sweet iced tea is going to be really sweet.

Here’s a recipe for unsweet tea. You can see a couple differences already: the amount of tea, the amount of hot water for the steeping; the fact that cold water is added to the unsweet iced tea before chilling; and obviously the sugar. It’s just a ‘garnish’ for unsweet iced tea.

Still confused? Me too. It seems like a minor difference – i.e. when the sugar is added. But, it clearly is an affront to sweet tea drinkers to even suggest they just get unsweet iced tea and put sugar in it, which made me curious to explore the amount of sugar in sweet iced tea. I imagine it’s way more than would be added after the fact in unsweet tea, meaning sweet iced tea is very sweet due to the steeping with the dissolved sugar. The easiest way to do this was to compare different brands of bottled sweet iced tea and their grams of sugar. Thankfully I had a few sources I found that helped me out. Tejava, a tea company, did their own comparison, so I used their data and I also got data from Yardbarker. I then used the fx-9750GIII to calculate the grams of sugar per oz. Obviously, the unsweet tea’s were NOT included in my data. (Note: Tejava is not on the list because all their tea’s are unsweet options). I made a quick video of how I used the data with the fx-9750GIII so you could see how to enter data in the STATS menu and then do some calculations with the lists to get the Grams/Ounce and make some statistical plots as well.

#BrandProductContainer SizeGrams of SugarGrams/Ounce
1Pure LeafSweet18.5 oz42 g
2Extra Sweet18.5 oz65 g
3Organic Lemon 14.0 oz20 g
4Gold PeakSweet Black Tea16.9 oz44 g
5Slightly Sweet18.5 oz24 g
6Honest TeaJust a Tad Sweet16.0 oz15 g
7SnappleStraight Up Tea18.5 oz44 G
8Sorta Sweet18.5 oz21 g
9McDonaldsSweet Iced Tea16.0 oz21 g
10FuzeFlavored Teas12.0 oz19 g
11Sweet Tea12.0 oz25 g
12Burger KingSweet Iced Tea20.0 oz35 g
13NesteaSweet Flavored Teas16.0 oz24 g
14Slightly Sweet Black Tea16.0 oz22 g
15BriskLemon Iced Tea16.0 oz26 g
16Chick-fil-ASweet Iced Tea16.0 oz30 g
17Popeye’sSweeeet Iced Tea16.0 oz34 g
18LiptonSweet Iced Tea16.0 oz33 g
19SonicRegular Sweet Iced Tea14.0 oz37 g
20TazoSweet Iced Tea13.8 oz34 g
21Dunkin DonutsSweet Iced Tea16.0 oz39 g
22ArizonaLemon Tea23.0 oz72 g
23Green Tea16 oz.50 g
24HardeesSweet Iced Tea16.0 oz48 g
25BojanglesSweet Iced Tea16.0 oz50 g
26KFCSweet Iced Tea16.0 oz59 g