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Iced Tea: Summer in a Glass

Tuesday, 23 October 2012 | Tags: , , ,

There's nothing like a tall glass of refreshing iced tea on a hot summer's day. If you don't have time to make your own, you can purchase the convenience of a pre-made iced tea mix. We put some popular brands up to an A&K taste test.

The Basics

  • Iced tea is served sweetened or unsweetened, traditionally with a lemon slice garnish.

  • Most iced tea mixes are made sweetened (no additional sugar required), and some are available in different flavours, including lemon, raspberry, peach, lime, and other fruity mixes.

  • Iced tea made from scratch is commonly made by brewing tea bags or leaves in boiling hot water, then cooling. Or tea is steeped at a lower temperature for a longer time (e.g. overnight).

  • Remember, even though it’s iced, whether you make your own or use powdered or ready-made, all black tea contains between 40-120 mg of caffeine per 8oz serving. 

Powdered (Instant) Iced Tea Mix

  • Instant teas are typically made from off-grade black tea, possibly with some green tea mixed in for colour and clarity (to reduce cloudiness created by some types of black teas).

  • Tea extract is concentrated under low pressure, and then dried to a powder through a process of freeze-drying, spray-drying, or vacuum-drying.

  • Instant tea may seem like a great convenience, but through the extensive processing and packaging, the health benefits normally experienced from regular tea are mostly lost.

  • Instant tea may also have unhealthy additives, like artificial sweeteners (aspartame), or lots of sugar, as well as BHA (a suspected carcinogen) for freshness. Instant teas may also have excessive amounts of flouride.

Ready-made Iced Tea

  • Available bottled or canned, ready-made iced tea can be found in most grocery and convenience stores near the soft drink section. They’re usually available in a variety of flavours.

  • Most mass-market ready-made iced teas are sweetened with corn syrup.

Sweet Tea

  • A style of iced tea common to the southern US, sweat tea is made by brewing tea and adding a large amount of sugar while still hot (in order to dissolve it), then diluting. 

  • Sweet tea can also be made with syrup instead of sugar. Sometimes baking soda is added to help reduce bitterness created by tea’s tannins.

  • Note: high fructose corn syrup is commonly used as a sweetener for commercially manufactured sweet teas, which are becoming popular.

Shopping Tips

  • Most instant and ready-made iced tea mixes are sweetened artificially. Be sure to check the labels for extra sweetener.

  • Avoid giving iced tea to children since it can contain a large amount of caffeine.

  • Look for iced teas that are BHA-free. (BHA is a suspected carcinogen and has been linked to organ toxicity.)

  • If you like a more lemony flavour, look for a tea that has citric acid high on the ingredient list. (However, some mixes may not even contain real lemon and will just use citric acid and artificial lemon flavour.)

  • For the least amount of additives and artificial ingredients, look for labels that say “no artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives.

TEST CRITERIA 

We set up an iced tea stand on a busy Vancouver street at the height of summer and asked 100 people to taste test four different brands of pre-made iced tea. Our test products:

  • Nestea Lemon Iced Tea Mix (powder): $6.99/kg (about 12 cents/cup)
  • Arizona Lemon Iced Tea Stix (powder): $2.99/box of 10 (about 15 cents/cup)
  • President’s Choice Lemon Iced Tea Mix (powder): $4.04/kg (about 10 cents/cup)
  • Tetley Infusions Liquid Iced Tea mix (liquid): $2.49/box of 6 (about 21 cents/cup)

Taste Test

  • Nestea: a couple of comments were “bland” and “bitter”, but in the end it earned 34% of the vote

  • Arizona:  tastes more like plain tea, more tart than Nestea. Earned only 9% of the vote

  • PC: more tea flavour coming through, nice aftertaste. Earned 24% of votes

  • Tetley: sweetest, and came in a very close second with 33% of the vote

OUR TOP PICK

After 100 testers, Nestea won out over Tetley by a squeeze. But if you have time, just make it yourself using tea bags and hot water. That way you can control the amount of sugar, and add any extra flavours (lemon, etc.) you like.

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