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Why Do Good Restaurants Serve Bad Tea?

I visited a nationally-known restaurant a few weeks ago. I sat down with my meal, including a cup of iced tea. One sip told me that it was bitter. I looked up and noticed what had escaped me when I poured the tea---it came from a dispenser marked with the name of an obscure, commercial tea vendor.

If I'm at a fast food chain, tea that upsets my stomach is par for the course. But why do so many restaurants who put a great deal of effort into the rest of their menus serve tea that is just plain bad? Gastric upset is an extreme reaction to tea; bitter, acidic tea just tastes bad to anyone.

Bad tea is a feature of many cuisines. I remember one dinner in Princeton at our local Chinese restaurant during which one of my colleagues told the owner, "My wife thinks your tea tastes like dishwater." Ooh, snap!

But I am deeply disappointed that disciples of the New Southern Cuisines would take such a cavalier attitude to their tea. Iced tea is one of the signature dishes of the South. Its preparation should be taken as seriously as that of collard greens or fried chicken. So please, folks, can we have better tea next time?

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