Thursday, December 4, 2003
No, I Don’t Want My Iced Tea Plum Flavored, Thanks
By ROGER M. GRACE
It used to be that ordering iced tea in a restaurant wasn’t a problem. Nowadays, if you order it, it’s apt to be flavored with passion fruit, mango, or cloves.
If you balk at the flavoring, the waiter is likely to tell you, “That’s all we have.”
On two occasions, my wife queried, “Do you have hot tea?” The answer was in the affirmative. “Is it flavored?” No. “Do you have ice?” Yes. Pointing out the obvious, she instructed that if the hot tea were poured into a glass which contained ice, the result would be unflavored iced tea.
(Perhaps this will remind you of a scene in the movie “Five Easy Pieces” (1970) in which Jack Nicholson wanted a side order of wheat toast with his omelette and was told that the diner didn’t have side orders of toast; he ordered a chicken salad sandwich and told the waitress to hold the lettuce, mayonnaise, butter— and the chicken.)
Anyway, getting unflavored ice tea does, increasingly, present a challenge. And ordering iced coffee, other than at Starbuck’s, is a test of wills which the waiter is destined to win.
Hot chocolate, once common on menus, is a rarity these days. Only the most intrepid chef will undertake to improvise the concoction of this beverage if the restaurant doesn’t stock packets of the powdered mix to which hot water is added.
Coffee, of course, contains caffeine and keeps people awake at night. For decades, an alternative was Postum.
The company that was long known as General Foods (which has been swallowed up by Kraft) was founded in 1896 by C.W. Post as the Postum Cereal Company. Its initial product was a beverage made from wheat, bran and molasses called “Postum cereal food coffee.”
I regularly drank coffee-flavored instant Postum at nights while in law school in the late 1960s. It tasted pretty good, and didn’t interfere with sleep.
It’s still manufactured, but its days are undoubtedly numbered, with “decaf” coffee now being in vogue. Once a staple in restaurants, it just can’t be found on menus anymore—not even diners with a 1950s theme.
Something I remember seeing grown-ups served at drug store short-order counters in the 1950s was Bromo Seltzer, which came in powdered form in a blue bottle. The soda jerk would shoot some of the powder into a drinking glass from a dispenser (a metal support holding one of the bottles, upside down), add water, then pour the fizzing beverage into another glass, then back into the original one.
This foaming brew was taken for heartburn or hangovers.
Bromo Seltzer is still on the market. Somewhere, there just might be a short order counter in a drug store, like the one I remember at the Bay Pharmacy in the Pacific Palisades, where you could get a grilled cheese sandwich, Postum, or, if you were a grown-up with stomach distress, a Bromo Seltzer.
I suspect that any such a place is many miles from here, and that if you want a bromo, you’re just going to have to mix it yourself.
Most every drug store had a counter with stools at which food and beverages were served. Some accented their soda fountains, others their grills.
Whatever the emphasis, there was always a malted milk machine, and it was light green. In the early 1950s, a malt was uniformly made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. A variety of flavors came later.
The best malts I knew of were at Tom Crumpler’s restaurants. This was before the days of “soft ice cream,” so Crumpler had a novelty in making malts which he billed as being so thick you had to eat them with a spoon. Indeed, you could not slurp them through a straw.
Too, soda fountains offered root beer floats, chocolate phosphates, and colas flavored with one of the innumerable syrups in stock. (There will be more about soft drinks next week.)
Returning to the saga of iced tea of today, I relate the experience of my colleague David Kline whose column appears in this newspaper. He wrote in an e-mail:
“I was in a pizza parlor the other day and ordered an iced tea, prompted by the big silver Lipton pot which led me to believe the tea was freshly brewed. Wrong. The container was nothing but a prop, and the tea which spewed forth was from a fountain hidden inside. My cup was filled with that overly sweet, chemically derived ‘tea’ that has never touched a tea leaf. Not for long, though. I dumped it and poured a cold, refreshing Coca-Cola.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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