It’s no secret that Neil and I like tea. Hot, cold, or with boba, tea is our jam. Which is why he and I have been developing a VERY important list of the years: the best and worst restaurant iced teas. When we dine out, we usually enjoy a cold class of *unsweet* iced tea; and in the past we have been seriously blessed and equally burned by some of them. This list has been curated so that you don’t have to experience the same utter sadness of drinking truly terrible – and also know where to go for the best brews around.
- The tea must be freshly brewed by the restaurant in question. No bottled teas.
- The tea must be unsweetened. Sorry all you sweet tea lovers – sugar dilutes the taste of the tea. This means bubble tea locations do not qualify.
- Rankings are based on three criteria: consistency, taste and variety.
A caveat on consistency: to be honest, we have not been able to try all of the worst teas multiple times to ensure they are consistently awful. And we acknowledge that sometimes the tea quality depends on who did the brewing. However, some were so bad we were wary of trying it again. Additionally, we believe that restaurants who truly understand the importance of good iced tea are able to train their employees to make the tea the right way consistently.
THE BEST RESTAURANT TEAS
1. Cafe Express – Our winner for best restaurant iced tea is hands-down Cafe Express. They get top marks in all three categories. All of their tea is consistently brewed to a beautiful hue. They offer more than one blend (Haley’s favorite is their mango black tea) and each one tastes fantastic. The only problem is that Cafe Express knows they are the tea kings and charge appropriately. You’ll be paying $3.85 per person, but’s it’s fully worth it.
2. Barnaby’s – A local Houston favorite, Barnaby’s may not have a bunch of tea options, but they really nail the classic. It’s a consistent, lovely deep brown and you can really taste the tannins. They also give you gigantic to-go cups which is a plus. Sometimes we eat here purely because we want the tea.
3. Jason’s Deli – Jason has some staunch haters and fierce lovers. For our family, it’s a great place to get some good food with options for anyone. And their tea is stellar. They get a point for variety as they offer the elusive iced black current tea along with the classic black tea. (For those not in the know, black current is like the fancier of restaurant iced teas).
4. Gus’ Fried Chicken – If you get fried chicken, you must also get iced tea. Get a glass of Gus’ for a good old classic tea experience. No complaints here. It’s a humble brew that is what it needs to be – nothing more and nothing less.
THE WORST RESTAURANT TEAS
- Star Pizza – Love their pizza, hate their tea. If you come for food, opt for a different beverage. Every single time we’ve visited Star Pizza and ordered tea we have been disappointed. Their tea is very watery and under-steeped. But A+ for consistency…
- Mellow Mushroom – While their drink menu may make you think they have a good understanding of what it takes to make great tea, you’d be wrong. Weak and watery. Move on.
- McDonald’s – Typically, we get our tea from dine-in establishments, but sometimes you have a hankering for tea and need it fast. Of all the fast food teas, Mickey D’s is at the bottom of our list. It’s weak and usually accompanied by a greasy cup.
- Benihana’s – Order literally anything else. To use the words weak and watery would be an understatement. It seems they may just dye their water the lightest of all browns and call it tea.
- Starbucks – They bought Teavana and then burned it to the ground. If you ever order their iced tea, make sure to ask for “no water” because they intentionally water down their tea because they are tacky and I (Haley) hate them.
- Shiva’s Iced Chai – Shiva is one of our favorite Indian food restaurants in the city. The first time we went, we noticed they offered iced chai tea and we were floored. Chai is a different flavor profile than your classic black iced tea, and when we had chai before it was always hot and usually with cream. Shiva’s iced chai is a super fun way to enjoy iced tea. It’s incredibly flavorful with a powerful kick of spices and iced for an enjoyably refreshing experience. However, it’s not for everyone! Give it a try and let us know your thoughts.
- McAllister’s Deli – These people know how to make some seriously good tea and pour it into the world’s largest cups. However, their food is so bad that we never venture there. Go for the tea, leave before ordering anything else.
- Raising Cain’s Sweet Tea – While the rules explicitly say no sugar, Neil insisted we mention that if you do want sweet tea you should go to Cain’s.
That’s a wrap! This is a living list and we will be updating as we discover new places that deserve a place on this list. Know a tea we should try? Drop a comment and we’ll give it a go!