I am a fanatic. An iced tea fanatic. I love iced tea. But not just any iced tea. It has to be the perfect iced tea, and that’s hard to find. Which qualifies me as an expert taster. Not an aficionado, but a determined taster and loyal customer for wherever I find that tea.
It all began one day when at work, a teacher wanted to do something nice for me, and brought me back an iced tea from her off campus lunch. Turns out, the entire 10 years I’d been working at that school, it had gone unnoticed by me that the grocery store across the street sold custom iced tea. By custom, I mean, you’d order one and they’d ask how you wanted it. Large, small, lemon, zero lemon, sugar, sweetener, or none. For me, it was always with lemon, and depending on if it was large or small sized, I’d get 1-2 Sweet n Lows. Being a diabetic, this is the one drink I can have an unlimited number of without worrying about the carbonation, and reflux. When I was younger I could drink iced teas straight up, no sweetener, but as I’ve aged, so have my taste buds, and I cannot handle all that tannin without a sweetener. Or lemon, which has acid in it, but iced tea isn’t good without lemon.
This is what I’ve learned about sweeteners. Aspartame is in most bottled diet drinks and is considered a cancer causing agent, thus it’s bad for you. Drinks that come from ‘Soda” fountains and ar made with Splenda. Splenda is supposedly good for you. As is Truvia, which I cannot tolerate, taste wise. If I cannot find Sweet n Low, which in some people, creates bad reactions via mouth sores or stomach issues, I will accept the blue package of sweetener. It was written in an article in “The Wall Street Journal” that Splenda is the safest sweetener out there, to the point that some cookbooks tell you how to substitute it for sugar, but from experience, Splenda only tastes good in hot tea.
So nearly every day, summer through spring, I start my day with an iced tea. I used to make my own, to save the expense of buying one that often. I’d picked up several different recipes for making iced tea, but lately, I am not loving my own brew. This varies. Summer’s, I do the brewing outside in the sun, leaving tea bags, mint and lemon in a jug on the deck for 4-7 hours. The rest of the year, I do the boiling water method without mint and lemon, preferring Back Porch tea bags which are large enough to serve 10 people. I like Back Porch because the taste is much milder than Lipton or Luzerne. The price of a box of Back Porch is high but since you get so much tea out of one bag, to me, it’s worth it. $7.99 for 8 tea bags.
Herbal tea has no caffeine, and like me, if you’re after a caffeine fix, drinking herbal tea defeats the purpose of tea drinking. Yes, I should switch to non-caffeine since I suffer from reflux, but this, and chocolate, are my only vices. I don’t drink coffee, liquor, or do drugs, so I believe I deserve caffeinated iced tea.
Bottled iced tea. I’ve tried all but the most recent (2015) bottled brews. I used to enjoy Nantucket Nectar Half and Half but it contains too much sugar for me to drink but once a year. This summer, while dog sitting, out of desperation one morning (no money, no iced tea), I tried a bottle of Snapple Peach Diet, and it is a new love of mine. But only if I can’t get a fresh iced version.
In Baltimore, there is a plethora of places to get my fix, but I’ve narrowed down my list to just a few places I frequent. I’ll review them in order of best to worst. And, closeness to my home.
- Stone Mill Bakery: I like the small size because the larger size tastes more watered down. But I do order large, too, at $2.79 a pop. Service with a smile, always, by the effervescent Chris.
- Eddie’s: located both on Roland Avenue and N. Charles Street, has excellent iced tea, and they really do make it custom. They use Back Porch tea bags, and that’s where I fell in love with the taste. And, their service and attention to detail is unsurpassed. Sometimes while they’re fixing my tea, I check out their bakery (good stuff, but not an Eddie’s bakery) for something to go with.
- Bonjour Bakery: I rarely frequent this amazing place because their homemade French patisseries are a terrible temptation, but their iced tea is always good and well priced. $1.79
- Atwater’s: they used to have the best iced tea in town, but now they’re too pale and tasteless for this princess. Which is a shame, because I like everything else at this 4 location eatery. Around $2.00+
- Panera: their iced tea ebbs and wanes. Today it was good, the other day very pale. All I could taste was the lemon. $1.79 for a regular.
- Greenspring Valley Racquet Club: I would rate this iced tea number one, but not everyone has the chutzpah to walk in to this tennis barn to order an iced tea. This iced tea really is the bomb at $1.00 for a small.
- Starbuck’s: tastes like coffee. Yuk yuk yuk!
- Royal Farms: tastes like it’s been sitting in a metal can all day, which it probably has.
Of course, taste is as varied as the color of one’s eyes. I can’t swear I’ll be drinking Stone Mill iced tea three months from now, but since I’ve been drinking it for years, who knows? I hate the high price, but addictions are always expensive.