For years, bottled teas meant one thing – bad tea in a bottle. Traditionally, the lowest grades of tea were used for bottled or canned tea. These cheaper teas are mainly from low lying regions, which also have higher rates of contamination than their higher elevation counterparts. For years these were the only teas you could get on the go.  Eventually we saw the emergence of smaller boutique tea bottlers that upped the level of quality. Seeing the move to these brands, some companies followed the lead of craft beer. With beer, large breweries would acquire smaller companies. Another option was to create a new company with a new name that didn’t make its large company roots apparent.

 This tactic is also being used by the big tea companies. An example of this is PURE LEAF.

 To the unknowing customer, the name invokes a small specialty tea company. That is until you look at the back of the bottle and notice the little symbol:

 Unilever is the world’s largest consumer goods company measured by 2012 revenue. It owns over 400 brands, including Lipton. Many tea drinkers avoid Lipton because of its low quality. So it was no mistake that Unilever decided not to use the Lipton name when going for the higher end tea customer. They partnered with Pepsi to create the Pure Leaf brand.

True Leaf tea is advertised in high end magazines. Sexy bottles, lots of ‘tea leaves’ in the advertising…the words “tea house”, organic…the advertising and packaging are impressive.

 To give credit where credit is due – this is a better bottled tea than the previous generations. Pure Leaf follows in Honest Tea’s footsteps by upping the quality of the base tea and creating a drink that actually tastes like tea, not chemicals. Put it this way, if you had to choose between this and fountain iced tea, there is no debate: this tea is much better.

 BETTER UNTIL….

 You decide you like the tea and drink it regularly. While this tea doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup,  “organic cane sugar” is listed as the 2nd ingredient. This adds up to 20 grams of sugar per 14 ounce bottle. This is roughly the same as a 12 oz can of coca cola (23g).  There are much worse beverages out there, but the American Heart Association lists 36 grams as the ideal daily limit for a man, 25 grams for a woman. So if you are a woman, (which the magazine we were reading is clearly aimed at) you are taking in almost all your daily sugar intake in one bottle of this tea. It isn’t better with brands like Honest tea, with their larger bottles clocking in around 25 grams of sugar.

 ALTERNATIVES

 There are some brands that do not sweeten their teas. If you are going to drink bottled tea on a regular basis, we would recommend these types. For example, Wegmans had a very nice Jasmine Green tea with no added sweeteners.

 WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

 We looked around and found that a typical bottle is going to cost somewhere in the $2 range.  We were able to find it on amazon for 20 cents an ounce.

 What is the difference if you brewed this tea at home? An easy direct comparison is to use a black berry sage loose tea as a direct comparison.  In our example cold brewer, which is 50 ounces, we used about 4 tablespoons of tea – maybe an ounce. Using a conservative calculation, we are probably looking at $2.25 of tea. When we put into the brewer, we probably net about 48 ounces of drinkable liquid. That’s about 5 cents an ounce, which is about 70 cents. Not bad eh? 

 So at the very basic level – you are paying 4 times the amount for bottled tea. If you are drinking this on a regular basis, you’ll quickly make back the cost of the brewer. 

 A TRICK TO SQUEEZE MORE OUT WITH COLD BREW

 Now for a little trick….when you cold brew there are always going to be extra leaves. You can stretch your tea by adding more water when you have 1/2 or 1/3 of the tea left. We tried this trick and were able to get even more tea out of the brew while still maintaining a good flavor profile. So your real costs may go down to .03 cents an ounce when you finally exhaust the flavor.

 HOW LONG DOES COLD BREW TAKE?

 In our tests, most teas were drinkable within 30 minutes. A couple of hours were sufficient to get a nice dark color, as shown in our example above. By agitating the tea periodically, you also maximize the release of all the flavors and anti-oxidants. Of course, if you want tea instantly, you can use the traditional hot brew method – steep and then add ice. 

 WHAT ABOUT SUGAR CONTENT IN ICED TEA?

 The great thing about brewing tea yourself is you can adjust the sugar content. If you prefer sweetness, you’ll find not much sugar is required. For example, with our 50 ounce brew you can add 2 tablespoons of sugar, which comes out to about 24 grams of sugar total. If we were to convert to PURE TEA bottle size, that would be about 6 grams of sugar per serving. Another idea is to use lemonade. Lemonade is super sugary, with about 25 grams per EIGHT ounce serving. You could add the entire 8 ounces to the brew, but in our experiments, a 16 ounce tea glass just needs a splash of lemonade. So even adding 8 ounces of lemonade to a big batch will keep the added sugars within reasonable levels.

 Either way, sugar added to tea, especially in large saturated quantities, negates all the health benefits tea has to offer. Once you get the taste for good tea, there is no reason to cover it up with lots of sugar. Many good quality loose teas are fine on their own. There are many flavored teas that exhibit a naturally sweet flavor profile. The benefit with cold steeping is that you have no bitterness. 

 OUR CONCLUSION….

 Sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices if you are on the go or traveling. Teas like Pure Leaf are a better choice than any soda or mass market tea such as Lipton. If you are suffering from weight issues, then added sugars should be avoided entirely. (flavored water is a better choice on the go). However, if you find yourself drinking bottled teas on a daily basis then it’s worth investing in making the brew yourself. Not only are you getting a better product, you also are also reducing waste AND saving money.

 Cold brewing requires no hot water and is very easy to make either at work or at home. You just need a fridge!