|Illustration by TL Ary|
If you’re reading this in June — Happy National Iced Tea Month. For the uninformed majority, the Tea Council of the USA made this declaration in 1992. And why not celebrate? With last year’s $1.5 billion sales splash, ready-to-drink iced tea has grown nearly tenfold over the last eight years.
The thirst-quencher was an instant success when it was created at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair by Richard Blechynden, a tea merchant, who decided to dump ice into his product after literally being unable to give it away during a summer heat wave. However, it wasn’t until the early ’90s that prepackaged iced tea went designer, thanks to broad availability, creative marketing, convenient packaging and unique flavoring by innovative companies such as Snapple and AriZona, in addition to the rise of coffeehouses serving all manner of nonalcoholic brews. Now that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have joined in the act (distributing Nestea and Lipton’s iced tea, respectively), and with numerous indie tea-on-the-rocks brands popping up, you can’t shake a stick in the beverage section of a convenience store or supermarket without knocking over the stuff.
Our staff of drinkers sacrificed much sleep — after all, the average tea contains at least half the caffeine of coffee — to sample virtually every variety of the summer cooler available in individual-sized, ready-to-drink standard glass bottles, as well as the occasional plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Taking quenchability, sweetness level and tea/fruit flavor into consideration, we rated each product on a 10-point scale. Our results:
AriZona Green Tea With Ginseng and Honey is lightly sweetened and powered by the Chinese herb reputed to enhance one’s energy, especially when it comes to, well . . . (giggle, giggle). Rating: 8.
AriZona Honey Lemon Iced Tea has a clean, lemony fragrance, but the honey is hardly noticeable. Rating: 8.
AriZona Iced Tea With Ginseng Extract goes down like water — smooth but bland. Rating: 6.
Unless you have a sweet tooth, AriZona Original Lemon Iced Tea could stand to cut down on the corn syrup. Rating: 5.
AriZona Iced Tea With Raspberry Flavor is a tart quencher that turns up the juice. Rating: 9.
Cool From Nestea’s brand name sounds like “nasty,” which amply describes this excessively sweetened, acidic beverage. Rating: 1.
Hello, flavor, are you in there? It’s nice that Hansen’s Iced Tea Blueberry Raspberry is only 10 calories, but we’d prefer a little taste-bud sensation. Rating: 3.
Hansen’s Iced Tea Original is a typical, lemon-flavored tea, but the lack of caffeine gives it a strange undertaste. Rating: 6.
Hansen’s Iced Tea Wild Berry has a slight fruit aftertaste, but is too watery. Rating: 7.
Hansen’s Natural Iced Tea Tropical Peach is extremely subtle with a nice peach aroma, but nothing we’d rush to guzzle. Rating: 7.
Surprisingly, Lipton Brisk Diet Lemon’s aspartame aftertaste tames the high artificial-sweetener content. Rating: 3.
How Lipton Brisk Sweetened With Lemon became the nation’s best-selling iced tea, we’ll never fathom. The fruit-juice-free drink is too syrupy-sweet and acidic to be refreshing. Rating: 1.
Lipton Brisk Raspberry, with its high volume of sweetness and citric acid, tastes like flat Dr. Pepper. Rating: 1.
Lipton’s Iced Tea Green Tea With Honey’s delicate, real-brewed aroma hits the spot, but the payoff is its lip-smacking honey aftertaste. Rating: 10.
For those willing to make a sacrifice to squeeze into a swimsuit this season, Lipton’s Iced Tea Diet Lemon’s smooth brewed flavor is barely hindered by the tiniest hint of aspartame. Rating: 8.
If you think we were displeased with Lipton’s Iced Tea Peach (see below), imagine how we feel about Lipton’s Iced Tea Diet Peach, with an added aspartame aftershock. Rating: 3.
They should fill the Brisk cans with the crisp, nourishing, brewed-to-perfection Lipton’s Iced Tea Lemon. Rating: 10.
Lipton’s Iced Tea & Lemonade winningly combines tangy lemonade with soothing, brewed tea. Rating: 9.
Lipton’s Iced Tea Peach is naturally flavored, but it tastes less like a peach than it does like the unnaturally fruit-flavored chewable vitamins our mothers forced us to consume. Rating: 4.
Lipton’s Iced Tea Raspberry contains brewed tea with a savory raspberry bouquet that goes down easy. Rating: 10.
Lipton’s Iced Tea Unsweetened No Lemon is reminiscent of plain teas served at restaurants. Add a couple of packets of sugar and a twist of lemon, and it’s an 8+; on its own . . . Rating: 5.
To proclaim yourself a tea connoisseur who’s into A Little Taste of Heaven Redleaf Herbal Tea Kiwi-Strawberry is akin to drinking wine cooler and bragging you’re into hard liquor. The fruit juice is so overwhelming, it borders on being a full-fledged juice beverage. Rating: 9.
