Let’s talk tea.
Not hot tea — you and Captain Picard can keep your Earl Grey. I’m talking tea the way God originally gave it to Adam and Eve — ice cold, strong, and unsweetened. (If I want to drink a thousand useless calories I’ll do the only reasonable thing and have a Coke.)
This post isn’t about how to make ice tea yourself, but if you want to do that, it couldn’t be simpler. Get a gallon container, put three quarts of hot tap water in it, throw in three large Lipton Cold Brew tea bags, and leave it for a couple of hours. If you’re high-strung, use Lipton Cold Brew Decaf bags. (Don’t use the regular Lipton decaf bags, they make colored water, not tea.)
No, what we’re here for today is what eating establishments have the best tea. Or, in most cases, have not horrible tea. Now, you might not think so, but this is important information — a glass of tea costs $2-3, so knowing whether you’re going to get your money’s worth is a PSA.
These are in no particular order, because on any given day I might prefer any of them.
McAlister’s — They’re so proud of their tea they have a Free Tea Day every July, and rightfully so. It’s just the tiniest bit bitter for my taste, so I usually have ’em cut it with a dash of sweet, but this is tea you get when you’re going to be there a while, because it’s a crime not to get two or three refills when the tea’s this good. They used to have a buy five gallons get one free, but they stopped it not too long after I started going there. Coincidence? I think not.
Potbelly’s — Black Tazo tea to die for. One of the guys at my regular place told me one time, “We always seem to run out of tea when you’re here.” He thought it was coincidence, not causation. He was wrong.
Chipotle — Maybe the smoothest of the Big Three, but unfortunately they can also be inconsistent. They like to make it cold, so they put ice in the container. That means if you get your tea towards the end of the container, and especially if it’s been out there a while (i.e. not at rush hour), it can be watered down. But if not, man oh man, that’s some good tea. And, hey, Chipotle!
Pie Five — In addition to one of the really good pizzas, and pizza bargains, around (if you can’t get my wife to make you pizza, it’s a decent consolation prize), they have some pretty good black tea. The only thing keeping them out of the Outstanding list is that they don’t make it strong enough — it’s got that hint of watered down that great tea doesn’t have.
Sonic — Sonic’s tea can be wildly inconsistent among drive-ins, but when it’s good it’s good, and really, you buy any drink at Sonic for the ice, right? In addition, they have Route 44’s, which is the size tea was intended to be served in, and it’s half-price during Happy Hour (2-4p every day), which makes it taste even better. “You know what time it is?” is a constant refrain in our car on the weekend. We won’t leave the house for it (we used to, before the one by us started holding the tea bags over the water instead of putting them in it), but if we’re out we’ll go out of the way to hit Happy Hour.
We just passed the point where I care enough to do a separate write-up for each of these. These aren’t bad teas, they’re just entirely forgettable, so if you’re not going to be there long, save yourself 20% on your bill and have water. If you’re sticking around for a while to visit after eating, then flip a coin or Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock with your eating companion(s) (and if they don’t know what that is, why are you eating with them?).
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — Points for having tea at a theater, but needs to be 50% stronger.
BJ’s (it’s been a while since I’ve been there; if I recall correctly they fall into the shotglass section, too)
Chick-fil-A (their shakes, on the other hand, oh my)
Carino’s (formerly Johnny Carino’s but Johnny left and took his name with him)
In-N-Out Points for having 44-oz cups like the good Lord intended, but points lost for only having mediocre tea to put in them.
McDonald’s (I’m basing this one purely on long-term memory, as I haven’t eaten at one since college, back when the only Mavericks in town were at UTA.)
On the Border
Schlotzsky’s — Their tea was originally in the Pretty Good list, but not a month after I posted this, they started making their tea about a third weaker. I don’t care much about eating there anymore.
Whataburger (but who cares, you’re there for the burger, right?)
Baker Brothers tea is weak more often than not (and their glasses are too small, see below).
Pei Wei tries to get cute with their tea, thinking they’re an Asian restaurant and forgetting they’re an Asian restaurant in Texas. Their green tea, like all green tea, is way too weak, and their black tea is not only too weak, it has vanilla in it. There are worse things you can do to tea, but I won’t traumatize you by mentioning them.
Chili’s starts out weak but they also put ice in their pitchers, thus ensuring that the tea is so much colored water by the time you get your third refill from the pitcher that’s been sitting out for thirty minutes.
Shotglasses Aren’t for Tea Drinking
Abuelo’s, Boston’s, (not Boston Market, which I don’t set foot in), Cheddar’s, and Saltgrass have decent tea and would otherwise have been in the Forgettable section, but they all serve their tea in pint-sized glasses that don’t hold enough tea to get you wet if you spilled the glass in your lap. They also like to give you thirty-two ounces of ice in your sixteen-ounce glass, so you end up with perhaps two sips of tea per refill.
I don’t know if these are Yankee companies that don’t know better (they’ve been here long enough they should have learned) or just eternally clueless and/or greedy, but whichever it is, you should almost always drink water at these places. (Boston’s will bring you tea in a 32-oz stein from the bar if you know to ask, just be sure you’ve done your arm exercises, as it weighs as much as a bowling ball.)
Freebird’s, Johnny B’s hamburgers in Southlake, and Spring Creek suffer from the same issue, but at least they’re self-serve so you can get as many refills as you want. Freebird’s and Johnny B’s tea might have made the Pretty Good list if it weren’t for this; they both have fairly decent tea.
Oh No You Didn’t
A new Teddy’s Bigger Burgers opened up close to us a couple of weeks ago, so Sharon and I tried it last Sunday. In addition to being perhaps the most expensive burger meal we’ve ever had (and very far from the best one, so the goodness to $ ratio was way off), they had no tea. They had a little sign that said, “Ice tea coming soon.” Not soon as in a few minutes, soon as in maybe next week or December, to which the correct response is, “Then why are you open for business?”
If you know of other places that should be in the Outstanding section, then by all means let me know. Otherwise, drink up!
Updated 4/27/2016: moved Schlotsky’s from Pretty Good to Forgettable, added Alamo Draft House, In-N-Out, and Johnny B’s.