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How Do You Really Make a Long Island Iced Tea?

By David T. Valentin

With the summer heat upon us in full force a lot of us are rushing out to our local bars, fancy roof top bars, or cozy street vendors to get our fix of some of our summer drinks. Whether it be a mojito, a long island iced tea, a malibu bay breeze or whatever! Let’s be real with each other: those drinks are expensive, and sometimes they’re not all that great.

Sure, there’s a lot of thought that should go into some of these cocktails, but if you’re at a busy bar most bartenders aren’t going to take the time to correctly measure out a long island iced tea to mix it to the best it could be, nor might they have the freshest mint for that refreshing taste for your mojito. Chances are you’re getting something too sweet with barely any alcohol and if you’re paying $12 to $15 dollars for a drink, you’re going to want to feel that buzz.

So, I propose grab a few of your friends, crank up the a/c, step out onto your apartment balcony or your backyard and make those damn drinks yourself. I know, I know. You might look up, say, the recipe for a long island and think, “What the hell?! Five different bottles of liquor. No way!” Simple and easy solution purchase the liquor and all the little other fancy ingredients and just split it among your friends. Chances are, if you’re hanging out with the same five people, you and that group of friends are going to be the only ones drinking those bottles anyway.

Today we’re going to be focusing on the long island iced tea, a somewhat complicated recipe that I promise once you try it at least once you’re going to be doing this recipe in your sleep.

The Long Island Iced Tea

Chances are you were hanging around in a bar and one of your friends ordered a long island iced tea. They tell you it’s got five different liquors, and the best part? You’ll hardly taste it! So you’re feeling bold that night. You hobble on over to the bartender and you say, “I’ll take a long island!” it’s about $15 dollars, but you’re looking to get whacked off of one drink so it must be worth it.

Finally, that fizzy little drink hits the bar, you pick it up and take a swig. Next thing you know, you’ve got a mouthful of sweet-and-sour mix and a sharp taste of tequila rolling down your throat. “Never again!” you screech.

But a homemade one? I got you.

Things You’ll Need

All great recipes start with great ingredients. Here are the few things you’ll need:

1oz of gin

1oz of tequila

1oz of triple sec

1oz of vodka

1oz of white rum

Fresh lemons

Simple syrup

A bottle of coke

Wedged ice or regular ice

Optional ingredient(s):

Orange slices

Lime slices

Lemon slices

Pineapple-mango Tropicana juice

Now you might be looking at the recipe card and think, “You’ve talked so much about this sugary sweet-and-sour mix. Where’s that?” and I say, to hell with that nasty shit. Chances are when dealing with any store-bought mixer it’s going to be a mouthful of sugar. The flavor isn’t going to be balanced in your cocktail and, quite frankly, you’re going to still taste all five of those alcohols at once. If you’re into that, you’re a psycho. Luckily, most people aren’t.

As a replacement to the store bought sweet-and-sour mix, I use fresh squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup mix. Now it might seem like that takes extra time to make the drink, but if you’re having a few friends over, chances are you’re going to want to prepare ahead of time and that’s with any fresh cocktail ingredients.

For the lemon, a single bag should suffice, and you can use any basic squeezer. I have that generic one that’s in every store, you know, the yellow one that you’ve probably walked past a million times but now that I’ve pointed it out to you, you’re going to see it down probably almost every aisle. That takes care of the sour.

Now for the simple syrup, all you’re going to need is some sugar and some boiled water. I do a 2:1 ratio of water and sugar because I find a 1:1 ratio about too sweet for me. And especially since you’re using coke (or any other juice, and we’ll get to that in a minute), that adds even more sugar. The goal, at least for me when making a cocktail, is not to load It up with sugar so much. Sugar equals a hangovers and hangovers equal a bad next day and a bad experience with your chosen cocktail. We want to mitigate that as much as possible, people.

So, for your simple syrup, all you’re going to do is add four (4) cups of water in a pot, bring that to a boil and then add two (2) cups of sugar. Stir that around until the sugar dissolves, shut off the heat, store that in a bottle of some kind (I use those little cute retro milk bottles), shove it in a refrigerator to chill and then you’re done. Simple as that, no pun intended.

But simple syrup could get complicated, and I don’t mean in its recipe. It still comes down to boiled water and dissolved sugar, BUT you can add an extra flavor to the simple syrup by infusing it with flavor. If you really want to get crazy, to actually add some tea into a long island iced tea, when the water comes to a boil and before you add the sugar, add a few tea bags and steep that for however long the tea requires (for black tea it’s 5-3 minutes). I don’t have a specific amount of tea bags you can use because it really depends on how strong you want that black tea flavor. Same goes for how long you steep the tea. The longer you steep the tea, the stronger the flavor. But be careful not to steep your tea for too long or else you’re going to get a bitter flavor and we don’t want that. Your best bet, I think, would be four minutes on a rolling boil. Five minutes would be too bitter and too strong.

Tools You’ll Need

Some sort of shaker

A shot glass or jigger

A spoon


You might think you need some fancy bartending tools to make “fancy” cocktails, but you don’t. Everything you’ll need to ever make most of these fancy, complicated little cocktails are lying around in your house, easy peasy.

If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, you can always use a to go coffee cup or even a regular tumbler. Just pour the ice in, pour the alcohol, secure the lid and give it a few good shakes until it’s chilled. If you don’t have a to go coffee cup or any tumblers laying around, you can also use a standard pint glass and then find a glass that’s slightly wider than said pint glass. For this method, it’s possible that some liquid might leak out, but so long as you’ve secured the top then you should be fine.

