Outdoors, Green Living, Homesteading, Sustainable living, Green Building

How Restaurants should make and care for Tea


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I am a national trucker and as a trucker I have consumed Iced Tea all over the USA for 9 years now in every kind of eating establishment, but mostly from truck stops. First I need to say that Tea is a product that is made in a kitchen and it is therefore as important as steaks and shrimp and everything else that is prepared in a kitchen. In general I have encountered the best iced Tea in the south eastern region. Northerners drink soda’s and care almost nothing about iced Tea. They drink hot tea. So do I. But I drink hot tea in 32 oz glasses, not in little 8oz cups lol. Tea is grown primarily in tropical regions of India, China, Asia and Africa. I think there are different species of tea tree’s which are grown as bushes. Black Tea is the famous English breakfast Tea. Black tea is not actually black when brewed but a ruby red color with possibly a tinge of brown. The leaves are black after fermentation. I have no idea how this fermentation process works. If any reader knows more about tea growing and production please leave a comment and site your sources.

In my opinion “Black” Tea is the best. American teas such as Lipton, Tetley, Louisian are Black and Orange Pekoe mix (Orange Pekoe is a cheaper tea). Earl Grey is another common hot tea. Its my opinion that Lipton hands down is the best and taste more like Black Tea than the others. Any other source of straight black tea from the east might be best. A hotter brewed tea (one that is brewed with water closer to the boiling point) will end up with more of a bitter taste. This is from the caffeine content. I like tea that is made with water that is between just barely hot enough to touch and just under boiling point, but not too close to boiling.  If your water does come to a boil and you stop it quick enough the result is not too bad. But boiling for too long makes a very bitter product that even sugar can’t cure.

Never make tea in the same glass containers which are used to make coffee. And never use water from containers which are used to make coffee for the hot water alone. A glass container will get some coffee residue on it which will leach into the tea or tea water and create an off flavor.  Some municipal waters are horrible for tea making. Restaurants with bad tap water should use reverse osmosis filtered water or possibly 5 gal. bottled water. If a restaurant were to keep a usage count of tea produced and used, they would know how much water is needed to be ordered just for tea. DIY Reverse Osmosis.com has a great filter system. But I would add that you will want a ceramic silver filter on the product side of this filter to make sure any bacteria that might by chance get through are killed. I have heard that bacteria can get through imperfections in the membrane and cause gastro intestinal illness. Also add an activated carbon filter on the product side to remove any membrane taste or odors. I have experienced really bad water in Texas and near Chicago in Illinois. I think Texas water has oil in it (pun).

Next for managers, please find employees that like tea and have them monitor the tea for quality once an hour by tasting it. Sometimes there is a situation where none of the employees working a shift happen to like tea, including the waitresses. They get a really bad attitude when the patron tries to tell them the tea is going bad. The first response is always, that “tea going bad is to be expected” and “what else would you want instead?” It can then become a fight to get some fresh tea made and the patron is not guaranteed that the equipment will be properly cleaned before the fresh tea is made. They can have the attitude “mind your own business” if you try to explain to them what you think happened to their Tea to make it bad. In other words if you try top play manager and help them with this they may spit in your food or even wiz in it. Thats the fear anway, which is why patrons rarely tell the staff about bad tea. This is why the staff make comments lke, “no one is complaining” if other staff including management, suggest making fresh Tea.

 The end of shift is a bad time also to request fresh tea to be made. And then they may simply dump the bad tea, leaving lots of nice sour bacteria on the surface of the container.  They then give this bacteria a warm bath and fresh food by making fresh tea in this container.  When they bring you a glass of this and you taste it, they will exclaim “We just made it, it is fresh.” So now you as the customer are utterly wrong in saying that it still taste bad.  I have often told them, “Well it taste like you just made it but it has this off  sour flavor in it as if the container had not been cleaned first”.  I always get denial from them.

