Not too long ago I was very high on Panera’s iced tea. They were close to, if not my number one choice for fast food iced tea. The only way I could describe their tea is that it has a strong, unique but pleasant flavor, that I really enjoyed. The taste was also very consistent from one visit to the next. Since that review there have been some changes with their iced tea, which has forced me to reevaluate that review .
Panera stopped using the stainless steel dispensers to hold their tea and started using clear plastic dispensers that continuously cycle the tea through a little fountain near the back of the container. I have seen these types of dispensers in other restaurants to hold lemonade or fruit juices, but this is the first time I had seen one to hold tea. I don’t know if they also changed the tea brewing process, but their black tea doesn’t taste quite as it good as it did before. The most noticeable change (at least at the two locations I have visited since this change) is that the tea tastes weaker than it did before, but I have also noticed the taste is less consistent than it was prior and also more likely to be tainted with the taste of the other flavored teas they offer.
All this has dropped my rating of Panera’s iced tea from a perfect rating to a 4 out of 5. It also goes to prove my point that the best tasting iced tea (like at In-n-out, Chipotle, etc) is always served from a stainless steel container.
In my opinion, Panera Bread is one of the best places to get freshly brewed iced tea at a fast service type restaurant. They brew their own brand of iced tea, which on their website the ingredients are listed simply as “fine black tea”. Their tea is very consistent and also has a stronger taste, which I like. I have probably visited 8-10 different Panera Bread restaurants and the iced tea has tasted exactly the same at every one. They seem to pay more attention than most fast food places in making sure their iced tea is fresh and brewed correctly, but their prices are comparable to those other restaurants and you can get free refills. Lastly, and I don’t have any numbers to verify this, but Panera’s iced tea feels like it has more caffeine than most other iced teas.