To a Tea: Iced Tea Serves as an Ideal Base for Specialty Drinks

Iced tea ranks high on the list of popular summer beverages. Its neutral, widely-accepted flavor also makes it an ideal base for a range of summer drinks. From nonalcoholic options to craft cocktails, here are a few ways you can elevate your iced tea offerings, turning this menu staple into a specialty drink.

Turning the Tea Leaves

Served over ice with a squeeze of lemon and a hint of sugar, black tea is what we usually picture when we talk about iced tea. While popular, there’s no need to stick to the standard. Flavored teas like hibiscus, citrus or berry teas are light, refreshing and distinctive, without the bitterness of black tea. Be adventurous and look into rarer teas like Pu-erh, a fermented tea from China. It’s bolder with malty notes and provides more complexity than other teas.

Function It Up

A rosemary sprig, a shot of juice, a sprinkle of turmeric—fruits, herbs and spices are a simple way to amp up iced tea. Herbs like rosemary, sage, lavender and basil offer a flavorful boost, which can be made more potent when infused into the tea beforehand. Though traditionally associated with hot teas, warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg provide a delicious contrast. Ingredients with additional health benefits—think turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties or ginger’s ability to lower cholesterol—make iced tea a functional beverage with added value. Fruit flavors work well with iced tea, whether from juice, whole or muddled fruit, or all of the above. Finally, iced tea also transfers to the cocktail menu with a shot of bourbon, gin or vodka. These additions are a small cost to operators, but unique enough to command upcharges that can make a difference in your bottom line.

Talking Texture

Play with the texture of tea and it becomes a fit for any occasion. Add carbonated water or a neutral sparkling wine, and iced tea turns into a festive beverage. Serve it frozen or slushy-style and it’s a perfect poolside drink. Add dairy or a plant-based protein like pea protein and it becomes a thicker, more substantial meal in a glass.

Whether it’s a new tea type, a new ingredient or a new approach, amping up your iced tea offerings gives customers additional options with minimal additional cost or labor. We’ll toast to that.