For most of the year, hot, black tea is my drink of choice. I can easily drink two pots of tea a day without even trying and I prefer getting a caffeine fix from black tea rather than strong coffee. I drink tea with breakfast, lunch, a few cups in the afternoon, etc. However, with the temperatures soaring here the past couple of weeks, I’ve turned to iced tea to meet my caffeine needs and help cool off. These recent forays into iced tea territory have my head spinning with all the iced tea choices out there. Now I know how the uninitiated feel when confronted with the myriad boxes of tea bags in the hot beverage aisle. Do I buy the cold brew tea bags, the powdered tea mix, sweetened, unsweetened, flavored? Naturally, I decided to put some of these choices to the test and compare the flavor of three different kinds of iced tea. Since I couldn’t possibly test every variety of iced tea that is available, I narrowed the choices down to three different kinds of lemon iced tea: powdered lemon tea mix, Snapple lemon iced tea, and homemade sweet tea made from cold brew iced tea bags. I know there are lots of other iced tea options out there and if any of you prefer to make your tea another way please tell me about it in the comments; this post is just scratching the surface of iced tea options! In particular, I am sure that there are bottled iced teas that taste much better than Snapple, but I wanted to test the most popular iced tea options and Snapple seems to be the most ubiquitous bottled tea.
In the past, I’ve made the recipe for Southern sweet tea from Dori Sander’s Country Cooking and I decided to make a modified version of her recipe using cold brew tea bags and little less sugar. On a side note, I highly recommend this cookbook, not only for the delicious, comforting recipes but also for her wonderful reminiscences about life growing up on a farm in the South. Her Blackberry Cobbler and Chicken and Meatballs with Little Noodles are some of the best comfort food recipes I have ever made. On to the comparison, below is my version of lemon sweet tea that was used in the iced tea comparison.
Lemon Sweet Tea
Makes 6 cups
6 regular size cold brew iced tea bags (not family sized)
6 cups cold water
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup simple syrup (recipe below)
1. Pour the cold water over the tea bags in a medium sized pitcher and leave to brew for about 5 minutes, or according to the package directions. Once the tea has reached the desired strength (depending on individual tastes) remove the iced tea bags from the pitcher and discard.
2. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup to the iced tea and stir well to combine. Store in the refrigerator until ready to drink. Serve poured over cups full of ice and garnish with twists of lemon peel or lemon slices, if desired.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.
There were four testers for this comparison and out of four people, three preferred the homemade tea, while one liked the tea made from the Lipton powdered mix. No one liked the Snapple tea best because it had an overly sweet taste and a strange, bitter aftertaste when tasted next to the other two options. The homemade tea had a light, refreshing flavor that was less sweet and less lemony than the other two varieties but had a stronger real tea flavor. The powdered tea was both sweeter and had a stronger lemon flavor than the homemade kind, but had a sort of fruit punch flavor rather than tasting like tea. This “punchy” flavor was even more pronounced in the Snapple tea and I couldn’t really taste a tea flavor at all, except maybe in a slight, unpleasant bitterness.
The homemade tea takes the longest to prepare but, with the use of cold brew tea bags, even homemade iced tea only takes about 10 minutes. I used a simple syrup to sweeten my tea since sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquids. Alternatively, if the tea was brewed from regular tea bags with hot water, one could skip the simple syrup step and just use plain sugar added while the tea is still hot, saving one step of preparation.
Bottom Line: Homemade iced tea has the strongest true tea flavor and has the advantage of lending itself to each person sweetening the tea to their liking. Powdered iced tea mix is the cheapest option and slightly more convenient than tea made from bags, while also tasting better than bottled iced tea such as Snapple.