Review: McDonald's Sweet Tea


A few years ago, McDonald's started going after the Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks of the world by stepping up the quality of some of their beverage offerings. This began with their Premium Roast Coffee, which has actually done quite well for them. Given their leverage in size, they are able to offer this at an affordable cost, while adding an upgrade to their breakfast menu, all while providing handsome profit margins.

McDonald’s Sweet Tea / Mickey D’s Sweet Tea

Mickey D's Sweet Tea

The success of the coffee launch prompted the company to look at other drink offerings. Back in May 2006, Crain's Chicago Business outlined their strategy:

McDonald's Corp. is boosting its beverage offerings around the world as it seeks to build on three years of monthly same-store sales growth… testing sweet iced tea in 3,000 restaurants in the South and iced coffee in the Northeast. Energy drinks may start springing up in other parts of the country.

McDonald’s Sweet Tea / Mickey D’s Sweet Tea

(Source: McNewJersey.com)

…Adding more drink choices is part of a new trend in the restaurant industry and an easy way to grow profits. "Where the consumer sees a thirst-quenching choice, the restaurant operator sees margins," says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service strategies at WD Partners, an Ohio-based restaurant development firm.

On that note, recently McDonald's increased the rollout of their sweet iced tea to include the Chicago market. Marketed under the brand Mickey D's Sweet Tea, it's a southern-style sweet tea that obviously hopes to gain a broader audience.

As I lack the personal expertise to know what makes a great sweet tea (though Slate had a great tutorial last summer), I tapped into the opinions of my good friend Randy Birkey, Web Strategist at Chicago-based Headstand Media. More importantly, Randy's roots come from his upbringing in South Carolina and his family's creation of a secret sweet tea recipe. If I needed to go to anyone for an authoritative opinion on sweet tea, Randy would be my first choice. So that is what I did!

Here are a few of Randy's thoughts…

I think it is important to note that this is southern-style sweet tea. Northerners are not accustomed to this style of tea! I judge sweet tea based upon my upbringing in South Carolina. I grew up on the stuff!

McDonald’s Sweet Tea / Mickey D’s Sweet Tea

(Source: Clemson.edu)

When one approaches sweet tea, it's really a matter of taste and preference, formed by one's culture and upbringing. In many cases there are negative connotations regarding sweet tea, normally associated with the amount of sugar used in making it. To dispel that myth, I don't have bad teeth, diabetes, or other sugar-related issues. There is more sugar in a can of pop than in most sweet iced tea.

Additionally, if brewed properly, sweet tea contains antioxidants. In fact, depending on what tea leaves are used during the brewing process, it can also be caffeine free.

McDonald’s Sweet Tea / Mickey D’s Sweet Tea

Having tasted McDonald's Sweet Tea, I think it's pretty good, if you work from the assumption that they are attempting to target the widest possible audience. Personally, I feel it needs to be sweeter and possess a stronger tea flavor for me to really recommend it.

However, one of the challenges of sweet tea is that the stronger you make it, the more bitter the drink becomes. To help neutralize the bitterness, we often add a small amount of baking soda during the brewing process when preparing my family recipe. It helps give the tea a sweet, smooth flavor. I wish McDonald's would have figured that out, as they would have a better product, in my opinion.

In the end, the big question is, "Will this product from the South find acceptance here in the North?" Judging from the commonplace non-sweetened tea available in most restaurants, my guess is this will be a hard sell for McDonald's up here.

Still, given the limited choices, I would select the sweet tea at McDonald's over their other drink offerings. It's not bad, just not perfect! (I'd say the best restaurant sweet tea I've had can be found at Cracker Barrel.)

Jumping from Randy's expert opinion to my naive one, I also tried Mickey D's Sweet Tea when it was first launched here in the Chicago area. Apparently, each individual restaurant needs additional equipment to make this particular beverage.

McDonald’s Sweet Tea / Mickey D’s Sweet Tea

(Source: VoxPrint.com)

I found the drink to be very sweet when sampled on my virgin palette. I'm just not used to tea tasting that sweet, which probably hints to the acceptance issue that Randy noted in his review. Of course, this is also the middle of winter, and probably one of the last things I'm desiring to drink these days is a nice cold batch of tea! The color of the drink was what you come to expect from tea, though I would imagine that most folks won't actually see the drink, given that its served in a foam-based cup with non-transparent lid, partaken with a straw.

