FOOD FIGHT

Iced tea stirs up passions

Exotic blends boast rabid fans, as does . . . Jack in the Box?
2010-09-02T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:35:49Z Iced tea stirs up passionsKristen Cook Kcook@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
September 02, 2010 12:00 am  • 

When it comes to iced tea, you've got two basic choices - sweetened or unsweetened - but many, many options.

In our latest Food Fight, readers sang the praises of every kind of iced tea, from the stuff served at fast-food joints like Jack in the Box to Desert Rain Café in Sells on the Tohono O'odham Nation.

"As odd as it may seem, the most refreshing iced tea I've had in town (other than what I make at home) is at Jack in the Box," one reader wrote. "I thought it was a fluke the couple of times I'd get a tea from there, but now I'm willing to detour to a JITB when I'm out and about."

Hector Rodriguez said, "The Desert Rain Café's agave-sweetened iced tea in Sells, Ariz., is a nice, refreshing new twist on an old favorite."

Prickly pear, hibiscus, black currant, spiced, decaf mango - they're all favorites. Still, one brand clearly spanked the competition - Tia Lilly's cinnamon tea, which comes sweetened and un.

Paralegal Vicki Ammerman proclaimed it "undoubtedly the best sweet tea in town!" In a follow-up e-mail, Ammerman said nothing else out there compares. "Just taste it once, and you'll be hooked."

Ammerman first sampled the sweetened version at Sir Veza's Taco Garage, 4699 E. Speedway, and likes to keep a jug of it chilling in her fridge.

In fact, there was such a long string of positive comments for the brew - which is also served at El Charro restaurants, Magpies Gourmet Pizza, Diablos Sports Bar & Grill, and Metropolis Salon - that one Food Fight commenter rushed out to try it. Yup, that taster was converted, too.

You can thank Michael Lopez for the addictive blend.

As a boy growing up in Tucson, everyone in his family made sweet cinnamon-spiced tea. But no one made it quite like his Tia Lilly.

She tossed cinnamon sticks and black tea leaves in an old cast-iron kettle, seasoned from years of use. Tia Lilly never used soap - just gave it a rinse, allowing the cinnamon to season the pot. A few years ago, Lopez decided to try to duplicate the refreshing blend. The problem with most cinnamon teas, he said, is that they leave a bitter aftertaste.

"This is nice and smooth," said Lopez, who also works as a DJ with his company, Master Mixx Productions. "We want it to taste like you're sucking it through a cinnamon stick. . . . If you like cinnamon, you love it."

The tea debuted over Memorial Day weekend, but it already has racked up hundreds of fans on its Facebook page. People have even contacted Lopez to order their own gallons of tea. Lopez expects to have gallons and 20-ounce bottles of Tia Lilly's on local store shelves soon. Up next - flavored versions, sugar-free and decaf Tia Lilly's, as well as to-go packets.

Of course, what all this means is that Tia Lilly is off the hook, and now Lopez is expected to provide the cinnamon tea for family gatherings.

"We had a party about a week ago," he said. "I had to take six gallons over."

The Contenders

• Baggins, several locations including 2741 E. Speedway.

• Beyond Bread, 3026 N. Campbell Ave. and 6260 E. Speedway.

• BrushFire BBQ Co., 2745 N. Campbell Ave.

• Café Passé, 415 N. Fourth Ave.

• Delectables Restaurant & Catering, 533 N. Fourth Ave.

• Desert Rain Café in Tohono Plaza on Main Street in Sells; www.desert raincafe.com

• The Eclectic Cafe, 7053 E. Tanque Verde Road.

• Ghini's French Caffe, 1803 E. Prince Road.

• Ike's Coffee and Tea, 3400 E. Speedway and 100 N. Stone Ave.

• Jack in the Box, several locations, including 7031 E. Tanque Verde Road.

• El Molinito, three locations, including 3675 W. Ina Road.

• Ocotillo Café, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road.

• Tucson Racquet & Fitness Club, 4001 N. Country Club Road.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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