Get my official ranking of refreshing treats.
Ah, sweet tea. So much a part of the Southern zeitgeist it's become synonymous with the South itself. As a child of chilly Cleveland, Ohio, the idea of and pure fanatical devotion to sweetened iced tea was completely lost on me. That is, until sampling a handful from my local drive-thrus.
Embarking on this journey brought up a slew of questions. Like, "What makes sweet tea objectively good or not good" and "How can sweet tea be that different?"
First and foremost, sweet tea is tea. As such, I believe (and those brought up in the South that I consulted with agree) that tea should be the prominent flavor, before being bombarded with sweetness. I understand the cultural milieu where the sweet part better be loud and not, say, the whisper of an added packet to the glass—but that doesn't mean I'm down to slug a glass of simple syrup either. Luckily, I imagine those who find that appealing are in the minority, thus placing us firmly on the same page, no matter our locale.
Upon sampling six offerings from popular chains, I came to find that each cup varied in color, type of ice, cost, and, of course, taste. This color variation might be due to the type of tea brewed, the setting on the brewer or the brewer itself, or the color of the sugar/syrup mixture. I'm not convinced that color has any indication of its quality, but it did seem the duller the better. Pebble ice vs. cubed makes for a more delightful sip up front, but if you’re not one to finish your cup quickly, like me, I don’t appreciate the extra dilution pebble ice brings over time. As for price and taste, do read on.
So, here we go! Fast food drive-thru sweet teas, ranked for your pleasure.
Fast Food Sweet Tea Taste Test, Ranked
6th Place: McDonald's
Darkest in color, the sampling from the golden arches looked almost like a clear melted caramel. Or perhaps a Torani syrup in a cup. Which is fitting since that's what it tasted like—knocking back a full cup of syrup. "Tea" is simply a vessel to deliver the sugar here, folks, a façade of a "beverage," an excuse to slurp liquid saccharine. If this is your thing, carry on, but coming into this, the sweet tea from McDonald's was my nightmare incarnate. Luckily, this one's the cheapest at just $1.
5th Place: Sonic
Sonic's sweet tea is too sweet, but at least you're vaguely aware it's tea. It's the perfect choice for sweeter sweet tea lovers, but personally, I'd much prefer the pebble-ice pleasure in a Styrofoam cup that is their cherry limeade.
This one's $1.99, but it'll run ya at least an extra buck for the tip since they actually deliver to you.
4th Place: Culver's
The custard capital of the South delivers a tea less sweet than Sonic, but only marginally. It's just not my cup of tea, pun intended. To be fair, I'm not sure sweet tea is Culver's specialty. Maybe you'd order it with a Butterburger, but their attention is clearly centered on that and frozen treats. Coming in at $2.09, it would seem that the higher the price, the higher the satisfaction.
3rd Place: Shake Shack
This would be the most expensive of the bunch, weighing in at $2.99, if it weren't for the fiercely kind gentleman who couldn't bring himself to charge me for my singular iced tea. Thanks, Shake Shack!
Almost a tie with second place, Shake Shack's sweet tea is a solid offering. It has a good iced tea flavor up front, with a punch of sweet behind it. It's warm-weather appropriate, burger-appropriate, and quite frankly "shack" appropriate. I can hang with this.
2nd Place: Wendy's
Like Shake Shack, Wendy's version was very sweet but teetered right on the edge of what anyone should tastefully handle. It toted a better color—almost akin to an amber lager or well-crafted IPA. I might not crave it, but I sure could drink a whole one and barely blink. $2.19.
1st Place Winner: Chick-fil-A
Dare I say I might intentionally order this again? A sweet tea well done and a testament to the Chick-fil-A loyal. The color of muddy water and full of pebble ice, Chick-fil-A showed up unassuming and instantly broke through my preconceptions. In the end, it's no surprise this would come from the Atlanta-based chain, since a stop here tends to be the go-to of this fast-food avoider on road trips. What can I say? The chicken stands alone.
Of all the stops, however, this one was constantly packed with people, the drive-thru bursting at the seams into the coveted parking spaces. Drivers from all over are probably clamoring for the sweet tea, but sampling it myself I was suddenly less annoyed by the wait. Adding to the triumph is the price—at $1.89, this tea hits the sweet spot for wallet and taste buds alike.
Note: All tea was ordered in the smallest size, anonymously from the drive-thru. All prices do not include tax or applicable tips.
Read the original article on All Recipes.