How to Make Sun Tea
Growing up, I didn’t realize a lot of the food traditions we had in my family were regionalisms. It wasn’t until I married a cute boy from the Great White North that I started to realize that the things that I thought were standards in the kitchen, weren’t really all that common for everyone. It’s been a fun journey to introduce Craig to regional foodstuffs that I grew up with (he’s totally a pork tenderloin sandwich fan, now) and vice versa.
I remember early on in our marriage, it had to have been the first nice day of spring right after we were married, I said something like, “Oooh! Today is a good day for sun tea.” To which he replied by looking at me like I had two heads. Apparently, sun tea wasn’t a thing he did growing up in Northwestern Ontario.
But here in the Midwest? You’d be hard-pressed to find a house that doesn’t have a jar of sun tea steeping out on the porch on nice summer days. Logically, I understand that tea steeped by sitting in the sun is no different from tea you make with boiling water from a kettle, but I swear it tastes different. I swear you can taste the sunshine. And, hey, anytime I don’t have to heat up the kitchen, I’m a fan.
Some folks will steer you away from sun tea because of a bacterial risk. And while yes, it’s true that the water never gets hot enough in the sun to kill any bacteria hanging out in the water, jar, or the tea bags—that kind of thing has never been a concern to me. And, while I understand this is purely anecdotal, I can tell you that I’ve been drinking sun tea every summer for my entire time here on this planet (okay, maybe not that first year), and I’ve never gotten sick off of it. And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has. Don’t fear the tea, friends.
If you’ve never made sun tea before, it’s incredibly simple. All you need is a clear jar, some water and tea. This time of year, in our area, you can pick up specific sun tea jars at pretty much every retail outlet on the planet (literally, you can find them at gas stations, grocery stores, or pharmacies). As any good Midwestern girl does, I’ve had my fair share of sun tea jars in my life, and I have managed to break every single one of them. One day, I’ll probably invest in a really nice, sturdy, heavy-duty jar for sun tea, but for now, I just use a half-gallon Mason jar. And it works wonders.
I like my tea just a touch sweet, so I mix up a simple syrup before steeping. Into my half-gallon jar goes 1/3 cup of sugar. If you’re a Southerner, you’ll probably need half to a full cup of sugar to get the standard, teeth-rotting, Southern sweet tea. If you aren’t into sweetened tea, just skip this step completely.
And then I pour in about a cup of piping hot water from the tap. Our tap gets hot enough to dissolve sugar, but if yours doesn’t, you could just put in some boiling water. Stir to dissolve.
Then, I get to unwrapping tea bags. I use six tea bags for my half-gallon jar. And I like this Newman’s Own black tea, but you can use whatever you like. I actually really like making sun green tea, too, because the water never gets hot enough to bring out that bitter quality that green tea sometimes has.
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Gather up all the tea bags by the tag, and stick them into the jar, making sure to hold onto the tags so they don’t slip in.
And then head over to the faucet, and fill the jar up the rest of the way with cold water. Screw on the lid (making sure the tags of the tea bags are on the outside of the lid), and put it in a sunny spot outside. I like the railing of our back deck. Partially because it’s nice and sunny, but also partially because I can see it right outside the door in my kitchen when I walk by. I’ve been known to forget about a jar or two of sun tea in my life.
Depending on the heat of the day, the strength of the sun and how strong you like your tea, it could be as ready in as little as an hour, but I usually give it more like two or three out in the sunshine. It’s ready when it looks like…tea!
Pour it over ice in a Mason jar (seriously, that’s the only proper way to drink sun tea—out of a canning jar) and enjoy! If you have some fresh mint kicking around, put a few of those leaves in there for a really nice, refreshing summer drink.
Once my tea is done steeping, I do store it in the fridge—it will go bad if you let it sit out on the counter. Plus, that way it’s super cold and ready for enjoying anytime! I especially recommend it after you’ve spent all day working in the garden. Nothing tastes better.
Is sun tea a “thing” where you live? Do you have any food regionalisms that you love?
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Thirsty For Tea Summertime Sun Tea
What’s a girl to do when it’s a hundred degrees outside and moving to Antarctica sounds like a good idea? Make sun tea, of course! With July 4th celebrations coming up, everyone is in need of some cool refreshment. To put it simply, Summertime Sun Tea is the drink of sunshine and rainbows…colorful, nourishing, and just plain delicious!
Sun tea is a method of slow cold water brewing. This technique produces a gentler tea infusion that’s crisper and clearer than teas brewed the traditional way. Cold water brewed teas also have less caffeine and are less bitter since the process of steeping isn’t as harsh.
Today I’m using Elmwood Inn’s best-selling Kentucky Black Tea to make my Summertime Sun Tea. The Kentucky Blend is a Chinese black tea made from tea leaves that originate from Yunnan (Southwestern China) and Anhui (Eastern China). This blend is my favorite standard black tea because it’s robust without being overwhelming. It has a rich flavor with sweet grassy notes, and complements fresh fruit flavor extremely well.
I gave up sodas just last summer and haven’t looked back since. Being obsessed with teas and herbals like I am, this wasn’t as hard to do as I thought it would be. Summertime is the best time to get over a soda addiction. It’s the time when fruits and veggies are most plentiful, and this way you’ll never get bored.
