Going back to my roots with Sweet Tea Vodka

Ya’ll may have noticed that I say “ya’ll” sometimes. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is that I grew up in the south (duh?).

But, it’s more nuanced than that. I’m a special combination of north east coast asshole (I come by this honestly, since the rest of my family is from there and basically just funneled it down through the generations) AND southern passive aggression – but aside from that, all I really have to show for my first 20 years in the south (other than the passive aggression), is an obsession with sweet tea and liberal use of “ya’ll.”

Unfortunately, my obsession with sweet tea tragically went down the shitter with my pancreas. I still mourn sometimes when I pass a Cracker Barrel or Chik-Fil-A (cause those are the only places in Colorado that sell it, FYI), and have to find another way to satisfy my desire to drink a bucket of sugar (usually Coke Zero does the trick in a pinch, not that I’m encouraging drinking diet Coke products or a bucket of sugar).

So when a coworker recently challenged me to tackle Sweet Tea Vodka, I thought, YA’LL, BRING IT ON.

Sweet Tea Vodka is best known for being purchased (and often can be drunk) as-is; a lot of folks know the brand Firefly, and there’s a couple of moonshine versions out there, too. It kinda doesn’t matter what form they come in… they’re REALLY FUCKING GOOD. But, dear diabetic friends, you know why? Cause they have a bucket of sugar in them, just like their namesake. And this is where our story turns a corner.

Some online research reveals that there are actually a few different ways to make this beverage, providing some flexibility in how one can infuse the tea flavor and sweeten the drink. The two core options are to: (1) infuse the tea flavor into the vodka itself, and then use it in different bases to mix up your flavors, or (2) make “sweet” tea, and then add vodka. So, I tried both.  I also tried a few different varieties of tea, as well as some low-sugar lemon-flavored bases, to see what created the best flavor combination. I have an opinion about what tasted the best for me, but you’ll have to try for yourself.


Tea-infused vodka

Vodka receiving its tea infusion

Option 1: Make Tea-infused Vodka

I plan to cover vodka infusions in a near-term post, so I’m not going to belabor the concept now. But, infusing vodka turns out to be so fucking simple I’m amazed more people don’t do this.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups vodka (suggest you go for the good stuff, like along the Tito’s brand line of quality).
  • 3-4 tea bags (I used Luzianne decaf iced tea, but the brand/flavor is really up to you. Based on everything I read, going for a cold-brew style works best, and I also went for a decaf tea because I tend to drink in the latter part of the day and prefer not to be up all night as a result). If you’re using family size tea bags, 3 is probably plenty.
  • Mason jar, or sealable glass container that keeps out air.

Directions

  • Put vodka and tea bags into glass jar and seal for 1.5 hours (it’s probably best if you time it, as it will just get intense to the point of bitter if left too long).
  • Stir once or twice if desired to ensure thorough mixing.
  • Remove bags (ok to gently squeeze out liquid from bags to make sure you got it all).
  • That’s literally it. Now you have tea-infused vodka.

 

Option 2: Make “Sweet” Tea (then add vodka)

There’s a right way to make sweet tea, according to every recipe I read. The tricks are to add your sweetener while steeping your tea (because using a simple syrup after the fact might water it down, so the tea IS the simple syrup), and adding a pinch of baking soda to the tea mixture to make it smoother (insert head exploding emoji here).

Ingredients

  • 4 cups distilled water
  • ~4 teabags (your call on how dark you want it to be, but 4 was the magic number for me)(and, like the note above… I used Luzianne decaf iced tea, but the brand/flavor is really up to you. Based on everything I read, going for a cold-brew style works best, and I also went for a decaf tea because I tend to drink in the latter part of the day and prefer not to be up all night as a result)
  • 1/2 cup Stevia crystals (use more or less depending on your preference for sweetness, but this seemed like a good medium ground for me). A note about this… if you decide to use a flavored tea, you may want to use less Stevia because it is likely already sweeter to begin with. This may require some experimentation.

Directions

  • Bring water to a boil in a pot
  • Stir in Stevia crystals and keep stirring until they have thoroughly dissolved
  • Take pot off the heat
  • Drop in your 4 tea bags (I debated whether it was necessary to point out that if they have wrappers on them, you should remove the wrappers first… and then remembered that my biggest issue as a diabetic is forgetting whether I’ve taken insulin 30 seconds after I take it, so here’s your reminder) and steep for approximately 5 minutes
  • Remove tea bags, squeezing them lightly to get liquid contents out if you’d like
  • Add a pinch of baking soda and stir in well
  • Pour into a pitcher or container to cool, then refrigerate


The "Sweet" Tea Vodka-ito

The “Sweet” Tea Vodka-ito

In Which to Use Your Tea-infused Vodka: The “Sweet” Tea Vodka-ito (~3 carbs)

This is the best recipe I could find that takes advantage of the tea-infused vodka concept. It’s a little Arnold Palmer meets boozy but classy lady… never mind.

I’ll note that I did not create this concept from scratch myself; it’s based off an existing recipe I tweaked a little to make lower sugar.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz tea-infused vodka (use a nice vodka for this; none of that Smirnoff shit)
  • 4 oz Minutemaid Light Lemonade
  • Quarter of a fresh lemon
  • 4-5 pieces of fresh mint
  • Seltzer water
  • Liquid Stevia
  • Ice
  • A mason jar to put this in, because it would be sacrilegious if you drank this out of anything else

Directions

  • Squeeze lemon into your mason jar, and add the mint leaves. Add a dash of liquid Stevia. Mash all three together, ideally with a masher or the bottom of a spoon or something if you don’t have a masher.
  • Add vodka and lemonade and mix well.
  • Add ice to fill glass.
  • Top any remaining space with seltzer water.

 

In Which You Use Your “Sweet” Tea, Three Alcoholic Ways (carb count will vary depending on mixer)

There’s frankly like 100+ ways you can use your sweet tea as a base for a mixed beverage, but this specific post is about vodka so I’ll stay focused and get you started with some ideas.

Ingredients:

  • “Sweet” tea
  • 1.5 oz vodka (again, use the good stuff here)
  • Quarter of a fresh lemon
  • Ice
  • A mason jar to put this in, because it would be sacrilegious if you drank this out of anything else
  • Options for a flavored ingredient that pair nicely with tea:
    • Peach bitters
    • Another 0.5 oz of blueberry-infused vodka (I used my own infused vodka, but there are lots of options out there)
    • Pomegranate liqueur (I like the Pama brand)

Directions:

  • Fill a mason jar with ice. No, a MASON JAR. Seriously, nothing else will do.
  • Pour “sweet” tea mixture into glass until it is about 2/3 full
  • Add vodka
  • Squeeze in the quarter lemon
  • Add your flavor choice.
  • Mix well. If glass is not completely full, add more tea until full.
  • Drink on a porch somewhere with the sound of grasshoppers and peeper frogs.

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