Restaurant vs. Homebrewed Unsweet Iced Tea
September 15, 2010 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Why does restaurant (unsweetened) iced tea taste so much stronger and better than the homemade kind? How can I make my iced tea taste more restaurant-quality

Long-time iced tea drinker (raised in the South). Always drink unsweetened tea. Why does restaurant unsweetened iced tea taste so good (specifically, chains like McDonald's, Wendy's) and really well-brewed as opposed to the homebrew kind? What's the secret? Are they adding something to the unsweetened tea, or is it just a brewing process?
posted by Dukat to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Every restaurant I have worked in uses a drip method for making iced tea. It comes in bags, you put the filter in, and then you turn the machine on. It doesn't steep like teabags and the volume of tea leaves is maybe 2x what I would have used at home.
posted by Tchad at 10:36 AM on September 15, 2010

a drip method for making iced tea

DON'T try to replicate this by using your coffee maker, unless you buy a new coffee maker that has never had coffee in it.
posted by CathyG at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the homebrew, I've switched to Twinings Cold Brew Ice Tea. Easy peasy with just a cold glass of water, and you don't have to set out to make an entire pitcher beforehand. It really is a minor miracle, esp. at work. Quality stuff.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2010

My parents are both iced tea addicts (unfortunately sweetened, but they've been gradually cutting down the amount of sugar over the last few years, so that's good). My mom used to make sun tea (tea bags in a large glass jar of water, steeped outside in the sun for several hours), but switched methods for expediency.

She now brews her tea (I'm not sure how many tea bags she uses per pitcher, but she just uses the regular old Lipton stuff) in a coffee maker. I don't know if it's the temperature the water gets to or what, but it makes for a much more concentrated flavor and tastes just like the industrial-brewed tea you get at restaurants and such.
posted by phunniemee at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2010

To replicate the brewing process -- because I, too, like my iced tea, to have some flavor when unsweetened, in my iced tea pot brewer, I put in a coffee filter in the chamber where you put the tea bags -- which causes it to steep longer/stronger.

It can be messy, but it works.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2010

I let mine soak overnight in the refrigerator. I use 3-4 bags per carafe.
posted by milarepa at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2010

I guess, I was assuming, also, that you were using one of these rather than the sun tea or any other brewing method, but based on response, I'd forgotten that there were other ways. I'm just so in love with my Iced Tea Maker and my family's been using it for decades.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:42 AM on September 15, 2010

I've had the opposite experience - my home-brewed iced tea is usually much stronger-flavored than chain stores, which generally tastes like water to me.

Here's my process: 3 tbl. loose-leaf tea to 32-oz of boiling water, steep for at least 4 minutes (we let it sit for 20 min once with no negative effects) and filter (I use my french press) over about the same the volume of ice - keep adding ice to dilute to preference and leave in the fridge.
posted by muddgirl at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use two bags of very strong Assam tea per pitcher, steep them in a little boiling water for less than five minutes, then dilute this dark brew with ice and fresh cold water. Steep too long and it gets bitter. Use one bag, it's not strong enough.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2010

I don't know what the chains do, but I make delicious iced tea.

(1) Make good tea.
... Warm up your teapot or covered infuser cup.
... Bring water to the right temperature for your tea (boiling for black tea).
... Add double the normal amount of loose tea to teapot (2-3 tsp per cup).
... Steep for as long as you're supposed to (3-5 mins for black tea).
(2) Pour over a bunch of ice and stir.

(Optional step 1.5) Add lemon, honey, whatever.

This is the same as good hot tea, except made double strength, then diluted some on ice. Using loose tea and keeping things hot (using a pre-warmed covered pot) make a huge difference.
posted by domnit at 10:47 AM on September 15, 2010

Mine tastes just like restaurant tea too, and my method is embarrassingly easy. Use 8-10 tea bags of cheap black pekoe tea (I use Bromley Estate's cheap and delicious) and boil a few (3 or 4) cups of water in a kettle. Put the tea bags into a large plastic pitcher, and pour the few cups of boiling water in. Let the bags steep for only about 10 seconds or so....the longer they steep, the more bitter the tea. Squeeze the bags, take them out. You've now got a pitcher filled 1/4 of the way up with concentrated tea. Now fill the pitcher with 3/4 with ice, stir. The tea is now icy cold, fill the pitcher the rest of the way with water.

On preview: basically just what CunningLinguist said, with a lot less words.
posted by iconomy at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2010

My two tips are don't steep too long and don't wring out the tea bags. Both of those will make your tea more bitter.
posted by advicepig at 11:01 AM on September 15, 2010

If they're selling a bunch, it is probably really freshly made - that makes a big difference to me.

