Cool Drinks: Runa Iced Guayusa

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[Photograph: Dave Katz]

We introduced guayusa, the Ecuadorian herbal tea like yerba mate but less bitter, a couple months ago. We dig its grassy, creamy flavor and appreciate the gentle caffeine buzz.

Now Runa, which makes the best dried guayusa leaves I've sampled for hot tea, has begun selling bottled, iced guayusa in four flavors. Each 14 ounce bottle runs 50 calories (the tea is mildly sweetened with cane sugar), and comes in flavors like hibiscus-berry or lemon-lemongrass. Our thoughts:

  • Traditional Guayusa: Thank the iced beverage gods: a bottled iced tea that tastes like actual tea. It's grassy with an herbal sweetness, a slight welcome bitterness (though far less than green tea), and has a pleasant weight on the tongue. The sugar's mostly to thank for that, but guayusa has natural body that this bottle does justice to. If you like your iced tea just a tad sweet, this is a refreshing change-up from often bitter iced blacks and candy-sweet greens.
  • Lemon-Lemongrass: A more interesting take on lemon iced tea, with the musk of dried citrus peel and the verve of lemongrass. The flavors play well to guayusa's richer notes while keeping sips plenty refreshing. This was our favorite of the four.
  • Berry-Hibiscus: This would have been great as a straight hibiscus drink; iced guayusa benefits from something tart and floral. But the berry flavor here is overwhelming, and tastes pretty artificial. Like bad berry candy artificial. Pass on this.
  • Mint:: I usually applaud mint in my iced tea, but the spearmint used here is so bracing it's more like toothpaste than beverage. We'd have preferred a sweeter, gentler, less medicinal mint accent.

For some surefire summer refreshers, stick to the traditional and lemon-lemongrass flavors, both of which we'd gladly drink again. Bottles are about $2, give or take for regional differences, and are available around the country but in limited distribution (they're currently in New York and Boston metro area Whole Foods and some organic stores, plus near Denver and Northern California). Check out the Runa store locator to find them near you, or order them online. They should be fully national by the end of the summer.

Note: Samples provided for review.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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