Sunday, July 6, 2003

Iced black tea, please - hold the sugar

Campbell's scoop

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to drink iced tea:

If I get thirsty while I'm out driving in the summer heat, I can grope around under the seats for a stray water bottle that's not completely empty, or I can stop for iced tea.

I think unsweetened iced brewed black tea is the perfect summer drink. Its refreshing tannic edge quenches thirst far better than sweet soda.

It has a level of caffeine that keeps you humming without creating the jitters, and it goes with all kinds of food much better than a sweet soft drink.

If the tea's really strong, I might squeeze in some lemon and add a half a packet of sugar, most of which doesn't dissolve and sinks to the bottom.

But there is an insidious and disturbing trend that I run into more and more often - really sweet tea. Sometimes a deli or small restaurant will offer only tea from a bottle or can, which is always sweet and sometimes flavored something fruity and unnecessary.

At Starbucks, they'll try to sell you their new "lightly" sweetened iced tea. It's not light at all. (Starbucks regular iced tea is excellent: Like their coffee, it's stronger than everyone else's.)

McAlister's Deli touts its "Southern" iced tea - heavily sweetened. McAlister's has an excuse, as the chain is originally from Mississippi. But now even Skyline has introduced Southern sweet tea. It is very sweet, at least as sweet as soda, and it seems even sweeter without cola's citric edge to tame it.

Hell-o. We're still north of the Mason-Dixon line, and I say keep our tea Northern, i.e., unsweetened. We really don't need the extra high-fructose corn syrup in our diets anyway. Not only that, some of the unsweetened stuff isn't as good as it used to be. The tea that comes out of the "Lipton" spout on the soft-drink machine is not as good as what you get from one of those old-fashioned tall stainless-steel iced tea containers with a spigot on the bottom.

The fountain iced tea may not be sweetened, but it tastes bottled and sort of fruity, like prunes or cherries.

Funny that fast food places should come to the rescue. I know when I'm out driving, I can pull up to almost any drive-through, fast-food window and, for 99 cents, get a cold iced tea the way I like it.

I usually look for a Wendy's, because theirs tastes like tea. Burger King's is good, too, and Arby's has fresh-brewed. I avoid McDonald's tea; it has that funny fruity taste.


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