The comments made about the health aspects of sweet tea should be noted. When browsing McDonald's website for nutritional information, I found entries for 5 different sizes of Mickey D's Sweet Tea being offered at restaurants: Child (12 oz. – 60 calories), Small (16 oz. – 120 calories), Medium (21 oz. – 150 calories), Large (32 oz. – 230 calories), and Gallon (128 oz. – 640 calories).

It should be noted that in all of its marketing materials and inaugural $1 pricing, McDonald's is pushing the 32 oz. size, so watch your calorie intake accordingly. Comparing the calories/ounce, however, McDonald's Sweet Tea does seem to be the less caloricly-costly option when compared to ordering a Coca-Cola. The nutritional data doesn't note whether their calculations are based on a large amount of ice added to the cup of sweet tea. In my personal experience, there was quite a bit. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, it should be interesting to watch how McDonald's Sweet Tea/Mickey D's Sweet Tea does in various markets. Obviously their initial testing a few years ago prompted a larger rollout. Has McDonald's introduced this drink in your area? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    The Sweet Tea was just recently released here in long island, NY. I am a huge sweet tea fan, so much so that I brew my own decaf version weekly at home. I love the McDonald's sweet tea BUT I find it is too sweet and they need to take the ice down a notch. Other than that…love it!

  2. Michelle Armstrong says:

    Growing up in the North with a family who has Southern roots, I always drank sweet tea at my Aunt's home. Then Chick Fil A introduced sweet tea to my Indiana home town as well as Cracker Barrel. When we moved to the South, it was so nice to be able to get it anywhere. In the North if you ask for sweet tea, they give you unsweetened with sugar packets. When I would try to describe it to them they would say, oh, hot tea? They just didn't get it. However, I have found that the longer I live down here there are certain places that have better sweet tea than others. Because of the ethnic diversity working in restaurants now, many people were not raised on sweet tea, therefore they do not understand how it should be made or how it should taste. Some McDonald's here have terrible sweet tea, watered down and barely sweet.

    I target certain places and watch for who is working there. My wonderful friend, Phyllis, an African American Southern expert in sweet tea has told me to target the restaurants that have African American's working there. She calls it slap your Mamma sweet (she is too funny). Hispanics and young white teens have no idea how to make it. It must be brewed, as Randy said, so it is not too strong but strong enough that it's dark brown. And the sugar in it MUST be completely dissolved in the very hot, brewed tea. If you are traveling through the South and want the good stuff, I would target some of the restaurants which offer home cooked meals, a meat and three or someplace such as Cracker Barrel. And there are many off the road bbq places that have killer sweet tea as well. You won't be disappointed.

  3. As Michelle stated, the quality of the tea does vary from store to store, although I didn't find a relation between the ethnicity of the servers. A few places make it so weak that it is barely colored water. Fortunately, most of the McD's I've visited in the Chicagoland area are fairly consistent.

    I agree with Randy that Cracker Barrel is number one as far as sweet tea is concerned. For those of you who find the McDonald's sweet tea too sweet, ask for a wedge of lemon and squeeze it.

  4. Vickie Seidle says:

    I can't resist getting the sweet tea from McD's! It's not the best I've ever had but I still like it. I'm not from the south but I'm a sweet tea fan.
    I feel they should reduce the amount of ice that they put into the cup . . . not enough tea. I wonder if the amount of calories indicated is based on the high levels of ice and low levels of tea? Otherwise, that number could easily double!!

  5. i LOVE micky d's sweet tea it is the BEST tea ever. i get at least 2-4 a day.

  6. I work at a mcdonalds in Cincinnati and I have to say it's one of the most popular drinks. I mean, the sweet variety is, the unsweetened is hardly ordered. Seems like its making them plenty of money. I've had it, and it is way too sweet for me. I only drink unsweetened tea.

  7. Egg Nog Man says:

    I live in KC, and I am a fan of sweetened tea. McDonald's does a great job on their tea in my opinion. It is VERY, very sweet.

  8. I LOVE McDonald's Sweet Tea! I grew up in the North on Sweet Tea and didn't realize that so many people didn't know about Sweet Tea. I know that many prefer unsweetened tea.

    I've tried to come close to the McDonald's Sweet Tea here at home and have not been able to get it right yet. I'm wondering if it's the bran of tea I'm using (Lipton's) that is making the difference. Any one else have any ideas?

  9. I find it funny that they call this a Southern thing. I know that it originated in the South, but Northerners are big sweet tea drinkers too. I live in Northern Indiana, and I think that I only know 2 non-sweet tea drinkers. If we serve drinks at our events, we have to serve tea, and it has to be sweet.

