Las Vegas Sun

February 28, 2024

Popular drink still fits to a tea

Iced tea has long been one of America's favorite drinks, but a recent explosion of products has virtually flooded the market, giving consumers a mind-boggling number of choices.

There are now iced teas sold in aseptic packages (which ensure long-term shelf life), in bottles, and in a variety of unusual containers. What's more, there are tea bags designed for cold-water brewing, iced-tea concentrates and various powders and crystals for home mixing. Just sorting out all the possibilities is a major endeavor.

Further complicating the equation is the popular phenomenon known as sun tea. This is tea brewed using the rays of the sun, and sunny Las Vegas seems like the perfect place to do this type of brewing. One recipe, adapted from the website, calls for six tea bags and 1 1/2 quarts of cold water, yielding eight 6-ounce servings.

But is sun tea safe? Not always, according to Safefood News, the Winter/Spring 1999 edition. In an article written by Pat Kendall in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, dated June 12, 1996, titled "Bacteria-filled iced tea can cause illness," Kendall recommends against this tea brewing method. Sun tea, she writes, is the perfect medium for bacteria to grow. And if sun tea has a thick or syrupy appearance, it could be due to the presence of bacteria.

When a group of people became ill in the state of Washington a few years ago, it was determined that their sun tea had been made with tap water that reached a maximum temperature of 130 degrees. It had been left to sit at room temperature for up to 24 hours. That's why both the Centers of Disease Control and the National Tea Association recommend the following guidelines when brewing tea:

Now compare a few bottled iced tea products with their equivalents made from either tea bags, concentrates or crystals. One of the best-tasting bottled products is Tejava, available at Trader Joe's. The stores are selling a 1-liter bottle of Tejava for 99 cents, and it is intense and delicious. The tea is brewed from black tea grown exclusively on the island of Java in Indonesia. The beverage purports to be made from handpicked, micro-brewed tea leaves, and is unsweetened.

Lipton's Cold Brew, on the other hand, is a relatively new product. You get 44 tea bags for less than $4 at your local supermarket and you will use only one per 8-ounce glass. That means approximately four bags per liter, or around 35 cents for those four bags. That equates to a product that is around one-third the price of Tejava, if you make it yourself at home.

But what about the taste? Lipton's Cold Brew lacks the earthy intensity of the Tejava, and is much lighter in color. Furthermore, it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, as opposed to what one might describe as a woodsy flavor in the Tejava. Since many people like to mix lemon and sugar into their iced tea, it makes sense to use a product such as Lipton if you plan to go that route. But if you are a tea connoisseur who likes the intense flavor of tea, the Tejava seems a better idea.

These are just two of many iced tea product options. Nestea makes a concentrate, a dark liquid that you mix at a 3 to 1 ratio with water. If you're going to use filtered water, then you can factor your water costs into the price. The supermarket average price for this one is $2.69 for a 16-ounce plastic container.

Four ounces of concentrate makes a 16 ounce beverage. Now you are up to around $1.40 for a liter, and you are paying more to mix this at home than you are when you buy the Tejava. The Tejava is a much higher-quality product. For about the same price as the Nestea concentrate, you can buy another bottled product, Arizona Iced Teas.

These are attractively packaged teas that come in a variety of flavors and brews, such as plum, green tea, and around a half dozen others. You'll pay around $1.29 for a 20-ounce bottle, and in terms of taste, the teas are strong and full flavored. Flavored iced teas could be another article altogether. Wild Oats Markets sell a huge variety of them, most of which are boutique products made by smaller, lesser-known companies that cater largely to the health food market niche.

When you are ordering iced tea in a restaurant, you are naturally paying a higher price, but the per-glass price goes down considerably if you have refills. At the Regent Las Vegas, where Gustav Mauler runs Oxo and Spiedini, the iced tea of choice is Shangri-La 100 percent China Black Tea, which Mauler said he felt was the best product he taste tested.

A 3.5-ounce packet makes a 2-gallon container, and Mauler sells iced tea in both his restaurants for $2.25.

"The American tea-drinking public is conditioned like a coffee drinker," Mauler says, "and they insist on getting their refills at no extra charge."

You are in excellent shape drinking your tea in a Mauler restaurant, but you are on your own in restaurants where tea is brewed hours, or even days, before it comes to the consumer. Use good judgment whenever possible.

Some people swear by home iced tea makers, incidentally, for which you can use any type of loose tea. The Mr. Coffee TM3, which sells for around $30, makes 3 quarts of iced tea in 10 minutes.