I Drank 11 Hard Iced Teas, and Only One Brand Is Stocking My Cooler This Summer

Hard iced tea taste test cover photo

Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

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Hard iced tea taste test cover photo
Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

Go Hard on Tea

The hard seltzer trend seems to be on the downswing, while hard iced tea is gaining steam. That'll make for a very delicious and fun summer, at least if you know which of the dizzying array of hard tea brands to buy. 

I grabbed a cooler full of hard iced tea cans from my local liquor store in either plain iced tea or a lemonade and iced tea mix (sometimes called half and half) and compared them all on one sunny afternoon. Turns out, there are lots of bad hard tea out there, and they will totally drag down your summer pool parties. Here are the 11 brands I tried, ranked from best to worst.  

Related: If You Drink Only One Hard Seltzer This Summer, Make It This One

Arizona Hard Iced Tea Cans
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1. Arizona Hard Iced Tea with Lemon

Arizona's boozy tea has only been on the market for about a year, but the nostalgic brand has quickly proven that it knows its way around alcoholic beverages and not just those iconic 99-cent cans. It's the brand that tastes most like tea, and the lemon flavor is no slouch, either. Though it's the standard 5% ABV, it barely tastes like you're drinking alcohol at all, which is not something you can say about most of the other brands in this taste test. Arizona is probably the only brand of hard iced tea I'd buy again. (If you're curious about the hard peach and green teas, see how they stacked up in my Arizona Hard mega-ranking.)

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Twisted Tea Original
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2. Twisted Tea Original

Twisted Tea has been around for a long time, and has become the default hard tea brand. It's a perfectly serviceable working man's boozy tea, kind of like a good old Bud Light. It's inoffensive and it'll appeal to the masses. Though this is the original flavor and not the half and half, it's much more acidic and citrusy than all the others, which makes it a little more refreshing, too. Fill a cooler with Twisted Tea at a party, and it'll be gone by the end of the night. 

Voodoo Ranger Hardcharged Tea
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3. Voodoo Ranger Hardcharged Tea

Despite the real hardcore, Four Loko-type vibes from the branding on this one, it's not nearly as scary when you actually drink it, though it is very sweet. At 7% ABV, I was thinking it'd be harsher, but it's relatively smooth. Malt hits you upfront, but fades quickly into a pretty good black tea and lemon flavor. It's not nearly as crazy or terrible as you'd guess by the can. 

Surfside iced tea vodka
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4. Surfside

This is the only drink I tried that isn't a malt beverage, but is instead a canned cocktail that includes vodka, tea, and lemonade, and you can definitely tell the difference. It does taste more like a mixed drink than a canned beverage, with both strong black tea and lemonade flavors coming through. It is artificially sweetened, though, which means it's got that lingering, cloying sweetness. Without that, this one might have been tops.

Arnold Palmer Spiked
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5. Arnold Palmer Spiked

There's a little bit of a weird musty smell when you pop open this can, but thankfully that doesn't stick around in the flavor. It's got a good balance of tea and lemonade, though it'd be better to pour it over ice and squeeze a lemon wedge in it for some more acidity and brightness. 

Smirnoff Ice Smash Tea
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6. Smirnoff Ice Smash Tea

If you drank Smirnoff Ice in college, then you pretty much already know how this tastes. It leans hard on the vague lemon/citrus flavor of Smirnoff Ice, but the bit of tea flavor is actually welcome. If you're feeling nostalgic, give this one a try. Just be aware that's it's 8% ABV, so it packs a wallop. 

Loverboy Half and Half Tea
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7. Loverboy Half and Half

Loverboy has potential, but it's carbonated and it touts "1g sugar" on the can, so it's made with artificial sweeteners. Both of those things are kind of a one-two surprise sucker punch. That fake sugar just lingers and lingers in your mouth. If you don't mind that, you could consider this one, but I absolutely hate it. 

Jack Daniel's Original Hard Tea
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8. Jack Daniel's Original Hard Tea

I had high hopes because I figured a Jack and tea would probably be pretty good, but this is just another malt beverage, and not a particularly good one at that. It tastes kind of muddy, with a lingering malty aftertaste that the other brands don't have. If this product appeals to you, do yourself a favor and just make a Jack and tea cocktail yourself. 

Hoop Tea
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9. Hoop Tea

The best thing Hoop Tea has going for it is the retro can design. Otherwise, it tastes like a generic "malt beverage" that you might have bought in 40-ounce bottles and taped to your hand in your younger years, plus an off-putting sourness. This is really malty and it obscures any kind of tea flavor. 

Happy Dad Big Poppa Tea
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10. Happy Dad

If you told me that this was a chocolate-flavored malt beverage, I'd believe it 100%. I only get a tiny hint of tea flavor from it once the cocoa-like malt taste fades away. But you shouldn't have to power through that off-putting taste just to get a whiff of tea. And despite the can saying it's half and half, there's no lemon flavor to speak of. This will not make dad happy — the can lies.

NOCA Too Turnt Tea
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11. NOCA Too Turnt Tea

Every time I take a sip of this, I let out an audible "euck." The first flavor you get is rubbing alcohol, and the last flavor you get is window cleaner. It's absolutely terrible, and you should not waste your money on this stuff.