To know which restaurants have good iced tea, you need to be familiar with some terms that are used to describe iced tea.
Fresh Brewed – when you see this term, it is usually pretty safe to assume that the tea is actually brewed in the restaurant with only water and tea leaves. If brewed well, this can be great tasting tea, but it can also be the most technique sensitive to prepare. Usually this tea is dispensed from a stainless steel container like the ones shown below and sometimes in say “not instant” in addition to “fresh brewed”.
“Fresh brewed taste“, “Home brewed taste” or “Brewed iced tea“- All these seem like minor changes from “fresh brewed”, but adding the word “taste” or leaving out the word “fresh” can mean a major change in what you are actually drinking. Usually this is a way of saying the restaurant serves a tea that comes as a concentrated liquid in a box and is mixed with water to prepare (also know as instant tea). These teas are usually more consistent in taste and require far less work to prepare. Despite being consistent, it is usually pretty easy to tell that these teas are not actually fresh brewed and many have an unpleasant acidic taste. These teas typically contain ingredients you wouldn’t necessarily expect like preservatives and added colors. The worst offender is probably the “brewed Lipton iced tea” served at Taco Bell. The long ingredient list is pictured below. Typically this Lipton instant tea is dispensed from a container like the one shown here.
Lipton has another fountain product, called Lipton Brisk, which comes in a number of flavors including unsweetened black tea. This is one of the worst tasting iced teas I have come across. It is usually dispensed along side of soda fountain drinks. The similar ingredient list is shown here.
In addition to Lipton, Gold Peak is a common brand of concentrated tea. Restaurants that serve concentrated Gold Peak tea typically have dispensers which allow you to choose from one of four flavors and look similar to the container pictured to the right. The ingredients in unsweetened Gold Peak include: Natural Tea Essence, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate, and Phosphoric Acid. This isn’t nearly as long of a list as Lipton “brewed tea”, but still is more ingredients than one would expect in a simple glass of iced tea. This Gold Peak tea tastes very similar to the bottled Gold Peak tea you can buy in grocery stores.
Nestea is the one other major brand of pre-mixed iced tea that is served in some restaurants. This, like the Lipton Brisk mentioned above, is also a bad tasting iced tea. The ingredients for Nestea concentrate are the following:Water, Tea Concentrate, Natural Flavors, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), and Caramel Color.