Thursday, June 6, 2013

Restaurant Tea In Small Town America

This post was prompted from a recent email. Thanks for the inspiration.

A lot of my Internet tea friends tell me they avoid ordering tea in restaurants. They say the quality is so poor they would rather do without. I am not afraid of controversy, so I am going to admit I have not found the situation to be quite that dire. Or possibly I am just too stubborn to give up my tea. I choose to persevere while looking for that elusive memorable sip (or gulp).

I have certainly had my share of weak, sour, warm, and stale restaurant teas. I have even suffered through horrible glasses of instant tea. Especially in the latter case I ordered a Coke the next time. Sounds dismal right? But I have also had some good experiences that encourage me to keep trying.

One thing I always try to do is tell a restaurant when they get it right. I also politely let them know when they miss the mark. I advise you to do the same. As I noted in “Slow down and smell the tea leaves”, tea is the fifth most consumed beverage in America. Most folks have only a casual attitude toward tea because honestly they don't know any better. Restaurants will work hard to not disappoint with their soda and coffee offerings, with tea, well, not so much.

The vast majority of tea in America is served iced and comes from a bag.  For this reason, I am more likely to avoid hot tea in a restaurant. I know I am likely to be handed a Lipton tea bag and a little metal pitcher of under-heated water. I have to admit, I am not a fan. The trouble is most restaurants, and the average consumer, don’t see anything wrong with it. They probably don’t like it either but think this is what tea is supposed to taste like. They need educated.

Our local Denny’s not only serves hot tea this way, but their water tastes fishy. I uncovered the water issue when I tried taking my own tea, only to have it taste fishy as well. I will never order tea or water in our Denny’s again. Yes, I told them so. No, it did not seem to matter to them. It’s just tea. sigh.

Even with hot tea I have found exceptions. The most notable is at our local Steak N Shake. They serve an inexpensive and little known brand called ‘Mother Parkers’. Yes, it is a bagged version, and yes I find it very pleasant – especially the Darjeeling.

With iced tea, you will generally be served Lipton, Tetley, or Luzianne. Sometimes, even then, it can be cold and refreshing... sometimes. More often it is watered down and warm because they added a small amount of ice to the hot brew and all the ice melted before it got to your table. So, you ask for more ice, thus watering it down even more.

Just when you think it couldn’t get worse, you order a glass and are served something slightly resembling tea that is soured, or stale, or both. Sadly, you have to inform them because they probably think it is supposed to taste that way – because that is the way they have always done it and no one else complained.

Sometimes they get it right and the glass makes the meal.

Our local Red Lobster serves an exceptionally good iced tea. It is clear, and bright. The taste is strong and brisk. It is a delicious Assam based tea. Their web page states they use Tetley, but the local restaurant told me it was Maryland brand. I have never found this for sale in the stores. I believe a large part of their success is filtered water and attention to detail. Tea is more than just tea.

Our Texas Roadhouse also makes a successful glass of tea that is similar and only slightly less tasty than our Red Lobster. They seem to use similar filtered water. Here I think the difference is the brand of tea used.

My absolute favorite restaurant tea to date was found at our local Cheddars. My wife noticed it as well and she is not a tea junkie. Coffee is more her thing. This tea was bright, clear, and nearly orange. The taste was earthy, with a hint of smoke. I asked the waiter what they were serving. He looked puzzled and said, “It’s just tea.” Noooooooo!

It is sad when you find an exceptional glass of tea and the fact seems to escape those who serve it. Educate them. Tell them how good it is and why. Encourage them to keep making an exceptional tea. Just maybe others will notice and comment. Just maybe you can help make a small dent in the wasteland known as restaurant tea.

I later confirmed the tea is S&D brand. This is apparently a very common brand used by restaurants. It is anything but common as made at our Cheddars.

So, what has been your experience with local restaurant tea? I'd like to hear about it.


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  2. Where does nothing but noodles get their black tea?

    1. We do not have a Noodles locally. Ask them. They probably won't know but may be willing to check for you.

  3. On a recent vacation, I dined at two of the finest, most expensive restaurants in town. Ordered hot tea after my meal. At one, the tea was full leaf tea in pyramid bags in properly boiled water in a real ceramic teapot, and the server told me to let it steep 3 more minutes. At the other, it was a restaurant supply brand low quality teabag sitting next to a tiny metal pot of tepid water. I emailed both restaurants on my return and gave them my review of their tea service. I'm glad you do too!