    McD's Tea is a sweeter tea than Cracker Barrel tea up here. Cracker Barrel tea is not as strong or as sweet…but this is the North. McD tea has stormed our area, and there are many days that we go to buy one, and they are sold out! Seriously, no more tea…we waited for them to make more. It is popular. And for good reason.

  10. I am hooked on McD's sweet tea ,I am from GA so I know how tea is supposed to taste, however I can almost duplicate it by simply using 3 Dollar General family size tea bags dropped into a quart or so of boiling water in a pot already sweetened with 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, take it off the burner and let it steep covered 5 minutes then pour it into 1/2 gallon container and fill with cold water.

  11. Martee Smith says:

    I have lived in the south all my life and have grown up drinking sweet tea. When it comes to Mcdonalds tea I think it is perfect! I do need to always put lemon in my tea to add to the flavor but as a southern girl I really do love the sweet tea from Mcdonalds, and they do put lemon in my tea!

    Maybe every Mcdonalds brews their tea different when it comes to each state but you can't get a better tea when it comes to the Mcdonalds here in Northeast Florida!

  12. When it comes to ordering sweet tea from Mcdonalds, if you don't want alot of ice just ask for light ice and they give that to you know problems. I always ask for light ice and have never been disappointed.

  13. I have it every day. Does anyone know how much caffeine is in a large cup? I didn't see it listed on the McDonald's website.

  14. I've come to like their sweet tea but I hate that in certain areas where I live they say that they HAVE to serve it with a full cup of ice. They like to overdue it on the ice, and I do believe it needs more sugar, and although I didn't grow up in the south the person who makes all the Iced tea in the house did and I guess you could say i grew up drinking southern sweet tea. After the full cup of ice though I doubt that my large sweet tea really has 230 calories and i'm a bit curious how much less calories am i consuming after adding sooo much ice.

  15. We're from way up north…North Dakota! One McDonald's location in Fargo, ND, and another across the Red River (of the North) in Moorhead, MN, are serving Mickey D's sweet tea. Yum!

  16. I'm from Indiana and LOVE Mc Donalds tea. As for too much ice, my sister orders one with ice and one without and just keeps refilling her cup throughout the day.

  17. How does 32oz. have 230 calories & a gallon only 640!? Anyone else find that odd?

  18. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    @2, your sweeping generalizations make you sound ignorant and so naive. Your comment has added nothing to the article — except racism.

  19. Michelle says:

    17. Lisa
    I do the same thing. Some times I buy two with no ice, and take it home. I get more when you order it without ice. I love Mc donalds tea also. Theres time I can't be a day without Mc donalds ice tea.
    LOVE IT.

  20. I live in Michigan and I love the McDonals Sweet Tea. First taste, I was hooked. The sweetness is perfect. I always order it with light ice and it still stays cold for hours.

  21. I live in Brooklyn, I don't take my coffee or tea sweet, and yet I love McD's Sweet Tea. Nobody was more shocked than me, but there's just something addicting about it!

  22. I'm from Los Angeles, and I just tried the sweet tea offered at my McDonald's and was a bit dissappointed; not in the tea but in the service. I love teas in general, so I was excited to try this new tea. What I didn't know about the tea before I read this posting was that it was a southern style tea and is brewed sweet. So I got my hot tea in the morning; one large cup of plain hot water, one bag of tea and NO sugar whatsoever. So my experience with this new tea was not a good one. I needed one more bag of tea and I had to use honey from my house to sweeten it.

  23. Lucinda says:

    I am from originally Penn. where sweet tea was unheard of. When my family moved to Georgia, Sweet Tea was a hit!!! My grandmother would make it by the gallons every day. Then over the years my mom would make it. We always had sweet tea in the house. We hardly ever had soft drinks, so sweet tea was it.
    A couple of years ago I had a job that required me to travel all over the country. The first thing I would do is look for a restaurant that had sweet tea for me to purchase and take with me!!! The company I worked for had sweet tea, but it was not available for carry out. So I had to get tea from Chik-fil-a or McDonalds. In my opinion, Mickey D's has the BEST tea in all the states!!!! I now buy it by the gallon, and have everyone in my home drinking it. We don't buy soft drinks anymore, except when we go out to eat.
    There is something that a lot of people don't know about tea. When it is old and dosen't taste good, it has a stale honey flavor to it. So people at restaurants need to know how to tell when it is bad and make fresh. Enjoy Sweet Tea!!!! Way to go Mickey D's!!!

