After 50 years, Turner’s Premium Iced Tea has a new look.
Tom Martelli started sippin’ Turner’s Premium Iced Tea when he was 13. So if friends and family see the 64-year-old without a plastic jug in his hand, they assume something is wrong.
“I drink a gallon a day at least,” says the retired stonemason, who advertises his love for the beverage with a sticker on the back of his truck that reads “Fueled by Turner’s.”
That makes Martelli part of a legion of “devoteas” of the most famous product made by Turner Dairy Farms.
Founded in 1930, the Penn Hills-based company started producing its iced tea in 1972 and the recipe hasn’t changed. But the iconic paper carton — which is synonymous with Pittsburgh — is about to.
To celebrate the tea’s golden anniversary, Turner Dairy Farms sponsored a carton design contest.
Update: Jay Obstarczyk’s Crushin’ It Since ’72 design won. His design, which will be featured on half a million pints and limited edition merchandise, earned him $2,000 and bragging rights.
Steve Turner, director of marketing for the fourth-generation family-owned business, says the company blended various juices and teas to create its Premium Iced Tea to give steel mill employees a cold drink during a hot shift.
Fifty years later, it’s still a favorite among blue-collar workers and championed by generations of Western Pennsylvanians, including Pittsburgh Dad.
Turner’s churns out 20,000 gallons a day, distributing it within a two-hour radius of Downtown. But Pittsburgh expatriates contact Steve Turner asking how they can get the beloved beverage sent to them. Because the tea needs to be refrigerated, the company is unable to ship it long distances at this time.
Michael Jessop grew up in the United Kingdom, where people take their tea very seriously. So it might have been surprising when his American wife got him hooked on Turner’s.
“Now, I usually get a half-gallon at least once per trip and drink it in one go. It’s definitely my favorite (favourite) road trip beverage,” he writes in an email.
If you’re a local, you can find Turner’s Premium Iced Tea anywhere beverages are sold. Although he doesn’t need to promote the tea, Steve Turner often tools around in the company’s ’64 Thunderbird, aka the Tea-Bird. The classic car is a rolling logo with a trunk that doubles as a cooler so he can dispense samples during community events and even at gas stations, where the car always draws an impromptu crowd.
Fueled by Turner’s, indeed.
For folks who want an alcoholic kick to their Turner’s, some area bars offer cocktails that pay tribute to the hometown tea.
At its Harrison Street headquarters, Lawrenceville Distilling Co. combines its Earl Grey tea-steeped Parking Chair Vodka, Tuner’s Premium Iced Tea and a hint of lemon. Through a collaboration with Creatives Drink, the distillery is canning the ready-to-drink yinzer elixir. You can find it at watering holes such as Round Corner Cantina, Redbeard’s Bar & Grill and Cobra. There are plans for more widespread distribution this year.
“Turner’s seemed like a fun way to put a bunch of Pittsburgh into one product,” says Cody Baker, founder of Creatives Drink. “I think people are surprised it isn’t sweet and how subtle the alcohol taste is for being 8-percent.”
Last year, Turner’s partnered with Pittsburgh Brewing Co. to create the IC’D Tea, a blend of iced tea and Iron City Beer. The company also sells a 17-ounce drinking glass — designed by Millvale-based marketing firm Top Hat — with lines that help you create the perfect ratio of beer and tea at home.
Steve Turner says thirsty fans are always eager to show off their Turner’s tattoos and photographs. The tea is a staple at Pittsburgh parties, including wedding receptions where you can grab a carton on your way past the cookie table. Folks even name their pets after the “Champagne of Pittsburgh.”
If you’re not ready to make such a big commitment, you can rock a Turner’s “tea” shirt, a holiday sweater, socks, golf gloves and hats. There’s even an infant onesie available for future enthusiasts.
By wearing Turner’s apparel, entering the carton design contest and even getting inked, customers take ownership of the product they’ve grown up with.
“It’s pretty cool to see how much people love our tea,” Steve Turner says. “I don’t know of any national iced tea awards, but even if we had a shiny medal to wave around it wouldn’t be as meaningful as the response we get from consumers. It’s ingrained in the Pittsburgh culture.”
Watch this Out & About Yinzer Backstage Pass episode to see the iced tea production process taking place at the Turner Dairy Farms headquarters.