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Beverages—on ice

Nothing says summer like a tall, cold glass of freshly squeezed lemonade or brewed iced tea. But there are plenty of other ways to stir up these hot-weather favorites. Iced tea and lemonade are one of the biggest categories of bottled beverages, especially if you consider all the flavor permutations. The ready-to-drink iced tea category alone accounted for $2.41 billion last year, according to the Tea Association of the United States, which predicts annual increases of 10 to 12 percent.

Nothing says summer like a tall, cold glass of freshly squeezed lemonade or brewed iced tea. But there are plenty of other ways to stir up these hot-weather favorites. Iced tea and lemonade are one of the biggest categories of bottled beverages, especially if you consider all the flavor permutations. The ready-to-drink iced tea category alone accounted for $2.41 billion last year, according to the Tea Association of the United States, which predicts annual increases of 10 to 12 percent.

If you want to offer lemonade and iced tea on-premise, you can also customize a mix or concentrate. However, a growing number of operators are going the homemade route. Even with the extra labor and higher product costs, the payoff is worth it.

Lucy’s Lemonade Stand in the courtyard of the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, capitalizes on the hotel restaurant’s “fresh & honest” motto, says the concept’s creator, Sophie Zunz. The chef makes a popular signature from lemons, sugar and water fresh daily, which the stand sells to-go for $3 a glass. For $3.50, customers can buy the lemonade flavored with whatever fruit’s in season. Executive chef Peter Davis leverages his relationships with local growers, which makes costs reasonable. The restaurant also brews fresh iced teas, including Traditional, Organic Green and Crimson Berry, each $3.50.

“There’s a common fallacy that you can just make hot tea in a coffee brewer and turn it into a cold beverage,” notes Dan Rhoden, president of Restaurant Tea Service Inc., a Burbank, California-based company. The biggest problem an operator faces, says Rhoden, is that it’s difficult to make quality iced tea without a specialized iced tea brewer. A coffee brewer doesn’t heat the water hot enough and doesn’t steep the leaves long enough, and it cross-contaminates the tea with coffee oils. Next, he says, you need good quality tea. “Your taste buds react differently to hot and cold beverages,” he says. Hot teas often have too many bitter tannins, which are only accentuated when chilled. Rhodan sells China Mist and Shangri-la, both premium China black blends designed for iced tea.

It’s Not Just Ice

The size and shape of ice directly impact drink quality. whenever you add a  new beverage to your menu, it’s important to consider how you are going to supply that ice—the size, type and placement of ice machines and satellite bins.

Ice is available in three basic forms: flake ice, cubes—including cubelet, diced, half-dice, pillow and crescent—and nuggets.

Many operators opt for cubes because they are clear, hard and slow-melting. However, cube machines are noisy and consume 25 to 33 percent more water and energy than other types. Mike Rice, marketing manager for the Follett Corporation, recommends easy-to-chew nugget ice for cold drinks, specifically his company’s proprietary Chewblets. Studies show up to 85 percent of consumers like to chew ice in drinks. “Chewblets have a sparkling appearance and melt slowly,” Rice says.

The cylindrical nuggets can also be dispensed remotely, traveling up to 20 feet through a flexible tube. That means less clutter and improved sanitation.

Figuring out the amount of ice you’ll use depends on a number of factors; the major manufacturers and their distributors can help calculate your ice making needs.

Cold Fusion

Although iced tea and lemonade are the quintessential American summer drinks, other countries have their own favorites, many of which are now finding favor in the United States. Consider spicing up your beverage menu with these:

Chai: Trendy chai is available RTD in bottles and cans, as well as mixes and concentrates. Just ice them down and garnish them up—a simple stick of cinnamon in the glass adds value. Or brew up your own signature version with black tea and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper or even bay leaves; just add a touch of vanilla, honey, milk and ice.

Horchata:This legendary Latin drink is cold, sweet and refreshing. Typically, Mexican horchata is made from pulverized rice and almonds, spiced with canela (Mexican cinnamon) and sometimes lime. Although milky in appearance, horchata is dairy-free. Unless you’re handy with a metate y mano (the traditional hand grinder), you should purchase your horchata bottled, in shelf-stable bulk or powdered mixes.

Aguas frescas: These are made from fruits or seeds blended with water and are served iced. Two of the more unusual and popular among Latinos are jamaica and tamarindo. The first is a sweet rose-colored drink made from hibiscus flowers. Make your own by steeping “flor de jamaica” like tea and adding sugar and cold water to taste, or buy commercial versions. Tamarind is made from the pod-like fruit of a tropical tree. The processed sour pulp is available for making your own signature drink—be sure to use lots of sugar. Tamarind is increasingly available in concentrate and even RTD forms.

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