A Little Taste of Heaven Redleaf Herbal Tea Lemon is as refreshing as its namesake, but put on a blindfold and you’d guess it’s lemonade. Rating: 10.
A Little Taste of Heaven Redleaf Herbal Tea Mango may be more at home in a juice bar, but whatever you want to call it, the ginseng-laden drink is a tart, tangy delight. Rating: 10.
We’re running out of ways to say A Little Taste of Heaven Redleaf Herbal Tea Raspberry tastes more similar to fruit juice than tea. If you need a ginseng fix but dislike tea flavor, the cane-sugar-sweetened thirst-quencher is, well, heaven sent. Rating: 8.
Unlike its fruity siblings, A Little Taste of Heaven Redleaf Herbal Tea Unsweetened Peach is a light-tasting, no-calorie refresher that tastes like tea. Rating: 9.
If sweetness is your weakness, Panthai Thai Tea’s creamy, sumptuous flavor will have you screaming “uncle.” Rating: 10.
Pure Nestea Iced Tea’s brand name sounds like “nice tea,” a fine description of the clean-tasting, natural-lemon-flavored thirst-buster. Rating: 9.
Snapple Diet Peach Ice Tea’s fresh, fruity flavor is as peachy keen as its zero calories. Rating: 9.
Snapple Green Tea With Lemon, though refreshingly tasty, is much more lemon-flavored than traditional green tea. Rating: 9.
Snapple Herbal Ginseng Tea adds spice to your quencher consumption, along with a sweet, plumlike aroma. Rating: 9.
Truly “the best stuff on Earth,” Snapple Lemon Iced Tea has the right amount of tea, lemon and sweetener to satisfy the most finicky drinker among us. Rating: 10.
Snapple Lemonade Iced Tea’s mixture of tangy lemonade and brewed tea is nearly a success, but it’s a little sour. Rating: 7.
Snapple Lightning strikes with the rich, bold flavor of black tea, watered down and sweetened to appease the uninitiated. Rating: 8.
The light, semisweet Snapple Moon is a decent green tea, but not as spectacular as its snazzy vaselike bottle suggests. Rating: 7.
Snapple Peach Iced Tea tastes so succulently fresh, you’ll swear there’s a peach in the bottle. Rating: 10.
A soothing aroma and bursting fruit flavor make Snapple Raspberry Iced Tea taste berry, berry good. Rating: 10.
Snapple Sun Tea brightened our day with its delicate, honeylike sweetness. Rating: 10.
SoBe Black Tea 3G’s thick, ultrabold flavor is an acquired taste that we, unfortunately, have yet to acquire. Rating: 5.
SoBe Green Tea 3G is very soft on the tongue, topped off with a hibiscus aftertaste. Rating: 8.5.
SoBe Oolong Tea 3G has a mellow, herbal flavor that’s a pinch too watery. Rating: 7.
Sweetness and spice and a citric fragrance that’s nice, that’s what the fiery SoBe Red Tea 3G is made of. Rating: 10.
SoBe Zen Blend Triple Ginseng Tea, with its strong orange-ginger kick, is comparable to an invigorating, noncarbonated ginger ale. Rating: 9.
Suntory’s Oolong Tea Premium Iced Tea Lemon Sweetened’s dull, semi-fermented fragrance is strictly for purists. Underwhelming. Rating: 5.
If you squeezed a raspberry over tap water, it would almost taste like the faintly flavored Suntory’s Oolong Tea Premium Iced Tea Raspberry Sweetened. Rating: 5.
Tribal Tonics Energy Elixir, a peach-mango green tea, wouldn’t be bad if its tangy flavor weren’t disrupted by the overpowering guarana-berry extract. Rating: 5.
Grapefruit and green tea don’t mix: a painful lesson courtesy of Tribal Tonics Herbal Slimmer. Rating: 3.
Tribal Tonics Immune Boon proves “all natural” isn’t always good. Rather than yummy, artificially sweetened ginger (as in ale and bread-man), sipping the ginger-lemon green tea is comparable to biting raw ginger (as in the pungent, subterranean stem). Rating: 2.
Raspberry-tangerine green tea Tribal Tonics Mental Refresher supposedly replenishes your mind; unfortunately, its thickness and clashing flavors don’t do the same for your thirst. Rating: 4.
The tribe finally gets it right with Tribal Tonics Relaxation Cocktail, an island-peach-flavored green tea with scrumptious doses of cane sugar and real juice. Rating: 9.
While we’re leery of iced teas in aluminum cans and plastic bottles because they’re usually vile, watered-down syrup geared toward soda junkies (i.e., Cool From Nestea and Lipton Brisk), the tantalizingly tart, brewed Very Fine Chillers Iced Tea With Lemon showed us the error of our prejudice. Rating: 8.
L.A. in the summer of ’69
I went down and bought me some wine
Oh, I drank it down, under the table
I said, “Watch me now, I’m gon eat the label!”
Well, I’m a wino-man
Don’t you know I am?
whose music career started in L.A.
(“Wonderful Wino,” 1976)