I ran across a press release recently that announced that a certain well known convenience store chain was rolling out something called “fresh-brewed” iced tea in its stores. Which got me to wondering. I’ve seen this phrase used before and have never thought much about it, but just exactly what does fresh-brewed tea mean? I have my own thoughts on the matter. Which is to expect that “fresh-brewed” iced tea would be tea made on the spot from actual tea leaves.

But exactly how would this work, especially in the busy environment of a convenience store or a restaurant or somewhere where the employees don’t necessarily have a lot of time to spend on steeping tea leaves? As it so happens, the press release in question suggests that actual tea leaves are steeped as needed, with a “proprietary blend of black tea leaves” that are “brewed fresh throughout the day” and “dispensed from lined, stainless-steel urns.” I’m sure we’ve all seen the latter in our convenience store or restaurant of choice. On the flip side, the company also offers a liquid tea concentrate for those times when circumstances preclude whipping up a batch of the real thing.

According to the web site of a firm that claims to be the top supplier of iced tea to the foodservice market in the United States, they deliver “fresh brewed taste prepared from choice tea leaves,” using blends of tea leaves from China and other parts of Asia and South America. They go on to reveal that they use a patented type of square tea bag in which said leaves are actually contained and steeped. So it appears that for this foodservice iced tea behemoth, at least, fresh-brewed might actually mean what it says.

Of course, like anything else in the great wide world of tea, methods and results are sure to vary from place to place. As a general rule, I’ve found that iced tea that’s available in these settings often leaves a lot to be desired, with some of it dipping into the barely drinkable category. But that’s not a given and I should point out that one of the best iced teas I’d ever had the good fortune to sample was served at a restaurant I used to frequent – from one of those “lined, stainless-steel urns.”

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