As a patron I often ask for unsweet tea at this point. I hope that since it has no sugar in it that there is less chance of it having gone bad. If a patron exclaims that they think the tea has gone bad management may test this by taking a glass of unsweetened Tea, adding sugar to the glass, stiring with no ice, and then taste test it against the sweet batch. Management may easily detect off flavors in sweet Tea this way.  When I request unsweet Tea I always request unsweet tea in one glass with no ice and ice in a separate glass. Some restaurants refuse to serve sweet tea because of the souring problem. I feel it is rude to ask your patrons to sweeten their tea with ice in it. Unsweet tea can develop off flavors as well over time if the equipment is not properly cleaned and sanitized often enough. A solution we came up with when I worked at Shoney’s was to only make sweet tea in 1/2 gallon pictures. It was only made as needed 1/2 gallon at a time. This was a great solution because if by chance on sit around too long and began to sour, we only threw out 1/2 gallon or usually less. Also a fresh half gallon was quick to make. The unsweet tea was still made in bulk 3 or 4 gallons at a time.

So what is proper cleaning and sanitation of the equipment? Well first I need to explain what is happening when tea sours. Bare with me as I briefly explain the art of home wine making. Everyone should make a gallon of home made wine in their lifetime. You take some Welches grape juice, which has sugar in it. You use bread yeast which has been started by adding it to a cup of luke warm water. This water should have a small amount of sugar in it such as a few table spoons. After this water begins to froth and foam up it is added to the grape juice.  What happens next? You will see the yeast floating around as if it is swimming. It begins to discolor the juice a bit and make it more cloudy looking. It also produced CO2. Yes carbonation. In wine making it is very important to sanitize all equipment. This is because you only want the good yeast(a bacteria) working on the wine. So wine is not made in an open container. It is corked with a tube in the cork which can be run down and into a quart jar of water. This creates a vapor lock. As the CO2 is made it bubbles out the jar of water. No air can get back into the container of wine. If no air can get back in then no bad bacteria can either.

What happens if bad bacteria enters the wine? You end up with wine vinegar. Vinegar is fine as a matter of fact I love vinegar on salads. But I don’t want vinegar in my wine or in my iced tea. Yes this is what happens to tea and most especially sweetened tea. Bad bacterias begin feeding on the sugar or otherwise breeding and begin to turn the tea into vinegar. At the slightest off taste the tea is no longer worth serving or fit to drink at all. Yet how many times have I been handed a glass of soured tea and been expected to pay $2 for it? Countless. What I really love is the waitress or waiters who try to make you think its personal and that you just don’t like their tea. I once had a waitress manager at Shoney’s say to me, “They are not complaining” after, as a Shoney’s kitchen manager, I had told them that the machines needed to be cleaned and the tea needed to be changed out. Much of the time the customer just doesn’t want a fight. So they drink the tea anyway if its borderline tolerable, however they won’t drink much of it.  But they don’t forget. I will go out of my way to go to a restaurant that has good tea. I will also go out of my way to avoid one that has bad tea. By the way, I want to congratulate McDonald’s for finally getting the sweet tea right! After like 60 years of being in business they have really good sweet tea. I think the brand of tea has had something to do with it. But more so is the preparation and handling.

How does a restaurant combat bad household sugar loving, vinegar producing bacterias?

  • Clean equipment with a proper sanitizing solution. Such as a table spoon of bleach mixed in a gallon of water. Do not pour bleach into any container and then add water! A bleach residue may be left over after cleaning and then create an off flavor in the product.
  • Clean equipment in the very hot industrial dishwashers.
  • Clean equipment with boiling water. Hot water is not good enough, it must be near 212 degrees F.
  • Clean the tap valve (spicket) and washers and threads thoroughly with brushes if that is part of the tea holding containers. Look for nicks and crannies where bacteria would love to hide and grow.
  • Cover Tea containers any way you can. Use cellophane or aluminum foil or lids or whatever.
  • Cool tea to refrigeration temperatures if possible as soon as possible after making it. Bacteria love room temperatures. If you usually add cool water to the freshly brewed tea, which is usually concentrated, then consider adding ice instead to bring the tea temperature down to refrigeration temps. It may warm back up to room temps but at least this gives it a lot more time before it could go bad. I hesitate to suggest this but if a container is perfectly clean such as a glass fruit jar or plastic container, zip lock bag etc., it could be used to cool the tea back down, just fill it with ice, Make sure its sealed and put it in the tea batch. This is for situations where tea can not be kept under refrigeration (in a sealed container). Be careful with this idea, as the container which holds the ice might introduce bad bacteria into the Tea batch.
  • Make up sweetened tea as needed in small quantities such as 1/2 or 1 gallon at a time if possible.
  • If you do not offer sweetened tea then serve  the customer tea in one glass, ice in another. Let them pour self sweetened tea over the ice.