  24. Even though I live in Iowa, I'm a Son of the South. For those of you who think it's TOO SWEET….you don't know what the crap Sweet Tea is, do you? I like Mcdonald's sweet tea pretty well…but it's not the best. I have better recipes than that. Everyone i know likes my tea (well, those of them that actually like tea to begin with). I agree with the author of this, there needs to be some baking soda brewed and make the tea a lot stronger, then sweeten it up quite a bit more. goooood stuff. go check out Sweet Tea Junkie (google it, or i think this is their myspace – - myspace.com/sweetteajunkie ) great guys.

  25. Down here in South Texas mostly what I've seen is sweet tea made with brewed tea mixed with a sugar syrup (half sugar/half water, heated on the stove until all the sugar is dissolved. The syrup is mixed with the tea at a starting ratio of one part syrup to 4 parts strong brewed tea. Then it's either adjusted to taste by changing the ratio or people put more sugar in their glass. Good stuff even when made poorly, great stuff when made correctly

  26. I Live in ct i try to go offen as i can to mcdonalds i cannot get enough of ice tea. I try to make my own but their is nothing like micky ds sweeten ice tea. i love it.

  27. i live in arkansas and love mcdonalds sweet tea. i am a heavy tea drinker and i drink about 3-4 of the 32 once a day. what i do to cut the calories and sweetness of it a bit is i get it half to three quarters of unsweet and then the rest sweet. its still tastes great and sweet but not overly sweet. you can taste the flavor of the tea itself which is important and sometimes i like to add a touch of cinnamon to it. its funny, when i stop at night coming home from work to order a couple to take home of course they give you two straws. well both teas are for me, so i have a handful of extra straws in my glove box……. finally started telling the server they are both for me and i only need on straw.

  28. Mcdonalds located in Gorman, CA
    We just tried this tonight for the 1st time at the request of my 10 yr old daughter after school. We loved it so much we went back after work and got another one to share.My only concern was is it sweatened with corn syrup or sugar? The lady told me sugar but could not confirm how much caffeine was in it. I hope it sticks around. J Phillips Lebec, CA.

  29. I'm from NYC and didnt know much about sweet tea till i came to the south as well (Florida). Micky D's Sweet Tea is OFF the HOOK!! I love it. Yea i get it with NO ice so it doesnt get watered down and take away from its sweetness. I also get 2 at a time to drink one in the moment and the other goes in my freezer until slushy :P Mmm Mm Good!! Haha. I'm going to test #11 (Bob)'s recipe with the Dollar General bags. A couple bux, hey its worth a shot :)
    -Holds up Micky D's Sweet Tea- Cheers everyone!!

  30. My guess is that the consumption of Mickey D's Sweet Tea will soon become a state wide epidemic. :)
    Dittos on the yum….
    Visalia, California

  31. Mary Horejsh says:

    I am from WI and love the sweet tea, although I water and ice it down a bit to stretch it.

  32. McDonalds sweet tea is addictive. I always order mine without ice, when I get home I place it in the freezer for about half an hour in a insulated mug. Mmmm Here in Louisville, KY, we have a restaurant called White Castle, they have sweet tea that is comparable to McDonalds and you can buy it by the gallon, sometimes we do. Overall, I would say, McDonalds gets my vote for the best sweet tea in our area for .99 cents. They need to introduce the gallon jug size. .99 Sweet tea, NO ICE please, a mcdouble, a dollar french fry and maybe an apple pie and I am good to go. Have a Mickey D Day!

  33. All the McDonald's I've been to in Indiana have serve yourself drink stations. Often, they have two containers of sweet tea. First thing I do is sample a gulp from each one. Although sweetness and temperature is usually pretty consistent, sometimes I find one container significantly colder than the other. So, only then do I add ice to my preference and fill from the colder tap. Although I like really sweet tea, I've even found it too sweet on a couple of occasions, but a shot of unsweetened takes care of that. No matter what, I go inside and take care of this important process myself. NEVER get sweet tea from the drive through!!

  34. I AM A TRUE SOUTHERNER AND I LOVE MCDONALD'S SWEET TEA. I DRINK PROBABLY 5 A DAY. BUT I HAVE TO ALWAYS ASK FOR MORE ICE. THE TEA IS WARM AND THE 4 OR 5 CUBES THEY PUT IN ARE MELTED BEFORE GETTING OUT OF THE DRIVEWAY.

  35. g t walker says:

    The sweet tea that I purchased in Bloomfield, NJ was quite poor. I cannot imagine that there is sufficient variation from store to store to make it good. I doesn't begin to compete with sweet tea in South Carolina.

