The Long Island Iced Tea Recipe and Its Many Variations

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The Long Island Iced Tea is a popular mixed drink that, despite its name, contains no tea. It is one of those mixed drinks that tastes good going down but can quickly sneak up on you. It's best to take it easy with this one.

Get Ready to Pour...

The LIIT's ingredient list is long, but the recipe is very easy to remember: five white distilled spirits (including orange liqueur), a shot of sour mix, topped with cola and served over ice

Essentially, the majority of the bar's well goes into the drink and some drinkers love it while others despise it. Whatever your view of the Long Island Iced Tea is, it is a popular drink and one that every bartender should know.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the spirits and sour mix into a collins glass with ice.
  2. Stir well.
  3. Top the glass off with cola.
  4. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Making a Better Long Island Iced Tea

The problem with the Long Island is that it is often made too strong. Many bartenders (professional and amateur alike) will over-pour the liquors. This not only makes the drink stronger, it also knocks the taste out of balance and reaches that point of too much booze (yes, there is such a thing).

On the other hand, if this drink is treated with respect and the person pouring keeps in mind that taste is more important than potency, the Long Island Iced Tea is a good drink.

Who Created the Long Island Iced Tea?

The story of the LIIT is as sordid as its ingredient list and the disputes in the stories may be clouded by the drink itself.

  • The 1970's credit for this concoction could go to Robert Bott, a bartender from Long Island.
  • The Prohibition-era story credits Charles Bishop, a 1930's moonshiner in (then dry) Tennessee.
  • Then there is the tale that the Long Island was an original drink of the T.G.I. Friday's franchise.

The truth is that we may never know the truth. It is entirely possible that Bishop made it and the drink was forgotten for a few decades until Bott remade it. At some point, the restaurant probably caught wind of it and claimed it as their own (it's been known to happen). Again, we just don't know.

Long Island Iced Tea Variations

Once you learn how to make the Long Island, you may want to try one of the many recipes that followed it. They are all very similar and constructed in the same manner, they simply replace an ingredient here or there.

Bartenders should know that a number of these drinks are just as popular as the Long Island. It will serve you well to at least have an understanding of what goes into each. They really are easy to remember if you do a little word association between the name and the ingredients.

  • Long Beach Tea - Everything in the Long Island, but the ​Cola is replaced with cranberry juice.
  • Miami Iced Tea - Peach schnapps is added to the Long Beach, the tequila is dropped, and lemon-lime soda adds a bit of sparkle.
  • Hawaiian Iced Tea - Using the Long Island recipe, top this drink with pineapple juice and skip the cola.
  • Electric Iced Tea - Blue curacao replaces the triple sec and the soda is switched out to lemon-lime soda. It's a brilliant blue drink.
  • Texas Tea - Simply add bourbon to the Long Island for an even more potent mix. Some people mistakenly refer to this as a Long Island, but whiskey is not included in the original (or accepted) recipe.
  • Raspberry Long Island Iced Tea - The original LIIT with raspberry rum and vodka and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.

Tip: The same theory can apply to any flavored spirits available. Pair like infusions (ie. vanilla vodka and rum with cola, passion fruit vodka and tequila with citrus soda) and don’t be afraid to use your own infusions. The possibilities are endless.

A few notes to help your memory:

  • Think “5 white spirits” then adapt the drinks to fit the descriptive name.
  • Sour mix is essential in most recipes. 
  • Lemon-lime soda (7-Up, Sprite, etc.) is used in those with fruit.
  • The Long Beach and the Hawaiian are the only two without soda (I associate that with the “healthy" lifestyle of both locations).
  • The Miami is the only one to drop one of the 4 base liquors (in this case, tequila).

How Strong is the Long Island Iced Tea?

The Long Island is actually a deceptive cocktail. The six liquors make it seem like it would be a strong drink, but if you do the math, they add up to just 2 1/2 ounces total.

If we were to use 80-proof liquors, a 60-proof triple sec, and top it with 2 ounces of soda, then it would be a relatively mild 16% ABV (32 proof) drink. That is about the same as a strong Rum & Coke.

The Problem Is the Over Pour

That is not to say that the LIIT cannot be a strong drink. If we get a zealous bartender who pours 1 ounce of each of the spirits and tops it with 1 ounce of cola (remember that ice takes up a lot of room), the drink would be 21% ABV (42 proof).

To put this into perspective, that is close to the average Corpse Reviver, a cocktail known for "waking the dead." Consider, too, that those cocktails average about 4 ounces and we've estimated our Long Island to be double that. You're drinking the equivalent of two Corpse Revivers in an hour (or less)!

The math proves that the Long Island can be a strong drink. This is also not taking into account the effect that so many types of liquor can have on your body. And people wonder why this drink is notorious for creating the worst hangovers!