I also use the Mr. Coffee iced tea maker, and I notice that it tastes better than when I make sun tea or use another method. I also notice that "better" teas usually don't make great iced tea - and Luzianne teabags made for iced tea or whatever are actually pretty good.

You might ask over at Chowhound, someone there might have some good ideas.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:24 AM on September 15, 2010

My Keurig Platinum brewer makes awesome iced tea by the glass -- the Celestial Seasonings Black Iced Tea pods are good and taste plenty strong like restaurant tea. The Keurig also does nice hot or iced coffee and hot chocolate too!
posted by justonegirl at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2010

Here's how my very southern grandmother taught me to do it. It's her fault I drink unsweetened now...

1) I use 6 family size bags of Tetley decaf tea. (Have a favorite brand? Like more caffeine in your life? Insert it all here. If you don't buy the big tea bags, you'll need to double the amount. Prefer loose tea? I can't help you, sorry, but I promise they use tea bags at Wendy's.)
2) Put bags in 1 quart of water, and bring to boil slowly. (I turn the burner to 1/4 power, followed by 1/2 power ten minutes later, followed by full power ten minuted after that).
3) One barely boiling, turn it off. This is important, don't bring it to a full boil. Ever. My grandmother will shake a spoon at you if you do.
4) When you can comfortably stick a finger in the tea, fill a gallon pitcher 1/2 way with ice cubes. 5) Pour tea in pitcher (don't forget to squeeze bags!) fill pitcher rest of way with luke-warm water and stick in fridge. After one hour, stir, drink.

You are all but guaranteed rich, strong tea with this method.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:27 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

At the restaurant where I work we make lots of tea (sweet and un) every morning. Basically we take three large Lipton tea bags (like the jumbo size) and pour over them three quarts hot water. Then we let the tea bags sit in there for...maybe 15 minutes? Just until the color looks right. We then take the tea bags out, pour the tea concentrate into a larger container and add cold water (I'm not sure exactly how much but I'd say roughly 4 or 5 quarts.) So, maybe you can experiment with brewing very concentrated tea and adding cold water after....worth a try...
posted by tacoma1 at 12:29 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: WOW, thank you all for your suggestions! I had thought there were way too many NE'ers on here! I can't wait to try out all these suggestions!
posted by Dukat at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2010

The restaurant I worked in many years ago used Celestial Seasons Lemon Zinger for iced tea. We'd make it in big batches by putting numerous large tea bags into 2 gallon jugs that went into the walk-in cooler. They were steeped this way typically overnight when the next shift would pull them out as needed. Since then, I've done it the same kind of way...lots of tea bags in a big container and into the fridge. It's easy to tweak the flavor by adding different varieties of teas either by mixing a few bags in for a subtle flavor or lots for stronger flavor.
posted by pappy at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2010

I am about to rock your world.

I have been drinking iced tea forever, but I noticed the same thing when I made it; it just wasn't quite as robust, smooth and good as some teas I would order at certain restaurants.

I recently stumbled onto this amazing recipe for tea that includes an ingredient I had never heard of in tea: a pinch of baking soda. It removes the slightly bitter edge from the tea and allows you to brew it stronger and wow. It's unbelievable! Highly recommended.
posted by dozo at 2:25 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

My assumption is that everything in those places is based on fakery and that while you'll get great iced tea from the suggestions here, it won't be like McDonald's because their food isn't real.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:34 PM on September 15, 2010

I think MCMikeNamara has the right idea...I have this ice tea maker and it has changed my life...seriously. I never drank iced tea at home because it just wasn't the same as the restaurant regardless of what I did, but now we have iced tea almost constantly. Setting it on the strong brew setting and putting 3-4 tea bags in with a coffee filter makes it taste just like the restaurant tea. And as another bonus, it takes <15 minutes and absolutely no work to make a whole pitcher.
posted by kro at 5:05 PM on September 15, 2010

please pretend that I know how to use tags, thanks.
posted by kro at 5:06 PM on September 15, 2010

I almost asked this question myself a year ago, then I decided to buy the aforementioned Mr. Coffee iced tea maker on a whim. I love it. Love love love. I don't use ice because I don't have an automatic ice maker, and it works just fine with water + fridge time. No more underbrewed or nasty bitter overbrewed concoctions, just perfect restaurant-style iced tea!
posted by Gable Oak at 7:12 PM on September 15, 2010

« Older Help me appeal unreasonable out-of-network charges   |   What the gmail is going here? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.