AskMe, where does unsweetened iced tea come from?
December 4, 2010 7:44 PM   Subscribe

What brand, flavor, or style of tea bags can I use to make unsweetened iced tea like the tea they sell at McDonald's or most other restaurants? What most closely replicates that flavor? This thread has a bunch of good info on brewing the tea. There are also mentions of Lipton, Twinings, Assam, Bromley Estate pekoe tea, but do those mimic the taste? Wikipedia says black tea? Thanks in advance!
posted by jroybal to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, two iced-tea questions in a row, and it's December.

Lipton, Tetley or store-brand equivalent comes fairly close. Make it kinda weak, and don't steep it too long.
posted by box at 7:50 PM on December 4, 2010

For iced tea, plain ol' Lipton is the way to go. Iced tea is not a fancy thing at all, and iced tea made with higher end brands, while still yummy in some cases, does not mimic the basic restaurant version you're looking for.
posted by somanyamys at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2010

At least in the UK, as of 2008: "McDonald's is today set to ditch sales of Tetley tea in favour of an environmentally friendly product from PG Tips in the fast food chain's latest effort to transform itself into the high street's champion for social responsibility. The food retailer will switch tea supply in its 1,200 UK outlets to Rainforest Alliance-certified PG Tips, a fair-trade brand owned by Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever. Tata Tea, which owns Tetley, has lost the contract."
posted by Houstonian at 7:55 PM on December 4, 2010

I think mcdonalds in the US uses Lipton tea. It should be the closest. Twinings is better tea but Lipton is the taste you're looking for.

The UK news above applies only to the UK, I think. McDonalds hasnt had Tetley tea here, and certainly not iced.
posted by mmoncur at 8:07 PM on December 4, 2010

In the US, most fast food places that serve tea are using Lipton. I brew iced tea all year long and I prefer Luzianne tea myself. Iced tea is traditionally made with Orange Pekoe tea, which is a grade of black tea.
posted by aristan at 9:12 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Okay, what you want is "Southern Iced Tea," and you're probably going to get about a hundred different methods of brewing it, but only you know which method you'll like best. Try them all!

Here's how my southern mother (born and raised in rural Mississippi) has made iced tea for most of my 40 years (and it's how I make it): get Lipton family-sized iced tea bags and put one in a microwavable 2-cup measuring cup and fill it up with water. Microwave it for 5 minutes. Let it sit for 2 minutes. Remove tea bag. Pour steeped tea into a 2-quart pitcher. Add up to 6 more cups of cold water, add sugar to taste. Keep it refrigerated or it'll start tasting off in a day or so.

I'm sure you'd get the same results by boiling the tea and water on the stove, I'm just not patient enough for it.
posted by cooker girl at 9:13 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up with Lipton's, and that's probably the closest standard "southern style" iced tea.

That said, an important difference for me is the fact that home-brewed iced tea is, well, brewed, whereas the iced tea you get at most major chain fast food places is actually a tea-flavored syrup combined with water, which comes from the soda fountain just like any other soda.

In my world, Lipton brewed double strength and poured over lots of ice is "real" iced tea, while McDonald's iced tea is just artificially flavored water.

If you really want to get something akin to what they serve at McD's, you want the Nestea they sell in bottles at the supermarket.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 PM on December 4, 2010

Oh, and my southern family's iced tea recipe is virtually identical to cooker girls, though we brew it on the stove and use 2 or 3 regular sized tea bags rather than the "family sized" bags.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lipton, Tetley or store-brand equivalent comes fairly close. Make it kinda weak, and don't steep it too long.

If you want stronger tea, add more tea bags instead of increasing the steeping time. Too much steeping yields bitter tea.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:27 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you really want to get something akin to what they serve at McD's, you want the Nestea they sell in bottles at the supermarket.

If we're talking literal McDonalds, and not McDonalds-as-fast-food-archetype, they brew their tea. It's not from the fountain, and it's not sweet unless you ask for their sweet tea, which is also brewed.

To answer the question, orange pekoe is what you want. Lipton is more common, Luzianne is more better.
posted by donnagirl at 9:43 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

posted by elsietheeel at 9:56 PM on December 4, 2010

At the same time you put the tea bags into the boiling water, add about an eighth of a teaspoon of baking soda. This (I've always been told) keeps the tea from tasting bitter when stored in the fridge.
posted by JanetLand at 10:50 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Born and bred Southerner here and we drink iced tea morning, noon, and night. My method is much like cooker girl and sara c.'s in that I use the microwave and a pyrex measuring cup to heat the water and brew the tea. My (totally unscientific) theory is that the tea tastes better because the water never actually boils. My tea of choice is Luzianne (which is marketed as "made for iced tea"), although I don't know if it's available outside the south. And if you're looking for sweet tea, we make it really sweet, about a cup of sugar per gallon. Although you can store the final product in the fridge, IMO it's best freshly made; just let it cool until room temp and then pour over a tall glass of ice. Perfection!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 11:17 PM on December 4, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, I'm looking to replicate the tea that is brewed at the restaurant, not tea-flavored syrup.
This is great--so far lots of votes for Lipton and a few for Luzianne, Tetley, orange pekoe, and one for Twinings. Between this thread and the one on brewing I linked to, I'll be doing lots of experimenting. Thanks all. Any other input?
posted by jroybal at 11:40 PM on December 4, 2010

Ugh, I missed your link in the actual question. I'm sorry.

I like cold brewing tea. It seems to keep it from tasting too astringent. And I don't bother with loose-leaf tea most of the time. Any bagged tea is okay.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:47 PM on December 4, 2010

I think some of the people who are from the Southern U.S. are getting confused. In the south, McDonald's serves what's known as "sweet tea" which is a horrid concoction of tea flavored syrup with loads of sweetener, probably corn syrup. From the sound of your question, I don't think that's what you want.