For measurements you can use your everyday shot glass. Now, here’s the tricky thing about shot glasses. They do differ in size and therefore differ in measurement. The standard American shot is considered 1 ½ oz, or the long or bigger side of any jigger. Now, to blend your flavors well I strongly suggest using half a shot from your shot glass or if you do have a jigger use what’s called a pony shot—1 oz, rather than technically exactly half. Trust me, you might be tempted to use a full 1 ½ oz shot but even this recipe isn’t going to save the amount of alcohol you’re going to taste. So just stick with the 1 oz, or half shot.

As for the spoon, it is not for stirring the alcohol, or mixing it. Never, ever stir your long island iced teas because the flavors just aren’t going to blend. Plus, that’s the easy way that your least favorite bartender who makes shit long island iced tea gets away with on busy nights, so no stirring! The spoon is only to stir the coke, or whatever juice you add, in to the rest of the mix.

Time to Finally Make the Long Island

After reading that whole thing and wondering “where the hell is the recipe?” or reading it all and saying, “when the hell is he going to get to the point!” I promise, here’s the recipe! But trust me, these tips and tricks are going to help you make the perfect long island every time, I guarantee it. So, let’s get mixing.

First, make sure you have all your bottles lined up and caps already opened and make sure whatever ice it is you choose to use is ready to go. This will save you time. During the process. For a little trick that I do to keep track of what I put in already, I always put the bottles on the opposite side I started on because trust me, you don’t want to be doubling any of the alcohol in this recipe. Well, you can get away with a second shot of triple sec but other than that you’re going to regret it (and believe me, I’ve messed up my measurements while drunk and luckily nobody noticed because they were ALSO drunk).

Then you’re going to pour the ice into the glass/tumbler/travel coffee mug/shaker. Starting in no specific order, pour in the 1 oz of gin, 1 oz of vodka, 1 oz of rum, 1oz of triple sec, 1oz of 1 ½ oz of lemon juice and 1 ½ oz of simple syrup. I do 1 ½ oz of lemon juice and simple syrup to mask the flavor of the alcohol even more, especially the tequila as best I can, but you can get away with 1 oz of both.

Once everything is in, ice, alcohol, lemon juice and simple syrup and all, secure the lid of whatever you’re using and give that a GOOD shake. I don’t make just one or two shakes. I mean shake that for a good 20-30 seconds. Believe me, between the ice melting and the flavors blending, it both dilutes the alcohol a little, chills it, and blends all the flavors together.

Once you’ve got done shaking, you can do one of two things. If you’re in a rush you can pop the lid and pour the ice into a pint glass, or you can fill your serving glass with new ice and pour the liquid into that. Of course, if you’re shaking with a makeshift shaker, you’re not going to have the opportunity to make the switch, but honestly just between us it really doesn’t make a difference.

For your serving glass you can really use any tall glass of your choosing. The recommended glass for a long island is usually a collins glass, which is usually between 10-14 oz, but I find the collins glass to be a bit small for all the ingredients that go into the long island to also properly blend all the flavors together. Chances are if you’re using a collins glass, you’re skimping out on the coke, which means you’re going to taste a lot of alcohol. My preferred glass is an American pint glass, usually a precise 16 oz. Simply because if I don’t have wedged ice, I can get away with using cubed ice which isn’t all too bad considering the more ice, the more it dilutes and the more it blends.

Now that everything’s poured into your serving glass, top it off with coke. A little tip, start off with a little coke, take a sip, and then add a little more if needed because sometimes the coke makes it too sugary.

If you’re not into carbonated drinks like my friend, you can get a little wild and replace the coke with any juice of your liking. At that point, it won’t technically be a long island iced tea—just a bunch of alcohol mixed into some juice, but it still tastes great.

My secret little recipe is Tropicana’s pineapple-mango juice. The thing about pineapple juice is that 9/10 it will always mask any flavor of any alcohol. So, if you have a friend who absolutely HATES tasting any sort of alcohol in their mixed drinks like my sister does, I’d recommend using the pineapple-mango juice. Just be careful with how much you drink because once you add that juice, it’s going to go down straight like water, but I guarantee you it’s not coming back up like water.

It will make the drink sugarier, which does increase your chances of a hangover. But just drink a bit of water and you’re good to go.

To top it all off, slice either a lemon wedge, lime wedge, or orange wedge, cut a little slit into the fruit and then let that hang on the edge of your glass for presentation and an extra flavor. If you really want to get extra, find a toothpick, or purchase those fancy toothpicks with the umbrella on them, fetch yourself a maraschino cherry, cut up some wedges of all those little fruits, stick it on and hang it over the edge of your drink. Then slide in a little straw of your choosing (I use metal straws because they’re environmentally friendly, reusable and easy to wash. On top of all that, the metal keeps the drinker colder on the way up, ensuring that your drink stays fresh from cup to mouth).

Once you’re satisfied with the presentation of your drink, which I’d argue is just as important as the recipe you use, serve your drink to your guest and watch them be wowed.

After you get a taste of a fresh recipe of a long island iced tea with no icky sweet-and-sour mix, or poorly mixed alcohol, I promise you it’s going to be very hard to find a long island iced tea of your liking. If that becomes the case, stick to something simple like a vodka-cranberry. But I can guarantee you, once you try this recipe your friends are going to be begging you to make it again and again.


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