Nest Tea has come up with some kind of fountain tea drink as of lately. Its not bad, but its no replacement for fresh brewed tea. I do not feel that any restaurant should completely replace fresh brewed tea with this product. It probably has some kind of sanitizing agent in it to keep it from going sour. This contributes to an off flavor. I’m guessing here. And this is a personal opinion.

Tea leaf bags or loose tea should be store in sealed containers. If not moisture will get into the tea leaves and cause stale off flavors to develop as well as off color. More red is good in tea, more brown is bad. Though I’d say the ruby color always may be a little bit on the brown side.

Tea sweetness? Some people like syrup tea. I do not. I like a medium sweetness. Sugar can overwhelm good tea flavor in the same way that the bitter taste of caffeine can. Balance is needed. But this balance also depends on how strong the tea is. Strong will need more sugar to offset the caffeine bitterness. Weaker less. If you make tea and it looks like slightly brown off colored water it is too weak.  If it is super bitter it is too strong. I like to hold a clear tea class filled with tea up to a light or sun light. If it has a near ruby red color it is just right for me.

Tea should be served in a clear glass or clear plastic glass. The customer should be able to inspect its color and clarity.  It should not be served in red, brown or blue soda glasses for sure.

Any time you, as a patron, experience bad tea at a restaurant please give them the web address to my blog and tell them to read this post. Managers can feel free to print this and post it where employees may read it. Thanks.

For Truckers and people on the go.

I make a lot of tea in the truck (18 wheeler). I can use 2 family sized Lipton tea bags in a 32 or 48 oz cup and still save money over buying tea in the convenience sections or truck stop restaurants. I usually buy tea first in the store to get the cup. Then I re-use the cup a few times making tea in it.

For heating water in the truck I use the 12 volt appliances that you find in the truck stops. One looks like a thermos and one looks more like a coffee pot and is called “smart pot”. Be careful with the thermos shaped one. With this one you, if you have any common sense, you will know to baby sit it closely. If it were to tip over or boil dry the truck would burn down. I wonder how many trucks have burned up because of this thing. However it is relatively fast at boiling water. That one takes about 10 to 15 minutes to boil 20 oz of water.

The Smart Pot has a Teflon coated heating element in the bottom of it. It will shut off if it boils dry. It takes a hair longer to boil water.

Wal-Mart sells a 120 volt hot water heater that looks like a coffee peculator. It will boil water in near one minute. Make sure you idle the truck while using this because of the power it draws. Of course you have to have a very good inverter for this one, one that would also support a microwave.

I, after 8 years of making hot tea in the truck still prefer Lipton Full Brew Tea to any other method. The cold brew is the next best option and this is a great product. I use it when in a hurry a lot. And you can get away with only partially heating the water. Its not exactly cold brew. Its more like barely warm brew. It will sun brew well. And very hot water will make a product with this that is way too strong and bitter. Non the less it is much better than instant tea. I have used instant tea some in the past. I almost have to consider this to be a different drink that somewhat taste like tea. It is better than no tea sometimes.  And of course it requires no heating at all, can be made with very cold water. I like instant coffee for coffee  way more than instant tea for tea  in comparison.

If you do bring water to a boil in the truck, then you can sanitize your cup really easily. You can get more use out of some cups this way. This is also why I love that 120 volt water heater from Wal-Mart. You can put a 1/2 inch of water in it and it takes like 10 seconds to bring it to a boil. This product appears to be extremely safe in regards to fire hazard too. Maybe a restaurant would benefit by having one of these on the waitress line. The waitress could make boiling water in a few seconds to use in sanitizing the tea machine.
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One response

  1. Redone

    I agree wholeheartedly with your column, as an airlinepilot I experience the same problems and regional idiosycracies that you do.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:21 pm

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