  36. Variation? lol, I'm about ready to give up McDonalds sweet tea because of the "variations". Half the time I end up throwing it out, more than once I've returned them for refund when they have that dishwater taste. Something happened whithin the last couple years that affected the quality, maybe a change in product or employee procedure. i've probably tried most of the McDonalds in a 50 mile radius over the years. wrote complaing to Micky D's. com, referred to regional manager, supplied dates and times of incidents, the tea actually got worse. I avoid the sweet tea at the closest McDonalds to me like the plague. Of the closest four McDonalds, only one makes "good" sweet tea. I think Micky Ds shoud train a good portion of the 50,000 people hired a few weeks ago to brew sweet tea properly, or turn the process over to an asst. manager if its that difficult, or just taste the stuff before you sell it to me.

  37. It is way too sweet…I don't normally drink heavily sweetened teas, but someone just gave me mcdonalds sweet tea the other day and it tasted to me like liquid candy. Maybe they do that because the ice eventually will dilute it and make it less sweet if you drink it slowly enough…if I'm ever ordering tea from mcdonalds I would just have them do half sweet and half unsweet. I dont want to drink candy!

  38. Sharon Hoyle says:

    #37, you are so right. I have found only two in my area with good tea. As #24 said, when tea gets old, it tastes awful. If the containers aren't washed properfly that bad taste transfers to the next batch. My guess is it's actually starting to grow bacteria (loving that sugar). I spoke with a manager at my McDonalds with great tea and he said they only make 5 gallons at a time. Since it is always fresh, it always tastes great. He said some stores make it a barrel (whatever that is) at a time and use it for days. YUCK!! Corporate headquarters needs to send out a memo and have everyone making it fresh and cleaning the containers appropriately.

  39. The sweet tea in Rockford at the State & Perryville store is the worst i've ever tasted. Believe me, it's not sugar they are using.

  40. Juanita says:

    I live in Santa Fe, TEXAS and everyone I know, including me, is addicted to McDonald's Sweet Tea. It tastes like I made it at home.

  41. Any way we can get that Randy Birkey Sweet Tea Recipe?

  42. The tea is awesome.I'm a delivery truck driver and buy it from 9 different locations regularly. If I get it by my house ( in the ghetto), I mix it half and half with the unsweet tea. If I get it out in the burbs, it's not as sweet and I don't need to dilute it.

  43. I found McD's Sweet tea a good 2 years ago and have loved it ever since. There are times when it's not as fresh as I expect it to be. But for the most part, it's a good tasting drink that's not soda. Plus at $1 for any size, it makes it a good pick me up instead of a Starbucks latte at three times the price.

  44. your math is off, your numbers are wrong, mcdonalds sweet tea is way worse…..http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/nutritionfacts.pdf heres proof.

  45. I love McDonald's Sweet Tea!!! I could drink a gallon of it a day! However, I do feel that it is a little too sweet and they put way too much ice in the glass.

  46. Perfect Sweet Tea Recipe
    (Makes 1 gallon)
    - 4 quart size tea bags or 1 family size bag (preferably Luzianne or Lipton)
    - 1 3/4 – 2 cups of sugar
    - Water
    - 1 gallon jug

    Bring your water to a boil in a small pot. When your water is boiling, throw in the tea bags. Immediately take the pot off the stove and cover. Let steep (5-10 minutes is sufficient). Pour your sugar in the gallon jug and pour in the hot tea, using a ladle to hold the tea bags in the pot. Mix. Pour cold water on the tea bags in the pot and pour into the jug using your ladle to hold the tea bags. Repeat until gallon jug is full. Enjoy!

  47. Nikki charles says:

    Go to cane sugar please, corn syrup does not belong in tea. I think its great to have souther tea a

  48. mickeymichelle says:

    McDonald's sweet tea is the best!! HOWEVER, I have noticed that sometimes there
    is hey variation in taste and quality. As a former waitress I can tell you that if the containers And
    the dispensers are not cleaned thoroughly with Clorox on a regular basis and then thoroughly rinse with hot water that a particular bacteria can build up that will cause H pylori in the intestinal tract. The bacteria actually builds up and looks like slimy peppered goo. I know from experience about this condition as I contacted it while working as a waitress with the 2 other waitresses who also contracted H pylori. the common denominator at the time was that we all 3 drank the sweet tea
    where we worked at.
    Upon inspection we discovered that the dispenser trigger on the tea containers were gommed up when we dismantled them with the slimey peppery looking goo. Little did we know that the second shift waitresses were not cleaning the containers properly each and every night. Myself and the other 2 waitresses now have this h.pylori bacteria in our intestines

Trackbacks

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