In the northeastern U.S., McDonald's serves plain unsweetened iced tea. It's just Lipton tea brewed with water.
posted by katyggls at 12:29 AM on December 5, 2010

Orange Pekoe is a designation of leaf size, not a flavor of tea. It means that very large or full-leaf pieces are used, as opposed to tinier pieces which carry grades like "broken orange pekoe", "fannings", or "dust".

However, most teas you see in the store that carry this label are in fact fannings or dust. The packaging is lying, so the term is meaningless inside the supermarket.

If you want good iced tea, I'd recommend ordering the loose leaf online from someplace like Upton Tea. Failing that, many of the British grocery store teas are better than stuff like Lipton - you could try looking in the international aisle at the store and picking up some PG Tips, Ty-Phoo, or Tetley.

Steep it in boiling water, about 3 grams of leaves per 12 ounces, or 1 bag per 8 ounces. More if you're going to add a lot of ice. Let it sit for 3-4 minutes, and then let it cool off in the fridge or add ice directly
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:50 AM on December 5, 2010

Tetley and Twinings and Lipton are all just brands - orange pekoe is a common blend, and if you just grab Tetley or Lipton off the shelf, you will probably be getting orange pekoe (although most store also carry Earl Grey and English Breakfast by the same brands). I think if you just stick with any orange pekoe, from anyone, it will taste how you like it. Not too much mystery here I think - brew it strong, but not too long. Add water to taste, add sugar to taste, add lemon to taste. Although, I have a feeling that you are looking for unsweetened, so either add no sugar, or just a little bit (I suspect even "unsweetened" has a small amount of sugar in it).
posted by molecicco at 12:56 AM on December 5, 2010

so far lots of votes for Lipton and a few for Luzianne, Tetley, orange pekoe, and one for Twinings

Lipton, Luzianne, & Tetley teas are all Orange Pekoe. Orange pekoe is just medium grade black tea that's mostly whole tea leaves. A lot of teas (these three included) will say they're a blend of Orange Pekoe and Pekoe Cut Black Tea. From what I understand Pekoe Cut black tea is just whole leaves of a lower grade.

Pretty much any of the larger boxes of tea that you find on the bottom shelf of the tea section at the supermarket will be fine for iced tea.

I think some of the people who are from the Southern U.S. are getting confused. In the south, McDonald's serves what's known as "sweet tea" which is a horrid concoction of tea flavored syrup with loads of sweetener, probably corn syrup.

In the south, there are three teas available at the McDonald's. One on the fountain, which is usually Nestea, which is just unbottled bottled tea. In urns there are two fresh brewed teas, one unsweetened and one made with sugar. There is no corn syrup or "tea" syrup involved, just a crap ton of regular white table sugar.
posted by aristan at 12:57 AM on December 5, 2010

Here's how they make it at Waffle House-they use the coffee brewers to do it, using tea (in a large tea bag) instead of coffee.

Brew, pour, add water, stirr, chill.

(I have given the traditional iced tea recipe in other threads here, but this is the restaranty way it's done.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:44 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Midwest US here and iced tea drinker of McD's every other day. Two urns, one unsweetened and the other sweetened. Both brewed from Lipton tea bags that are real large. Occasionally, I will see raspberry tea in the fountain area with the soda dispensary but that stuff is noxious and tea leaves were maybe involved in its production because raspberries sure weren't.

The microwave method works fine with any tea bags and so does low, slow bags in cold water. Just a question of speed.
posted by jadepearl at 5:14 AM on December 5, 2010

I use Red Rose. Mostly because it has strings made of string so it's easy to tie the bags together. Plus you get free little animals. I make it like this: Boil the water, fill up the pitcher half way, put in 4 to 6 teabags. Let it sit a while. Take out tea bags, fill up pitcher with cold water. Pour on ice. Drink.

I don't understand people's obsession with replicating fast food ice tea. That stuff is disgusting.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:32 AM on December 5, 2010

I also recommend the Trader Joe Mango black tea. It makes a nice ice tea.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:35 AM on December 5, 2010

For McDonald's tea, yes, they do brew it in the coffee makers. It is a tea bag that's about the same size by volume as the amount of coffee grounds that's you'd use for the same amount of water. I suspect it is about the same strength as a strong cup of hot tea. Then they water it down to a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio. I forget.
posted by gjc at 7:51 AM on December 5, 2010

southern US'er here. luzianne tea is my personal favorite. we heat 2 or 3 bags in a quart or so of water on the stove until it just barely boils. turn off, let cool & dilute with about 3 parts water, depending on personal taste.
posted by woodvine at 11:11 AM on December 5, 2010

I love restaurant brewed iced tea, and the best method I've found to make it isan iced tea maker with 3 bags of Lipton tea brewed on strong. Sounds like a silly expense but I drink a lot of iced tea and got this with a coupon at Bed Bath & Beyond and it's one of the best investments I've ever made. Reading the other responses, I guess this is similar to microwaving water with a tea bag, because it heats the water up, runs it over the tea bags, and then into the pitcher that's filled with ice- but it's a million times easier and I think the drip instead of pour makes it taste a lot closer to restaurant brewed tea.
posted by kro at 8:36 PM on December 5, 2010

Response by poster: Multiple recommendations for Lipton (or equivalent) style orange pekoe tea, and after some trials, that's about what I was looking for. Multiple bags, brewed for not too long. Thanks.
posted by jroybal at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2011

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