I love iced tea. But I can’t seem to find it anywhere these days.
I know most restaurants list “iced tea” on the menu, but if you dare to order it, expecting a cold glass of something strong, black and brewed, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, you’ll get something pink and sweet with a hibiscus flower floating on top.
Adam Carolla has an infamous rant about iced tea that sums it up perfectly:
Passion fruit iced tea has destroyed what is left of our culture in Southern California. You order iced tea in Los Angeles, and you get something that tastes like somebody put potpourri in a gym sock and dipped it in warm water. I’m not kidding. When you say, “I wanted iced tea, regular iced tea,” they say, “That is our regular iced tea.”
But gym-sock tea isn’t just a Southern California phenomenon. It seems that the iced tea of yore has been usurped from coast to coast. What gives? Like my pal Adam, I just want a glass of regular iced tea. No sugar. No sweeteners. No potpourri. And for crying out loud, no hibiscus flower.
Knowing full well of my disdain for sweetened and flavored iced teas, Sweet Leaf sent me an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their product. Not only did they make a great “regular iced tea,” they said excitedly, but Sweet Leaf was confident that I’d love their sweetened versions, too.
The gauntlet was thrown. I, for one, couldn’t wait to crush their potpourri-flavored dreams. Flavored iced tea incites an unhealthy amount of rage in this girl. I know — I should probably seek counseling for that.
Three kinds of Sweet Leaf teas were sent for my review:
Though I was still skeptical while looking over the bottles, I had to give Sweet Leaf credit for having an ingredient list I could actually pronounce:
FILTERED WATER, ORGANIC CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC BLACK TEA AND CITRIC ACID.
For comparison, consider the ingredient list of Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea:
Nutrition-wise, Sweet Leaf is pretty standard, given its ingredient list. Its Unsweet Lemon & Lime version is par for the course when it comes to unsweetened iced tea: zero calories, zero grams of sugar and 15 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving.
Its peach flavor clocks in at 80 calories, 18 grams of sugar and 15 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving — not stellar, but not that bad, either. Compare it to Snapple Peach Iced Tea, with 80 calories, 20 grams of sugar and 22 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving.
Flavor-wise, though, is where there’s a noticeable difference. As much as I wanted to hate Sweet Leaf teas for being bastardized versions of “real” iced tea, I couldn’t.
The Unsweet Lemon & Lime was my favorite of the three samples — the flavor was refreshing, and not unlike the iced tea I make on my own with a squeeze of fresh citrus fruit. I enjoyed it, and I admit that if I were on the road and in the right mood, I might be inclined to pick up a bottle of this from a rest-stop cooler.
The sweetened flavors, Original and Peach, didn’t suck either. That’s high praise coming from someone who really hates sweetened iced teas — “it didn’t suck.” Though I’m not falling over myself in a mad rush to convert to the Church of Sweet Tea, I appreciated how Sweet Leaf tea still tastes like tea — not like artificial peach flavor or gallons of sugar water.
Would I purchase these sweetened teas on my own? Probably not. But I also wouldn’t start flipping tables if a waiter told me that’s the iced tea they were serving at their restaurant.
If you’re a fan of sweet tea, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this brand and how the flavor compares to your favorite sweetened brands.
When it comes to tea, are you a member of The Sweet Squad, or are you part of Team Unsweetened? —Susan