Have you been considering weaning off Starbucks for a bit, but still crave that caffeine/sugar kick? Well, iced tea may have been your first choice. But which one to pick?
For a long time it seemed like there was a fierce competition with no obvious winner, but that time may be over since we discovered an iced tea drink that you can find in your local supermarket and that beats the competition to the ground—hands down.
So we examined the most common brands of iced tea drinks to find out which one is the best.
We decided to compare them on the most common flavor: sweetened lemon black tea.
We focused on the most common brands—Snapple, Gold Peak, Arizona, and Pure Leaf—because all are available in virtually every supermarket—at least here in the New York area. You may find an excellent local brand of iced tea that would crush the corporate competition, but it’s hard to recommend something that’s only available in organic stores in Oklahoma.
The criteria? Taste and ingredients. Price didn’t play any role in the verdict because that may differ from place to place.
Snapple is the staple iced tea of New York City. It possesses a sharp combination of bitter, sour, and sweet that makes it immediately addictive. It also sells in glass bottles, which apparently helps. The brand belongs to Dr Pepper Snapple Group spun off from Britain’s Cadbury Schweppes.
Ingredients are water, tea, sugar (18g per 8oz), citric acid, and “natural flavors.”
Gold Peak Lemon Tea claims to offer the “home-brewed taste.” Indeed it has a less sour, smooth taste you would expect of a home-made tea. However, it is made of “brewed tea concentrate” not “brewed tea” as do its competitors. The brand belongs to The Coca-Cola Company.
Ingredients are water, tea concentrate, sugar (19.3g per 8oz), citric acid, caramel color, and “natural flavors” (what is that really?).
Arizona claims itself to be the “No. 1” selling iced tea brand in America. While it has a smooth, refreshing taste that’s maybe a pinch more sour than Gold Peak, it may just owe its popularity to its unbeatable price (it uses high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar, which may explain the lower price). The brand belongs to the Hornell Brewing Co., Inc., a private company.
Ingredients are water, tea, high-fructose corn syrup (24g per 8oz), citric acid, and (for a change) “natural lemon flavor.”
This one promotes itself as a “real brewed tea.” It does carry a more distinct tea flavor, less sweet and sour. If you thought the more unusual bottle shape signifies an independent brand, you should know it’s made by Lipton for PepsiCo.
Ingredients are water, tea, sugar (18g per 8oz), citric acid, pectin (a kind of a gelatinous substance that holds plants together), and (you guessed it) “natural flavor.”
Among these participants, flavor may be a highly subjective matter, but ingredients are rather straightforward: tea leaves beat the tea concentrate, sugar beats corn syrup (though some say now that both are equally bad for us), less sugar (while maintaining good taste) beats more sugar. In this case, Snapple and Pure Leaf would tie for the win.
But there’s a new tea on the block.
Arizona recently released its Good Brew brand of iced teas. So let’s look at the lemon one.
It has a good mix of bitter, sweet, and sour. Smooth and sweet at first, but with a nice lemony aftertaste. Of all of them, this is the closest to that “homemade” taste so far. The ingredients may provide some answers.
It’s made of water, tea, sugar (15g per 8oz), lemon juice from concentrate, and “natural flavor.”
You see? It contains less sugar, but we couldn’t tell from the taste. And the lemon juice instead of citric acid? That really makes a difference. And the price seems to be set about 25 percent below the competition, though it’s a new product, so the price may hike in the future.
So kudos to Arizona. They really hit it out of the park with this one.
For a comparison, Coca Cola has 26g of sugar per 8oz, Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino 32g of sugar per 8oz, and Starbucks Caffe Latte 8.5g per 8oz.