We tested 36 different tea/lemonade Arnold Palmer combinations. This was the best

What is the best Arnold Palmer recipe? One writer decided to put the ingredients to the test to come up with an answer. Here's what he found.

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Remember that ESPN commercial for SportsCenter years ago, the one with Arnold Palmer? Palmer and his caddie are in the broadcast company’s cafeteria. Arnie stops at the lemonade and iced tea dispensers; grabs a glass; then pours a bit of the tea, a bit more lemonade, and finishes it off with another splash of tea.

Scott Van Pelt and the late Stuart Scott — both carrying trays — are in line behind The King, and as Palmer and his caddie walk away, Van Pelt whispers, “that was awesome.”

“I know,” Scott whispers back.

It was a great TV spot — almost all of those SportsCenter ads were — and it recently got me thinking: What is the best Arnold Palmer recipe? Is it a 2-to-1 ratio as that ESPN commercial suggested? Or does the classic golf clubhouse beverage work better as an equal blend of iced tea and lemonade? And what about the iced tea and lemonade themselves? Surely, some teas and some lemonades will work better together than others.

There was only one way to find out, I surmised, so I ran out to the store and bought six bottles of iced tea and six bottles of lemonade, focusing only on products that are likely to be available nationwide. For teas, I bought Arizona Sweet Tea, Arizona Just Tea, Pure Leaf Sweet, Pure Leaf Unsweetened, Gold Peak Sweet and Gold Peak Unsweetened. On the lemonade side, I grabbed bottles of Calypso Original Lemonade, Nantucket Nectars Squeezed Lemonade, Dole Lemonade, Minute Maid Lemonade, Tropicana Lively Lemonade and Simply Lemonade.

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With the dozen bottles staring back at me from the countertop of my kitchen island, all that was left to do was start mixing. In an attempt to make this experiment more approachable, I conducted the taste test in six batches using the tea as a constant, which allowed me to whittle the field of 36 total candidates down to six finalists. But before I reveal the top six, it’s worth sharing a handful of observations (some of which may be obvious):

— In almost all cases, a 2-to-1 ratio of tea to lemonade produced better results. This is especially true for pairings with sweetened tea.

— The overall quality of some combinations was easily predictable based on the overall quality of the individual products, particularly the lemonade. Not surprisingly, lemonades crafted from a miniscule amount of natural ingredients — we’re looking at you, Dole and Minute Maid, with your 3% juice — produced mediocre results every time.

— In several instances, the flavor of the tea in sweetened examples came through more powerfully than it did in their unsweetened counterparts. The challenge then was finding the right lemonade to pair with those teas (and the appropriate amount of it) so that the resulting drink didn’t taste as though it was concocted by Buddy the Elf.

— A 2-to-1 ratio of Gold Peak Sweet Tea and Tropicana Lively Lemonade produced a delicious drink — it just didn’t taste like an Arnold Palmer. If you can imagine a pineapple-flavored gummy bear in liquid form, that’s pretty much what you get. If that sounds like your jam, now you know.

Without further ado, here’s the top six:

6th Place: Pure Leaf Unsweetened + Nantucket Nectars Squeezed Lemonade (2-to-1 ratio)

There’s a sharpness to the Nantucket Nectars lemonade that generally didn’t work in most cases, except that with this particular pairing it provides a nice contrast to the round and smooth notes of the unsweet tea.

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5th Place: Arizona Sweet Tea + Simply Lemonade (2-to-1 ratio)

You could argue that this pairing produces something that tastes more like sweet, lemon-flavored tea, as opposed to a lemonade-tea blend, but it’s the best combination featuring Arizona’s sweet tea, and it delivers honest citrus notes with the necessary acidity.

4th Place: Arizona Just Tea + Tropicana Lively Lemonade (1-to-1 ratio)

The moderate sweetness of this lemonade doesn’t overpower the flavor of the tea. Because of that, these two beverages play best together in equal measure, where bright lemon notes shine and the tea smooths out much of the lemonade’s inherent tartness.

3rd Place: Gold Peak Unsweet + Simply Lemonade (2-to-1 ratio)

As this pairing warms up, the tea and lemonade flavors continuously mingle — the tea takes center stage one moment, while citrus shines the next. Unfortunately, that interplay is minimized when this combo is ice cold, which is a shame only because an Arnold Palmer is best enjoyed properly chilled. 

Runner-up: Gold Peak Sweet Tea + Simply Lemonade (2-to-1 ratio)

There’s so much tartness to this lemonade that it needs a foil to not be overpowering, and the sweetness from the Gold Sweet Tea does just that. The combination of the two is one where the individual flavors of both beverage meet harmoniously in the middle.

Winner: Pure Leaf Sweet + Simply Lemonade (2-to-1 ratio)

Much like the Simply Lemonade pairing with the Gold Peak Sweet Tea described above, this combination delivers just what you’d expect from an Arnold Palmer. The sweetness from the tea and the bright notes from the lemonade play well together, and with a 2-to-1 ratio, the taste of tea comes back on the finish. More significantly, that tea flavor shines on the front end just a bit more than the Gold Peak Sweet Tea does, which is what ultimately gives this pairing the edge. [Buy the combo here and here.]

Shaun Tolson is a freelance writer based in Rhode Island. When it comes to golf, he covers everything from architecture, course reviews, and travel, to equipment, gadgets and gear, and feature profiles. As a lifestyle writer, his expertise is rooted in the finer things in life — wine and spirits, luxury automobiles, private aviation, hotels & resorts, fine dining, and more.

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