Peak Tea has been brewing for some time now. If you haven’t noticed iced tea is having a moment. I’m going out on a limb by saying this, but I think the current trend spreading started in Amarillo and Lubbock. I know, I know what you’re thinking: trends don’t start in places like Amarillo and Lubbock, that’s where they go to die. And you’d be mostly correct. Just look at the JNCOs I wore in the 6th grade. I must’ve bought the last pair Westgate Mall in Amarillo sold, because no sooner had my back hems been frayed from dragging around all day, did the weird trend thankfully disappear (could you imagine having more than one pair of those to dispose of?). Similar was the North Face fleece flame-out I noticed at the Library Bar in the early aughts. So ubiquitous was the Denali fleece around Lubbock, I’d assumed all the 18 year olds were getting them handed out as soon as they registered for the Fall semester. This honestly doesn’t bode well for Lululemon, who since the end of 2019 has had a pop-up shop here in Lubbock and you could hardly call this the uptick of their popularity. Like Horseshoe Bay or Boca Raton for boomers, brands retire in places like this.
How do you know a brand or a trend is on its way out of the cultural zeitgeist? Well, just see if it’s readily available in Lubbock or Amarillo.
But this tea thing is different. If you’re not quite tracking with me, I’m talking about the several iced tea and water shops that have opened and expanded upon their flavored tea offerings within the last 10 years in and around the Texas Panhandle. In Amarillo, Water Still, “Ultra Premium Water, Ice and Tea”, was the first to do this. In addition to selling ” ultra premium vapor distilled” water and ice, they began offering fruited and flavored iced teas served from a fountain in several varieties like: mint, peach, blueberry and more. Soon after, the local-owned convenience stores in Amarillo, Pak-a-Sak and Toot’n’Totum, got in on the action. Instead of just being able to choose sweet or un from those 4 gallon stainless steel urns, multiple clear refrigerated beverage dispensers started popping up in c-stores across the region. Later Texas Tea spun up from the Buns Over Texas clan; and Pure Water, and Tea2Go became tea-slingers, too. A few have come and gone – Tea2Go closed shops in Amarillo, while Lubbock’s Teaster’s has sold their brick & mortar equipment to Urban Tea Company at KK’s Corner Mall, they (Teaster’s) deals mainly in wholesale from DFW now. Meanwhile Texas Tea Company on 98th and Slide is taking the Thirsty Dilla approach to opening. By which I mean they appear to be on an excitement-deflating two-year grind plan to open. Recently HTea0, a franchise from Amarillo’s Texas Tea, opened on Milwaukee in Lubbock–and supposedly are opening another 100+ stores around Texas in upcoming months. Yes, a franchise started in Amarillo and Lubbock – and now seems to be spreading like wildfire beyond.
There are a few main reasons why I think this tea trend epicenter has been made possible here. First, everyone knows this: the water in Amarillo and Lubbock is horrendous. So really anyone who wants to make standard water-based products by first filtering the ever-loving hell out of the source material will probably open people’s eyes up to how much better things could be without the metallic funk of tap water. This was Teaster’s approach, especially when they had their Salem Village location- their water was triple-filtered so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that their product tasted markedly better than others. Word is that Urban Tea Company uses the same advanced filtration system at (and state of the art brewing setup) at their KK’s Mall location. The point is all the tea slingers have figured it out: when you start with a more premium water product, you end up with a more premium tea product.
Remember when everyone you knew started their day with a vanilla Dr. Pepper, cherry-lime Sprite, or coconut-lime Coke from Sonic? Well considering that fad started nearly twenty years ago, we’ve all gotten older, fatter, and diabetesier.
Another contributing factor to the success of the current iced tea boom could be a collective Sonic Rte 44 soda fatigue and subsequent addiction displacement. Remember when everyone you knew started their day with a vanilla Dr. Pepper, cherry-lime Sprite, or coconut-lime Coke from Sonic? And Happy Hour for tea-totalers? Well considering that fad started nearly twenty years ago, we’ve all gotten older, fatter, and diabetesier. So we’re making better choices these days. We’ve gone organic, holistic, and even sugar-free. We need a new water replacement. Make it iced and send it in quarter gallons. We need Sonic soda variety and Natural Grocers level antioxidants. We need iced tea stores.
So what makes HTea0 the winner of Peak Iced Tea besides their massive tycoonish roll-out? You should visit to see for yourself, but here’s what it’s like: It’s like being smacked in the face with a fist full of ice-cold refreshment. It’s an all out assault on all your senses. First you see rows and rows of spendy double-walled Yeti and HydroFlask tumblers and jugs. The hefty, cool-to-the-touch stainless steel vessels feel ready and able to keep even Tom Petty’s iced tea frigid, even in all the muggy places he frequented- like Gainesville, Florida and the Gates of Hell. Even the sounds are refreshing. It’s like being near enough to a waterfall where you can hear it in all its rushing coolness, but still far enough away that you don’t have to wear a frumpy coat like those people visiting Niagra Falls. Ice machines are constantly making those chopping and falling noises and constant motor rotations. Meanwhile people man the numerous open brew stations while the sound of cold water sprays against cool plastic and glass containers with a sedating whoosh that cancels out annoyances like the dusty wind outside, the cars on Milwaukee, and did I mention the dusty wind outside?
The hefty, cool-to-the-touch stainless steel vessels feel ready and able to keep even Tom Petty’s iced tea frigid, even in all the muggy places he frequented- like Gainesville, Florida and the Gates of Hell.
Oh and the smells. Who knows how many gallons and gallons of tea are brewing at any given time. Supposedly flavored with natural fruit, it smells like a farmers’ market collided head on with a British East India Company clipper ship from the 1850’s. Then the ensuing amalgam of tannin and pectins were flash frozen in a house-sized glacier. Yeah. Extreme. Get a whiff of that crispy sweetness. Adding to that is the sparkling clean aesthetic and fresh fruit bar. Here, shiny cherries, juicy kiwi, and ripe berries cool on ice waiting to be tossed into your glass of one of 22 fresh brewed teas.
And the taste, honestly HTea0 has the best teas. They’re complex and medium-bodied and the fruits have such an authentic flavor, which is hard to come by. Most flavored teas taste artificial and syrupy. They’re cloyingly sweet. I haven’t tasted that heavy hand here. If you hurry, you can try their killer seasonal offerings like Sweet Texas Chai and Autumn Orange Spice. These limited time offerings are like a remix of your favorite down-tempo singer-songwriter tune. You love the acoustic original but there’s just something energizing and fresh about the remixed version with the drum machine loops. You love it because it’s the same, but different. That’s how you’ll feel about these teas you’ve associated with warm mugs. It will open your mind when you have them on ice. And it’s not the same as just pouring your hot tea over ice – it’s like it’s brewed specifically to be drank cold. It’s like the difference between cold brew coffee and iced coffee. It’s a whole new experience.
Give it a shot and see what you think. Even if it’s not for you (I think it’s for anyone who lives in this dirty wind), you can be proud knowing you’ve partaken in the newest food trend to sweep the nation… Well at least the middle part of the nation, where we like our tea strong and our vessels double-walled and stainless, i.e., heavy enough to drive a barbed-wire fence post in a pinch.