Here are some of my favorite iced tea, fruit, and herb steeps. Some flavor pairings are more adventurous than others, but all of them are delicious in their own unique way. As always, it’s a very good idea to buy organic fruits if you can. And as a side note, starchy fruits won’t work well in tea-fruit steeps.
My Favorite Iced Tea & Fruit Combos:
1. Peaches & Blueberries (with black tea)
2. Oranges & Mint (with oolong)
3. Pineapple & Strawberries (with rooibos)
4. Cucumber & Mint (with green tea)
5. Strawberry & Basil (with green tea)
6. Peach & Rosemary (with black tea)
7. Mango & Ginger (with oolong)
8. Apple & Spearmint (with green tea)
9. Grapefruit & Strawberries (with green tea)
10. Pitted Cherries & Lemon (with black tea)
At any gathering, it’s important to consider those who are going caffeine-free. Fruit water is the ideal treat for this crowd. Again, use any fruit that you prefer in these waters, just try to make sure that the fruits aren’t overly ripe so that the water doesn’t get too cloudy. There’s no need to “sun” these fruit waters. Simply mix them up and place them in the fridge or in ice a few hours before serving.
I like to call the fruit water steep in the photo above my “Fourth of July Water” because it looks so festive and patriotic. Generally, the strawberries like to float and blueberries like to sink. There it is…red, white, and blue!
Say goodbye to sodas this year with some wholesome Summertime Sun Tea. Salads, burgers, ribs…these yummy, portable drinks are a perfect match for any hot weather-themed meal. Just a few sips and your picnics and barbeques will never be the same!
Summertime Sun Tea
What You’ll Need:
mason jars with lids
tea bags, regular or decaf, one for each jar
distilled or spring water (cold or at room temperature)
fruit (not overly ripe, cut into slices or small pieces, & preferably organic)
mint, basil, or other fruit-friendly herbs
a place in the sun…
a large tub with lots of ice (or a fridge)
1.) Sterilize the jars/lids or wash the mason jars and lids thoroughly with very hot water and soap. Rinse well. This step is essential to prevent bacterial growth. We aren’t canning here but we still want to take proper precautions.
2.) Place 1 tea bag in each mason jar, cutting off the string part of the tea bag if necessary. Pour cold distilled water into the jar leaving a 1 1/2″ clearance under the rim (you want room to fill the fruit in later). Screw lid on mason jars tightly.
3.) In hot weather under direct sunlight, place the jars of lid-covered tea to brew. In weather above 90 degrees F you can easily do this in one hour. Set a timer to keep track of time. (If it’s not hot where you are or you simply don’t like this sunning method, just park the tea in the fridge to steep for 6-8 hours. You’ll get the same end result.)
4.) After 1 hour, take the jars of tea out of the sun. Open jars and use tongs to place fruit slices/pieces or herbs into each jar. Screw lids on tightly. Plunge the mason jar teas into an ice bath or place them in the fridge for easy drinking later.
***Entertaining Tip: If you are serving these at a party put a small tub or container next to the tub of sun teas. Guests can drop the jar lids in when they start sipping.
Is Sun Tea Safe?
Using the natural rays of the sun to make “sun tea” is popular in the summer. Tea is brewed by leaving a clear container with tea in it out is the sun for a few hours. However, using such a method to make tea is highly discouraged. Sun tea is the perfect medium for bacteria to grow. The essential problem is that sun tea will not get hotter than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not hot enough to kill bacteria in the water or in the tea leaves. If sun tea gets a thick or syrupy appearance, it may be due to the presence of a ropy bacteria called Alcaligenes viscolactis. Ropy bacteria are commonly found in soil and water.
Standard brewing processes for hot tea are always hot enough to ensure that any undesirable microbes are killed, eliminating this risk. In addition to the insufficient heat, sun tea generally sits around at room temperature for a long period of time, giving the bacteria a chance to multiply and become problematic.
We know that every summer people brew and drink gallons of sun tea and do not get sick. That does not mean that there are no risks. If you are okay with the possibility of stringy rope-like bacteria breeding in the tea you drink, there is no reason to change your ways. But there isn’t much reason to continue using this method after finding out about its inherent dangers, even if the statistical risk of illness is not great. Plus there are excellent alternatives for making iced tea.
The Centers for Disease Control and the National Tea Association recommend the following when making tea:
Brew tea bags at 195 degrees F for three to five minutes. Some tea drinkers complain that when tea is brewed with hot water, the tea becomes cloudy. The cause of the cloudiness is due to tannins from the steeped tea being released into the solution when the tea is cooled too rapidly. One way to avoid this is to steep the tea then add cool water to bring the temperature down gradually before refrigerating or adding ice.
Brew only enough tea that can be consumed within a few hours.
Wash, rinse and sanitize tea-making equipment regularly.
Cold brew tea in the refrigerator by putting tea in cold water for a few hours (from six hours to overnight depending on how strong you like your tea).
Sun tea is easy to make and looks pretty in the clear container, but don’t risk giving stringy, ropy bacteria the opportunity to brew along with your tea!