So, this is a Southern thing that you are hard pressed to find much outside of the south-eastern states of the US. (That is, until McDonald's introduced sweet tea to their menu. It is actually quite good!) Having been raised by Northerners/Midwesterners, sweet tea isn't something that we had at home, but between going to undergrad in Tennessee, marrying a guy from TN/GA, and going to grad school in Texas, I've learned that I like sweet tea. A lot.
Iced tea itself is pretty much an American drink. A friend in grad school told me about when her mom was visiting from Russia. They had gone out to eat, and her mom had ordered tea. The server brought her sweet tea. She was utterly surprised, and despite the outrageous Texas summer, insisted on hot tea. Cultural mis-communication? I think so.
I do enjoy unsweet iced tea, and sometimes, depending on my mood, actually prefer it . (Do I hear gasps from anyone?) Some restaurants make a killer sweet tea, some make it too sweet for my taste, or have so little call for it that it is over-steeped, bitter and stale by the time I order it. Or it is make through the coffee maker, and tastes like it (a lovely sensitivity I got from my dad).
Looking around, there are also an incredible number of recipes and variations on how to make sweet tea.
From my somewhat-limited experience in making sweet tea at home, I've learned that if there is one thing that is paramount it is to dissolve your sugar in hot liquid [steeped tea or water] before adding the ice and cold water.
Some places use a simple syrup, and add it to iced tea. Some places will dissolve the sugar in the bottom of the pitcher. Some places will use store-bought sweetened liquid, or a fake sugar b/c it dissolves more easily in cold liquid.
I prefer using real sugar. So, that is what I use.
Depending on your taste, any recipe you find will need to be tweaked. Assuming you like (1) iced tea, and (2) sweetened iced tea.
One recipe that I like goes something like this:
Put about 4-6 cups of water in a sauce pan, and add 3-4 tea bags. Bring to a boil. (Yes, bring to a boil with the tea bags in it. One of the things about this is I'm using Lipton's iced tea or Lusianne iced tea bags. Tasty iced, but not exactly the creme de la creme of teas.)
Keep an eye on it. It will be ready when the kitchen starts to smell like tea, and the liquid reaches a dark tea color, darker than you would normally brew it.
As this comes to a boil, pull our your pitcher, and pour about a cup of sugar in the bottom. More if you like it sweeter. My husband likes it a bit sweeter, so I usually end up adding a bit more.
When the tea on the stove is ready, pull it off, remove the tea bags (step-mother-in-law is able to get a couple of uses out of these tea bags), and pour hot liquid directly over the sugar, stirring to dissolve.
When the sugar is completely dissolved, you simply fill the rest of the pitcher with water and/or ice. It will still be a bit warm at first, which is where more ice can help.
Do y'all like sweet tea? Or do you find this a blasphemy against all things tea?