How many calories are in a glass of sweetened tea?

Sweet tea is a popular beverage in many parts of the United States, especially in the South. It’s made by brewing black tea with sugar while it’s hot, which allows the sugar to dissolve completely. But with all that added sugar, many people wonder: how many calories are actually in a glass of sweet tea?

The number of calories in sweet tea can vary quite a bit depending on factors like the size of the glass, the amount of sugar used, and how it’s sweetened. But in general, a 12-ounce glass of sweet tea can contain between 120 and 200 calories. A larger 20-ounce restaurant-style sweet tea may have 300 calories or more.

Calories from Sugar

The main source of calories in sweet tea is added sugar. Table sugar, or sucrose, provides 4 calories per gram. So the more sugar added to the tea when it’s brewed, the higher the calorie count.

A standard 12-ounce glass of unsweetened black tea contains about 2 calories. But add 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of granulated white sugar, and the calorie count jumps to around 120 calories. Increase that to 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar and you’re looking at 240 calories for a 12-ounce glass.

How Much Sugar Is Added?

Typically, sweet tea is made using a simple syrup with a ratio of 1 cup of sugar dissolved into 1 cup of boiling water. This yields a very sweet concentrate that’s then mixed with chilled black tea at a 1:4 ratio (1 part syrup to 4 parts tea).

This amount of syrup adds about 200-225 calories to a 12-ounce glass of tea. Some restaurants sweeten their tea even more, resulting in over 300 calories per glass in some cases.

Other Sugars Like Honey or Agave

In addition to white sugar, other caloric sweeteners are sometimes used when making sweet tea:

  • Honey: 21 calories per teaspoon
  • Maple syrup: 52 calories per tablespoon
  • Agave nectar: 60 calories per tablespoon

While these liquid sweeteners are higher in calories per teaspoon or tablespoon compared to granulated sugar, they may be used in smaller amounts since their flavor is more concentrated. So the calorie counts end up being similar.

Brewing Methods and Tea Calorie Counts

Brewing black tea with sugar added while hot is the traditional way to make sweet tea. But there are some variations that alter the calorie counts:

  • Cold brewing: Steeping tea bags in cold water with sugar makes less concentrated tea with fewer calories (around 60-80 calories per 8oz).
  • Powdered mixes: Sweet tea powder like Lipton or Arizona adds 70-80 calories to 8 ounces of tea.
  • Bottled teas: Sweet bottled tea like Pure Leaf contains 60-90 calories per 8oz serving.

So while freshly brewed hot tea sweetened with simple syrup contains the most calories, some lower calorie options are available.

Glass Size and Calorie Differences

The standard serving size for sweet tea is often considered 12 ounces. But sweet tea is frequently served in larger glasses and cups at restaurants across 16, 20, 24, or even 32 ounces.

This table shows how the glass size affects the calorie count, assuming around 200 calories in a 12-ounce glass:

Glass Size Calories
12 oz 200
16 oz 267
20 oz 333
24 oz 400

As you can see, a jumbo 32-ounce sweet tea from a restaurant may contain over 500 calories! It’s smart to opt for a smaller 12-16 ounce portion to keep your calorie intake under control.

Tips for Ordering Lower Calorie Sweet Tea

  • Ask for a 12 or 16-ounce glass.
  • Request light or half sweetness.
  • Add extra ice to water it down.
  • Flavor with lemon, mint, or a splash of fruit juice.

Calories from Added Cream or Milk

Some people enjoy adding a splash of cream, milk or non-dairy creamer to sweet tea. This slightly dilutes the tea’s sweetness but also tacks on additional calories:

  • 2 tablespoons half & half: 46 calories
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk: 17 calories
  • 2 tablespoons non-dairy creamer: 35 calories

So a 12-ounce glass of sweet tea with 2 tablespoons of half & half contains around 250 calories total.

Lower Calorie Creamer Options

To lighten sweet tea without adding too many extra calories, try these options:

  • Skim or low-fat milk
  • Light non-dairy creamer
  • Unsweetened almond or oat milk

Calories from Added Flavorings

Sweet tea is sometimes jazzed up with fruit flavors or spices, which contribute additional calories:

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice: 4 calories
  • 1 tablespoon peach syrup: 52 calories
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin spice syrup: 45 calories

Going light on flavored syrups or sticking with low-calorie lemon can help keep the calorie count down.

Calories Compared to Other Sweetened Drinks

Sweet tea has a calorie count similar to many other sugary bottled beverages. Here’s how it compares per 12-ounce serving:

  • Sweet tea: 120-200 calories
  • Coca-cola: 140 calories
  • Gatorade: 130 calories
  • Starbucks bottled Frappuccino: 190 calories
  • Arizona Iced Tea: 165 calories
  • Snapple Lemon Tea: 150 calories

Water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, and other zero-calorie beverages are always the lowest calorie options. But sweet tea can be a tastier alternative if portion sizes are controlled.

Tips for Consuming Fewer Calories

  • Opt for water or unsweetened tea first
  • Treat sweet tea as an occasional indulgence
  • Order the smallest size available or share a larger glass
  • Ask for reduced sweetness
  • Avoid adding milk, cream, or extra flavorings

The Bottom Line

Sweet tea can contain anywhere from 120 to 300+ calories per glass depending on factors like:

  • Glass size
  • Amount of sugar used
  • Additions like cream or flavorings

Sticking with a 12-16 ounce serving and avoiding overly-syrupy varieties or additions can keep the calorie count reasonable. Sweet tea is a delicious southern tradition, but it’s healthiest consumed in moderation.

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